He was a state champion last year. Before that, he was a national champion. Now he’s going for international victories.
Carson Beckett, a rising junior at Marshall County High School and quite an accomplished mountain bike racer, is scheduled to arrive in Belgium Thursday and will begin a schedule of races in Europe with the Cleran MTB Cup in Sankt Vith on Saturday.
At least two more races are on his schedule in a tour that is part of three cross-country mountain bike developmental camps being conducted this summer by USA Cycling. The first was in Canada and another will be held in Vermont.
Beckett took part in the Vermont camp last year. It’s all part of the plan.
“Long term, I would like to make it to a collegiate team and get a scholarship,” said Beckett. “Ultimately I’d like to sign with a pro team, hopefully.”
For someone who has demonstrated the talent Beckett has, that’s not a pipe dream.
“There’s teams all over the country now,” he said. “There’s just more and more every year. There’s anything from junior development all the way to the ones that lead you up to the official pro teams that actually race in the Tour de France.”
The world’s most famous bicycle race is not exactly what Beckett is doing these days. That’s a road race, while Beckett is an off-road racer. But he is an avid follower of the Tour de France and plans to do some road racing at some point, hopefully putting him on a path to the great French race.
“I would like to get into some road racing,” Beckett said. “Every mountain biker, if you want to excel, you’re going to road ride to train. It’s easier training, to build yourself up. I would like to do a race, just to try it out.”
Along the way, there is opportunity for more international competition at the ultimate level.
“Mountain biking is a summer Olympic sport,” said Jason Crivello, Marshall County’s athletic trainer and a cycling enthusiast. “He’s got a very good chance of racing for the national team. He’s going to start getting noticed by the national committee. They want to make sure he can repeat what he’s done this year, and watch his improvement, but I guarantee he’s on everybody’s radar.”
If Beckett wasn’t already a high-profile racer, he certainly rose to that level in July 2013, when he took victories in junior cross-country and Super D in the USA Cycling MTB Nationals at Macungie, Pennsylvania.
Those two victories were part of a streak of 16 straight first-place finishes, racing in such diverse locales as the Land Between the Lakes, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the Pennsylvania nationals event.
Two years earlier, Beckett, then a 14-year-old North Marshall Middle School eighth-grader, was featured in Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine after he captured his eighth win in 12 races that year. That victory locked up the Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association state championship title – in Sport Men Category 2, for riders ages 19-29.
He also won the TBRA title that year in his own class, boys 15-18.
After his success in Pennsylvania last year, Beckett led the Marshall County mountain bike racing team to team and individual state championship honors in the inaugural season of sanctioned competition. Cycling is not yet a sanctioned sport in Kentucky.
Beckett and teammates Hunter Dunnagin, Justice Beal and Jessica Tillson won individual titles and MCHS swept team honors in the competition.
Beckett then switched gears – to basketball, as a guard on the Marshals varsity. But he continued to participate in some bike racing events, even during the hoops season, coordinating his schedule with Marshals coach Gus Gillespie.
“He was already aware that I was doing a sport that’s kind of different,” Beckett said. “He said, ‘Just communicate with me and we can work things out.’”
Beckett is compact, listed at 5-9 in the Marshals basketball roster, but is a gifted athlete.
“I always played soccer, then switched to football and basketball,” he said. “If it wasn’t such a conflict with biking in the fall, I would absolutely love to do soccer too, but there’s just no way I can do both at the same time and expect to get good results.”
Crivello says Beckett’s size has served him well in cycling.
“It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of amazing balance and coordination to be able to ride a bike through the woods as fast as he does,” Crivello said. “He’s not very tall, which gives him a lower center of gravity.”
More important than physical characteristics, Crivello said, is Beckett’s spirit and desire.
“The great thing about watching Carson ride is that he’s having so much fun out there,” he said. “You can tell. I think that’s part of it. He’s not so tight out there, which actually allows him to go faster.”
Beckett, son of Steve and Ann Beckett of Sharpe, picked up the sport from his dad. Riding a bike is just something he has always done, since before he was old enough to realize he was learning a skill.
“I don’t remember very much, but I was told that I was definitely not on the training wheels very long,” he said with a smile. “It was just a couple of days. I was about 4.”
Now, he’s globetrotting, from a USA Cycling event in Colorado (he finished second) and on to Europe. These camps, according to USA Cycling, “are designed to provide high-level international race experience for our country’s best young mountain bikers.” Two teams are on this trip, a 17-18 junior team and an under-23 team.
Races are scheduled Sunday in Landgraff, Netherlands, and on July 13 in Schopp Bundesliga, Germany, and Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Beckett isn’t sure which of the two July 13 events he may participate.
After returning from Europe, Beckett will be headed back to the 2014 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania.
Later this fall, high school competition will begin anew.
Long range, Beckett envisions going into a coaching or administrative position with a college team or the U.S. national effort, or a professional team.
“He’s got a very promising career if he sticks with it,” Crivello said. “His potential, what he’s shown at a young age – I follow it at a national level, and knowing what he’s done, he can definitely go places with this if he wants to.”
For Beckett, the future looks as if it holds quite a ride.