Developmental camp aims to teach budding cyclists the skills necessary to become competitive racers

Forest Grove has played host to a number of sports camps this summer, and last week was no exception.

Last Sunday through Friday it was cycling’s turn, as the USA Cycling Northwest Talent ID camp returned to town for the fourth consecutive year. Based at Pacific University’s Gilbert Hall, a total of 24 young riders from five states spent the week working on their skills and learning more about their sport.

The camp is one of 13 youth talent camps being staged by USAC throughout the country this year. The Northwest camp consisted of 20 male riders and four female cyclists, all of whom hailed from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Oklahoma.

One of the reasons for the event, camp director Jim Anderson said, is to “identify talent early on and start them getting involved in the development process, get them thinking about coaches, thinking about developing a schedule, and seeing if they’re interested.

“A lot of riders come to it and see, ‘Oh, I’m not really that into it,’ at that age. There’s a lot of different things they’re getting pulled to. So if they’re really into it, they can go forward and lots of doors will open for them once they get involved in this development ... pipeline.”

The other point was to help the young cyclists — who ranged in age from 14 to 20 — to improve as riders. Much of the emphasis was developmental in nature. Mornings and afternoons consisted of drills and rides at sites throughout western Washington County, and in the evening in off-bike sessions, campers received presentations about topics such as training and racing, bike mechanics, and nutrition.

None of the cyclists were completely novice riders — the USAC does have specific criteria for campers. They should have raced at least one season already, Anderson said, and they should have some group riding experience. But the camp participants did not need to belong to a team or receive an invitation to the camp, he added.

In addition to the presentations, off-bike topics included yoga and circuit training.

“It’s just giving them more things to work with,” Anderson said. “They need to open up their eyes. Some of them are just like bike, bike, bike, bike, bike. They’ve seen a lot of different perspectives of things.”

All week, the coaches — who included former two-time Olympian and longtime cycling coach Butch Martin — put the riders through their paces, helping them grow their knowledge. Campers worked on their paceline skills, performed track stands to practice balance, and even worked on practicalities like how to take a water bottle on the fly from someone off to the side of them. They learned how to pick up a coin from off the ground while on the bike and performed bumping drills to learn to deal with incidental contact.

“A lot of parents think it’s a road training camp where they’re doing big miles,” Anderson said. “It’s really not. The most riding we’ll do is about 40 miles total for the day, but there’s a lot of on-bike time.”

One of the highlights of the camp came early Wednesday morning when local television personality Drew Carney came out to the camp and did a number of segments with the group during KGW’s morning news. Carney even hopped on a bike and joined in the fun at one point.

The on-bike time included 5- and 20-minute time trials on separate days. Those time trials generated data on all of the participants, allowing them to compare themselves with riders at the other talent camps.

Because of their exposure at the camp, some of the riders may get the chance to move further up that pipeline Anderson referenced, such as by receiving invitations to the USAC’s national talent identification camp, staged each year in October at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. From there, they could even move on to international competitions.

“It’s a real good program, and I think our federation finally has kind of caught up because all of these national federations overseas are doing the exact same things,” Martin said. “This is a pivotal type program in many ways for them. These kids find out if they want to really do this or not.”

Shannon Mallory, 15, has enjoyed her camp experiences so much that last week was her second camp in Forest Grove. She especially loved working on skills, she said, and she also appreciated the chance to bond with other cyclists of the same age.

“I’m way more confident in time trials now,” the Bellingham, Wash., resident noted. “I have learned a lot about nutrition and all the skills and where I need to go to next to keep on going up the line. I think every year that I come or every time I talk to someone who’s been doing the sport or is a coach or something, I learn something new.”

One of her camp mates, David O’Brien, 17, was back for his third year. From Olympia, Wash., O’Brien received a bike from Martin — as did most of the campers—– who he said raised his bike seat by about two inches. Like Mallory, he appreciated the chance to spend some time with a community of cyclists.

“It’s a great experience. You definitely learn a lot, and there’s just so many opportunities with all the different activities we do,” O’Brien said. “There’s just a lot crammed into a few little days.”

Including a glimpse at the future of the sport in this country.

“This is the beginning for a lot of these kids, and that’s what’s really exciting for us,” Martin said about the camp staff. “We’ve been in the sport for a long time, just kind of looking and seeing, hoping that maybe one of them becomes a real serious bike racer.”

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