Regional Talent ID Camps: Guiding young athletes to higher levels


by Mary Topping
Cycling coach Rusty Miller calls it the “best week of the year.” Others describe it as life-changing; among them is 19-year-old Ian Garrison.
Garrison is a repeat alum of the “best week,” five summer days at one of USA Cycling’s Regional Talent ID Camps. He first attended a Talent ID road camp at age 15 in Greenville, South Carolina; lessons there—namely about cycling’s fun factor—carried him to racing success and a current professional ride with the U23 Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team. Camp also introduced him to Miller who became his first coach. That relationship, he says, changed his life.
Izzie Harden utilized what she learned at camp in the Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium
Izzie Harden utilized what she learned at camp in the Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium
Mark Harden is the father of Izzie Harden. She attended her first camp last year at age 13, also in Greenville. He says the outing generated so much progression for Izzie in terms of skills, motivation and added confidence, that he would have paid twice the price. “She was also more focused on her next steps and understood more of the commitment she needs to make in order to achieve her goals,” he notes. A cyclist himself, Izzie’s dad acknowledges the camp’s curriculum and coaching expertise surpass any advice he could impart alone.
In fact, it’s darn near impossible to duplicate the package USA Cycling has honed since the Regional Talent ID Camps began in 1993.
More than a number
This summer, America’s juniors can choose from up to 11 camps across nine states. They cover the disciplines of road, mountain biking and—for the first time—cyclo-cross, scheduled just in time to launch a personal best season. Riders who attend regional camps may be selected for international competition opportunities. 
Miller, manager of the Greenville road camp for three years and long-time assistant coach at that location, says the camps concentrate on three areas: testing, development and overall experience.
Testing consists of climbing sessions of fixed duration and gradient which produce standardized estimates of power output for each athlete. Curious youngsters can evaluate their results alongside those of all camp participants to date, such as Taylor Phinney and Coryn Rivera.
Or, they can focus on their personal effort. Izzie Harden learned about her physical limits and mental vigor.
“You have to put your mind in a mental state where you tell yourself, ‘I’m going to do this,’ so you can actually perform well. Most of your muscles are controlled by your brain,” she explains. “So if you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to do well,’ then you’re not going to do well.”
The young member of RTO National Women's Cycling Team put that lesson into action recently after advancing to cat 2. She entered the biggest race of her budding career, the Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium. Nervous at the start, her hands shook. Her eyes searched for her parents among the spectators.
Then she recaptured her composure by remembering, “This is just another race. I know I can do this because I have already made it up to this level.” She raced to 29th out of 40 finishers in a field packed with elite criterium strongwomen.
She would have also relied on the development tools taught in Greenville, from core strength to nutrition to race tactics and handling bumping in the field, as well as tips from coaches who know how to build talent. 
Drawing out strengths
Ian Garrison attended more than one Talent ID Camp and he made his U23 debut this year with a silver medal at Gent Wevelgem.
Ian Garrison attended more than one Talent ID Camp and he made his U23 debut this year with a silver medal at Gent Wevelgem.
“What’s been huge for me,” notes Garrison, “is the way Rusty is always recognizing my strengths but pushing me further and having almost a greater belief in me than I do.”
Like Lizzie Harden, Garrison possesses mental strength. But he hadn’t really recognized that until the coach’s keen eye for cycling potential surfaced it.
“Rusty always reminds me that I often race well when it’s raining or conditions are brutal,” says Garrison. “He reminds me that I have the mental strength to keep going and not let it faze me when things get really hard in races or the cycling lifestyle in general.”
Additionally, camp coaches connect with the secret universes of teens because they’ve pedaled in their shoes. For example, Miller attended the inaugural 1993 camp at age 17 before going on to race professionally.
“I’m aware of what are appropriate levels of discipline and dedication for an athlete of 16 or 18,” he says. “I have a sense for developing whole people and whole athletes, not just pedalers of bicycles.”
With that last sentiment Miller is referring to the third area of concentration: deliver five days that inspire campers to return.
All bikes all the time
“Not all of the kids will be selected to race for the national team, but all of the kids can be given an experience that makes them want more of cycling,” Miller notes. He points out that even the athletes who tested at the bottom of the class over Greenville’s last two sessions have come back the following year.
Garrison remembers the power of that overall experience: “Camp as a whole is riding, hanging out with other cyclists your own age and playing games. That overall experience is what can create that life changing effect of showing how cool the sport of cycling is and how enjoyable it can be.”
Immersion in a two wheeled haven with 35 like-minded spinners causes a paradigm shift away from feeling different, either because cycling isn’t a high school sport or local junior fields are small.
At camp teens find their tribe by chatting everyday while riding as a unit in a double paceline, attending lectures and discussions together and playing on the bike. This frees them to develop lasting pride in themselves and their choice of sport.
Izzie Harden noticed a difference after the best week of the year. “I felt better about what I do because camp taught me this sport isn’t for everyone. You have to be the tough of the tough to do this. I’ll go down in a race and then keep going, so that makes me feel like I’m tougher than some of the football players because they get the slightest injury and they’re off the field.
“I love explaining to my friends what I do. We know not everyone does this, but that’s okay. It is a tough sport but it’s also a really fun sport.” 
Evening playfulness cements the sense of community that buoys the athletes. The cyclists swap cleats for sneakers and cruise to a grassy field. Skills lessons naturally flow into games. “We play one called garbage ball where they maneuver and try to bump each other off their bikes,” Miller explains.
“They’re hooting and hollering and giggling out of control. You can’t get that just by going to a bike race. You can’t get that at home.”
Promising young cyclists of racing age 14 to 19 who dream of this experience should check the eligibility criteria and details about this summer’s USA Cycling Regional Talent ID Camps. Certain camps serve the purpose of identifying riders to compete at selected international events.

This Article Updated May 15, 2017 @ 05:25 PM For more information contact: