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American junior and U23 development team celebrates success
In just three seasons, the Whole Athlete-Specialized Cycling Team has established itself as one of the most notable junior mountain bike development programs in the United States. In addition to earning three junior 15-16 national championship titles (Kate Courtney, 2010 and 2011; Lucas Newcomb, 2011), the team has qualified riders to the US world championship team for cross country each year thus far (John Bennett, 2009; Zach Valdez, Will Curtis, Tony Smith, Sofia Hamilton, 2010; Keegan Swenson, 2011).
Team founder and director Dario Fredrick said the success was a matter of setting the right standards, and the results follow. "Our team philosophy is defined by 'dedication, integrity and fun', and when the kids focus on the process rather than the outcome, they find success happens."
Success has indeed been happening for the young team. In 2011 alone, Whole Athlete-Specialized juniors have swept cross country podiums from Fontana to the Sea Otter to the Downieville Classic, and earned 13 junior podium appearances at the national championships in Sun Valley, Idaho, in cross country, short track and super D combined.
Yet Fredrick was quick to point out that it's not all about winning. "I emphasize to the kids that it's not necessarily the win that's most important, but the effort that goes into it. As long as each kid does his or her absolute best, that's success in my book." In fact, the program emphasizes much more than just riding bikes fast. True to its name, the Whole Athlete Team promotes a holistic system in which the riders learn about nutrition, sport psychology and yoga, in addition to proper training.
This year the team expanded to include a few under 23 riders. As the young athletes progress through the program, those who are ready to take the next step from the junior ranks have an opportunity to rise to the challenge and compete as pros. But it's a big step at the national level, even for the formerly top juniors. Other than at the national championships and World Cups where separate U23 races are offered, in ProXCTs the young guns go up against the country's best pros. It's a daunting task for a 19-year-old to start at the back of a 60-rider pro field, but as Fredrick pointed out, they have to start somewhere. "We don't expect our first year U23s to be competitive at the ProXCT level, but as long as they are making forward progress, that's what cycling development is about."
The program itself has also made steady progress. Having started out as many teams do as a modest endeavor, the Whole Athlete-Specialized Team has evolved into a national player and shows no signs of slowing down. With multi-year commitments from Whole Athlete and Specialized, the non-profit funded program is on track to continue developing national-caliber junior and under 23 riders for years to come.