Geritt Beytagh thought he had the legs and lungs to win the 2008 USA Cycling national downhill championships after his qualifying run. He qualified first despite breaking his chain with one-third of the punishing course remaining.
So when the 24-year-old crossed the line in the finals, looked up and saw he’d evicted ’05 champ Cody Warren from the hot seat by three seconds, Beytagh confirmed his suspicions: He’s stronger and faster than ever.
“I actually started working with a trainer for the first time ever this year. I think it’s been paying off,” said Beytagh, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and races for
“At first I didn’t know if it was worth it. I mean, I was paying for stuff that I thought I already knew I could do. But after doing all of these street sprints I realized I had been doing things easier. This is the hardest I’ve ever trained.”
Beytagh found Carmichael Training Systems coach Colin Izzard through his friends and training partners Chris Herndon and Cole Bangert. Beytagh liked what he saw — Herndon and Bangert grabbed the 2007 U.S. titles in dual slalom and downhill, respectively. Making life easier, Izzard is an Asheville local.
“He lives just down the road from me and gave me a good deal,” Beytagh said.
Beytagh’s name may not leap to mind as quickly as those of his predecessors, guys such as Greg Herbold, Shaun Palmer or Myles Rockwell. He’s raced pro since 2000, but regularly finished behind America’s new crop of downhill talent, like Warren, Duncan Riffle and Luke Strobel, at domestic races. And with America’s once-mighty downhill scene shrinking beneath the strength of riders from Europe, Australia and South Africa, Beytagh’s a virtual unknown on the World Cup scene.
Instead, he’s cut his teeth this year on the East Coast’s bustling downhill scene. With not enough funding to tackle the full World Cup or National Mountain Bike Series, Beytagh has hit smaller, more local East Coast races, such as New Jersey’s Diablo Mountain downhill series, select Canada Cup rounds and Mount Snow’s own racing series.
“Right now it seems like the races in America are really scattered all over the place, and people don’t have enough money to race them all, so they pick either West Coast or East Coast,” Beytagh said. “Guys do the Mountain States Cup in the West, and in the East we have a bunch of good races.”
Beytagh is already an international man. He was born in Florida but relocated to South Africa, where he lived for much of his early life. He is an American citizen, but won South Africa’s national downhill championship race in 2003, the same year that country’s biggest off-road star, Greg Minnaar, took the world title. Beytagh also won the African continental championships that year.
And with his success this season — he finished second to Eric Carter at Mount Snow’s dual slalom — Beytagh hopes he can rope in the sponsorship to fuel his international racing ambitions. He’s still a day jobber, working sales and media relations for his sponsor, Morewood Bicycles. The South African brand and Beytagh have worked together for much of his career.
“It’s a financial thing for sure. If I had the money I would definitely be out there racing the World Cups,” Beytagh said. “The local series is good and great training. But if you want to get better, you have to race on the World Cup level.”
Perhaps that day will come when Beytagh can round up enough for a full World Cup campaign. Until then, he’ll go back to the sprints and hard training.