The NorCal High School Mountain Bike League represents a fun way for many students to mountain bike for their schools, and it's also a place to look for future mountain bike champions. The League's 2008 Varsity Champion John Bennett, from El Cerrito High School, qualified for a spot on the US National Team headed to Val di Sol, Italy for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on June 16-22.
Bennett's victory at the Santa Ynez National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) on May 17, secured him his place. His berth on the team is a first in League history.
"I decided that I wanted to take a chance at qualifying for worlds about a week before the Santa Ynez race. [My coach] Dario [Fredrick] changed my training a little for the race which included some brutal intervals," said Bennett, who also credited his parents and high school coaches for his success.
At the start line of the qualifying race he said he had been particularly nervous when faced with top competitors from all over the US who were also going for the worlds team. "When the race started I was in the back of the pack."
Things started looking up before long. "After the first set of climbs I had made my way to the front and most of them had fallen behind. I was left with two other riders, Nate Byrom and Robby Squire. At the start of the second lap we had left everyone far behind. We all stayed together until about three miles from the finish," said Bennett. "On one of the climbs after the feed zone I attacked."
Bennett's trip to Italy is partially funded by USA Cycling. To pay the balance, supporters have started a donation fund.