True Bennett: Full gas on the pedals
SSCV athlete doesn’t care who he’s racing against
The GoPro Mountain Games better get used to True Bennett.
The 16-year-old Vail cyclist has been attending the backyard event ever since his memory first booted up, and he plans on racing bikes until the day his mind finally goes, too.
“Biking’s the only career option I’ve really looked at. I mean, that’s all I want to do,” he said.
“I would love to stay in the biking world for the rest of my career.”
When ex-pro Mike Kloser offered the youngster a bike several years ago, the writing was on the wall.
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“When you get a bike from a professional racer, it’s amazing,” he exclaimed. Thanks to a bevy of racing options — from town series to cross-country skiing and trail running, Bennett scratched his competitive itch growing up.
“If you want to start doing a sport, this is the place to do it,” he said. “Everybody around you is super good; it’s just a good community to start doing sports.”
That itch isn’t going away.
“I mean the fuel to the fire is just, I love the sport. It’s like a stress relief,” he said.
“Every sport up here is just beautiful. To be up in the mountains for hours — there’s no other way I’d rather spend my day, and I love going hard. It’s everything I want. And when you can go hard for a living, that’s my dream job. That’s what I’m working towards — to be a world tour pro so I can go hard for a living.”
Train hard, race hard
It’s one thing to express professional ambitions and another to walk the walk. The monotone Bennett evokes a fearlessness and subtle joy in testing himself and his competitors — two things he does often.
His training ride before the Eagle Ranch Classic on June 1, where he hopped right into the pro/open field, was a 43-mile, 5,413 vertical feet day. Averaging 209 watts over the course of about three hours, Bennett lapped the Bachelor Gulch to Daybreak Ridge climb three times in the middle of a point-to-point session that started at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and ended at his house in Vail.
“I love it! Any riding is good riding,” he said of his standard climbing routes, which also include Wildridge and Mountain Star. “I just go up all those big climbs because it’s the only spot you can go up for a long time and get back pretty quickly.”
His Trek super-caliber hardtail is his primary rig, even when pavement presents the only training option.
“Especially for Winter Park, where it’s so much climbing, I don’t know if it’s worth it to have a huge 120mm travel,” he said, referring to the site of the Junior Nationals, his favorite course and event.
“It just feels like what mountain biking was meant to be. It’s up in the mountains, you climb up this dirt road and then you descend down these — they’re not really man-built — it’s just rocks and roots on a trail,” he said of the championship venue.
“I like a long climb and a fast, steep, natural descent. That’s definitely my favorite type of course, and GoPro (Mountain Games) is pretty similar to that, too.”
Later this August, Bennett will travel to Europe to race in Belgium Switzerland and the Czech Republic as a member of U.S.A. Cycling’s Olympic Development Academy.
“It’s definitely worth it to get to race Europe because Europe racing is a completely different game from what I heard,” said Bennett.
“The fans are gnarly, the kids are gnarly, the racing’s fun.”
He is coached by Jason Tullous, an experienced mentor of multiple professional cyclists, and he competes for The Feed High Performance Team, which also includes recognizable names like Josiah Middaugh and John Gaston as well as national mountain bike champion Savilia Blunk and former World Tour Pro Peter Stetina.
At the Mountain Games, Bennett is focused on the mountain bike race, but might also hop into the time-trial and even the 10K trail run, a race he won in his age category last year.
“It’s just sweet to have a high-quality race in your hometown,” he said on why he keeps returning.
As far as goals go, Bennett said it depends on who shoes up. If Keegan Swenson, Howard Grotts and Russell Finsterwald are there, he’ll hope for a top-10. No matter what, he plans on mixing it up with the best and hanging around for as long as possible.
“My tactics for this is to just hammer the uphills,” he said, adding that on the non-technical switchback descents, he’ll need to “sprint out of every corner,” too.
“I usually just hammer the climbs as hard as I can and then descend as well as I can. People I go against are really good (at descending), pretty gnarly. My climbing is definitely my strong point.”
While Bennett is all about the bike when he’s talking training, racing and pro athletes, he likes to balance his life with another pastime: fishing.
“Fishing gives me the same thing mountain biking gives me. It’s just like relaxing,” he said of the time he spends walking down to Gore Creek to fly fish.
At the end of the day, though, riding — all out — is all he ever hopes to do.
“I mean I’m never satisfied with my career; you’ve always got to be looking up and looking for another goal, but my biggest goal that I really want to get is, I mean, I want to be a world champion at some point,” he stated.
“That’s what I want. World Champion mountain-biker — that’s definitely my goal.”