Cannondale Factory Racing brought on board two junior mountain bikers for the 2012 season: Americans Taylor Smith and Keegan Swenson. Both last year juniors will race primarily in the US, but will also get a chance to participate in some World Cups with the UCI elite mountain bike team, which also includes pros Manuel Fumic, Marco Fontana, Martin Gujan and Jeremiah Bishop.
Swenson, who lives in Park City, Utah, gained some experience in Europe after competing there for the first time in several races in 2011. "I learned that there are a lot of fast juniors and they are all strong and great riders. It was good to go there and experience great competition," said Swenson to Cyclingnews.
"My best results were second in the Swisspower Cup in Granichen and two top fives at the Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham World Cups. Plus I was second at cross country and short track US nationals."
Smith was in Europe for the first time at the Cannondale Factory Racing team camp in Finale Ligure in late February and early March. The racer from Navato, California is hoping to return to the Continent in May for a US Development team camp.
Both riders are aiming to do the North American World Cups at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada, and Windham, New York in the USA.
Swenson is hoping to hit a few others, too. "This year, I will try to do as many World Cups as I can, but I don't yet know which ones. Definitely the US World Cups and maybe the French World Cups." He, too, is hoping to attend the May development camp in Europe.
The two have been teammates previously. "We knew each other before," said Swenson. "We raced at nationals in 2010 together and then we were on the same Whole Athlete/Specialized team. Now we've ended up together here."
Smith got his start cycling when he was 11 years old. "I rode with some buddies down the street who had BMX and mountain bikes. We'd ride around and do jumps and that kind of thing. When I was 12, I decided I wanted to get serious and I did my first cross country race at Sea Otter, and I'm still doing it six years later," said Smith.
Since then Smith has worked his way up the state and national ranks. "My two best results were California state championships. I took second in varsity. At US nationals, I was sixth in the cross country, third in super D, and fourth in short track. At the Howell Mt. Classic, I was third overall and generally I had a strong second half of the year."
Smith races a little bit of everything. "I mainly race cross country. I do super D and short track for fun. I'm not as much of a downhill kind of person. I see myself doing more when I get out of school."
Swenson described himself also as an all rounder with a focus on cross country. He said he does a few short tracks and super Ds here and there and also dabbles in road racing. "Not a ton, but it gives me good fitness and base," he said of his efforts on the road.
Swenson began riding at about age 10. "I started racing when I was 12 or 13."
Both riders offered advice for other young riders getting into mountain biking, which is not a traditional school sport in the US.
"I'd say if you're starting out, don't be intimidated by the bigger guys," said Smith. "I always was. I'd show up at races and see who had the coolest jersey and think, 'Oh no, I'm not going to be faster than them.' Worry about yourself and focus about what you will do. Don't let anyone intimidate you or it will create a problem within yourself."
"Learn how to ride your bike first. Be a good technical rider and then you can get the strength and fitness later on," said Swenson. "Don't worry about your equipment, just ride and have fun."
The two racers get support from family and friends at their respective homes. Both are grateful for the chance to learn from some of the world's best riders at Cannondale Factory Racing.
"This is the biggest opportunity I've ever had in my life so far," said Smith. "I hope Keegen and I can put together a really solid season."