Rider, coach share success
July 24, 2009
It’s not too often that a coach and a young athlete get the opportunity to compete at the same sporting event. And it’s even less often that they both end up on the podium.
But that’s exactly what happened last weekend at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.
Tom Noaker, the head coach for Park City’s Young Riders Race Team, raced in the cross-country event in the 60-64 age group and finished second. Keegan Swenson, whom Noaker has coached for several years, raced among 15- to 18-year-olds and placed third in both the cross-country and short-track competitions.
Noaker hasn’t competed in a national championship since 2003, but as a two-time national champion he automatically qualified for this year’s event. "I considered it water under the bridge," he said. "I didn’t want to do another one, but since it was close and Keegan was there, I wanted my son to come with me and see what it was all about."
The race was held at the SolVista Bike Park in Granby, Colo., where thousands of professional and amateur racers of all ages converged to battle it out for national titles in cross-country, downhill, super-d, mountain cross and short-track races.
Noaker and Swenson both raced in Category 1, which is the second-highest ability category and replaced the former designations of expert and semi-pro. This is the first season 15-year-old Swenson has been eligible to race in this category.
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Despite shifting his focus from his own training to the kids’ in past years, Noaker proved that he’s still a tough competitor. He finished the 16.5-mile cross-country race a mere two seconds behind the winner in his age group.
After seven years of working with the Young Riders team, Noaker knows it can be difficult to stay on the competition circuit while coaching. "You have to sacrifice some of your own training if you’re going to coach kids." The current Young Riders team consists of nine athletes between 13 and 18 years old, including his 15-year-old son, Dylan. "I’ve got a good team now," he said. "These kids are all fast. I can go out on any given day and at least get some training effect from it."
Swenson started racing at age 10 and joined Noaker’s team at 12. He competes in mountain bike, road race, and cyclocross events. A top-10 finish at a qualifying race in May guaranteed him a spot in the cross-country and short-track competitions at the National Championships.
Swenson trumped all but two competitors in the 17.5-mile cross-country race as well as the short track, which is a 20-minute timed event on a tight circuit. "It’s a lot like a criterium on mountain bikes, but it’s more intense because it’s so short," explained Noaker.
At the start of the short track, Swenson was actually bumped off his bike and got pushed back to about 40th place. "He just put his head down and clawed his way back up and missed getting second overall by about a bike length," says Noaker. "He passed probably 35 to 40 people in maybe 18 minutes. It was a good performance for him."
Noaker and Swenson agreed that the cross-country course was challenging. "It was a type of course that we never ride here – it had a lot of downhill, loose rock, dust, ruts and trees," Noaker said.
"It was just really different from what we’re used to," added Swenson.
Although the racers had a chance to pre-ride the course, the wear and tear of practice rounds took its toll on the terrain. "From a week before the race to race day the course changes dramatically, and usually for the worse," said Noaker.
Swenson will compete in the Utah Road Race Championships for juniors and masters this weekend. Meanwhile, Noaker will travel with the rest of the Young Riders team to the 11th race in the Intermountain Cup Mountain Bike Racing Series, "Taming the Tetons" in Jackson Hole.
After the Intermountain Cup culminates with the "Rock the Canyons" race on Aug. 1 in Park City, Noaker and Swenson will take a break before preparing for the cyclocross season, which starts in October.
"I enjoy it more than mountain-bike racing," says Noaker. "Cross racing is exciting. There are barricades and run-ups and mud, and depending on the weather, it could be snowing, it could be dry and dusty, it could be everything you get in Utah."
For more information about Young Riders, visit http://www.youngriders.com or email Noaker at email@example.com . For more information and full results from the 2009 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships, visit http://www.solvistanationals.com.