Junior national champion Newcomb moves up the ranks

One of the highlights of Lucas Newcomb's 2013 season was winning the US junior cross country mountain bike national championships in July. The Whole Athlete/Specialized Team rider got his start in the sport a few years ago in high school mountain bike racing through the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) NorCal League.

Newcomb began his competitive athletic career as an Alpine ski racer in the third grade.

"I was big into that," he said. "Then my older brother Nick Newcomb started bike racing in high school. He was into it and wanted me to get into it."

During his freshman year at St. Francis Drake High School, Lucas Newcomb spent time at the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy in Tahoe. But after working hard all year to improve his skiing, the results he wanted were just not coming.

"Nick encouraged me to try bike racing. I had started riding some when I was at Sugar Bowl to stay in shape. When I came back from there, I was able to do the last three races of the Norcal NICA League's season, and I was able to win them. I got super stoked off that."

What appeals to Newcomb about mountain biking is how he can see the fruits of his hard work in training pay off in racing.

"Ski racing takes hard work, but there is the aspect of being a talented skier and raw skills. It's less fitness based. In bike racing, if you train perfectly, you can race perfectly. It's a sport where if you work hard, it pays off because it's so fitness-based and not just talent-based. You can be good with talent, but it takes hard work to be good - dedication and time and eating right. It all comes together."

It was during his freshman year in high school that he switched from the ski racing he'd been doing for six years to mountain bike racing.

The first year he went to nationals in the junior 15-16 category did not go well, but the second year, as part of the Whole Athlete-Specialized Team, Newcomb had a better experience, winning the junior 15-16 cross country. "That year I had no idea I would win. Winning was super big for me and got me even more stoked," she said.

The success gave him an opportunity to travel and race in Europe with a junior development camp for 15- to 16-year-olds.

Newcomb had some ok results during his first year as a junior 17-18 rider and was logging top five finishes in varsity high school competition. In 2012, he again travelled to Europe and raced the Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham World Cups.

"I got top-15 at Mont-Sainte-Anne and at Windham, I got a top-five. That got me a Worlds selection spot, and at Nationals, I got second. I was coming in right behind riders like Keegan Swenson," said Newcomb.

Unfortunately for Newcomb, he crashed and broke his collarbone right before the 2012 Worlds in Austria and had to sit the race out.

2013 seemed like it would be a banner year for the last-year junior, but the season got off to a hard start, and he was disappointed with his early results at the Albstadt and Nove Mesto World Cups in the spring.

"I was doing a lot of biking, and my fitness was in a weird spot, but I started doing ok and got better as the season went on," said Newcomb. "I got a few varsity high school wins and Pro XCT wins. Then nationals came around, and I was happy that I could come out with the win again. Mont-Sainte-Anne was also huge because I got on the podium (second). To be able to get on the podium while wearing the stars and stripes jersey of the national champion was awesome. I love representing the US."

Another highlight of the 2013 season was getting fifth at the Pan American Games in Argentina.

Newcomb was hoping for better luck at the 2013 Worlds, but again he was sidelined due to injury.

"I thought I had good form coming here," said Newcomb, who injured himself while training on the Worlds course in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. "I was halfway through my first training lap on the stair-step log descent. Everyone in front of me was doing it - they were a bunch of U23s, and they were getting it well. I went down and pretty much had it, then I leaned forward a little too much and just flipped over and dropped about 10 feet onto my shoulder."

It was the same place on the course that also claimed Sabine Spitz as a victim. She, too, had injured her shoulder there.

While Newcomb did not break anything, racing the Worlds was out of the question. Trying to maintain a sense of humor and some perspective, he said, "Next year, if I make Worlds, my goal is to actually race!"

Newcomb, who won a NICA All-Star Athlete award during his time in high school, credited his high school racing experience with helping him get to where he is today in cycling.

"High school racing is such a fun experience. It definitely gets you psyched about racing bikes. I would totally not be here today without the high school racing."

This fall, Newcomb has made the switch to college. He is attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he is majoring in history. Expect to see him on the collegiate circuit and also in the U23 ranks in 2014.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.