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Notes from mountain bike camp: Learning to race and beat the Europeans

In football, there is a system in place for developing players. Their first snaps often come in elementary school, followed by rough-and-tumble games in junior high and high school.

The best athletes move on to play in college, and a few hit the big time, a pro contract in the National Football League.

But how do strong, young mountain bike racers move up the ranks,?

On Friday, Ryan Kohler, manager of the USA Cycling Rocky Mountain ID Camp, helped 20 teenage cyclist find their way to the next level.

With a light rain splattering their helmets, girl and boy riders aged 14-to-17 hit the trails in Palmer Park. It was the first day of camp, a chance to shake out the legs and get used to the terrain.

VIDEO: Kohler leads his posse in Palmer Park

"USA Cycling has a development pathway and this is the first step," Kohler said.

The riders are invited to attend camp after showing good results in programs such as the Alison Dunlap Junior Race Series.

Kohler had a plan for them. U.S. kids need skills training. They're fast, they can climb, but to compete on the world stage, they have to be skillful.

"We'll focus on skill development and try to make them even faster riders," Kohler said. "Cross country, uphill, downhill, race skills, cornering ... name any trail in Palmer Park and it will teach you the skill you need."

The next stop, Europe. USA Cycling will help pay some of the expenses, Kohler said, but the riders and their parents also chip in for travel expenses.

"In Europe, they're going to get the experience of racing against the best in the world," Kohler said. "They're (Europeans) much faster than we are here. Hopefully, our riders can bring that experience home and continue training and racing. If they see good results, then they can move on to Step 3, which is like a European resident program, where they go for a longer time and they race more."

Riders don't have to do this, they can still become a pro and race in the U.S. It's not bad work, if you can get it.

"But this whole progression falls into USA Cycling's mission of getting more Olympic Medals," Kohler said.

The camp continues for six days and includes instruction on training, nutrition, bike repair and maintenance, and bike packing for travel.

But it's really about the riding. On Sunday, all of the cyclist will compete in the KMC Classic beginning at 8 a.m. at Palmer Park. Kohler said the race format is perfect for the skills camp because it resembles European racing with shorter laps that create more competitive, aggressive racing.

"This is great because it's one of the shorter cross country courses that you see," Kohler said. "It's fast, it's technical and they're not out doing a 30-mile lap."

Halley Batten, 15, of Park City, will travel to Europe in two weeks to taste the tougher competition. If she wants to reach her goals, she has to ride against the best in the world.

"The technical and how they race is different," she said. "It's a closer race, a big fight for the finish. And I think there will be more girls to race against. I want to go World Cup races and the Olympics, so this is part of getting there."

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