Lehi cyclist invited to join Team USA

2012-02-24T00:17:00Z 2012-02-24T14:40:46Z Lehi cyclist invited to join Team USAJennifer Collard - Correspondent Daily Herald
February 24, 2012 12:17 am  • 

If you're a cyclist, you will likely recognize the names of legendary riders such as Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer, Dirk Cowley and Greg LeMond, but keep an eye out for Utah's own youth prodigy cyclist, Taylor "TJ" Eisenhart, who recently was invited to train with Team USA.

At just 17 years of age, the Lehi High School student has consumed much of his teenage years rubbing shoulders, training, cycling and gaining direction from some of the best riders in the world -- something most cyclists only dream of doing.

TJ gained a love for the sport by watching his older brother John Eisenhart ride for the University of Utah cycling team.

In summer 2001, the family traveled to Spain to reunite with John who had completed a two-year LDS mission. While there, the family traveled to France and watched a stage of the Tour de France.

"I think that's what really lit the fire and got TJ all excited," said TJ's father, Tim Eisenhart. "After we returned, I knew he wanted to go on rides with us but I wasn't sure if he was old enough to keep up."

Tim began his search to find a road bike small enough for his 11-year-old son and finally tracked one down on eBay.

"It wasn't long after he got his bike we were asking him to wait for us on our rides," said Tim, smiling. "TJ took to cycling like a duck takes to water. He was fast from the start."

Just two weeks after his feet clipped into the pedals of his road bike, TJ was competing in local events.

By winter, TJ was invited to join the FFKR Cycling Team out of Salt Lake City, sponsored by FFKR Architects. He attended his first team training camp in St. George in January 2006.

"I had only been on my bike since September, I was pretty nervous," TJ said. Being the youngest on the team, he found comfort in the kindness and respect the other riders showed him. He was treated as an equal and watched over like a little brother.

For the next three years, TJ was coached and found confidence in the guidance he received from former national champion and world master champion Dirk Cowley, who at the time was one of the FFKR team owners.

At age 12, he took second place in the Time Trial at the USA Jr. National Championships. He has stood on the national podium four more times since then. At 14, TJ joined up with Barney King, a nationally recognized junior coach.

In 2010, he traveled to Austria where he placed third in the Jr. World Cup in Deutschlandsberg.

This year has been his best yet. TJ was upgraded to a Category 2 rider. In the cycling world, category 5 is beginner, 4 is novice, 3 is sport, 2 is expert and category 1 is elite.

TJ was named team captain for the Midwest team racing in the Nations Cup race for the Tour of l'Abitibi in Canada for 2011. He crashed in the fifth stage of the race, breaking his shoulder blade and rendering him unable to finish. Regardless, he was still awarded Most Courageous Ride for his racing determination that day.

The broken shoulder forced TJ to abandon his plans to return to Austria, but the outlook brightened when an invite to ride briefly with Team BMC came along.

He was able to ride along with Team BMC team leader Cadel Evans, who was the 2011 overall winner for the Tour de France. He was also briefly joined by Levi Leipheimer, who is a top 10 finisher of the Tour de France.

"It was such a huge honor to ride with them, even if it was just for a few minutes. It was amazing to just see these champions in action," TJ said.

In October, he was invited to attend the USA Talent camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in San Diego. Out of the top 30 riders who attended, TJ walked away ranked No. 1 at the camp and was invited to join Team USA in Europe this spring. USA Cycling is the official cycling organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee and the International Cycling Union and is responsible for identifying, training and selecting cyclists to represent the United States in international competitions.

TJ's statistics for his races can be found at the organization's web site, www.usacycling.org. TJ said his ultimate goal is to compete at a professional level and eventually ride in the Grand Tour.

"It's going to take dedication to accomplishing the little goals first and that's what I'm focused on now," TJ said.

With the many hours spent training, he still manages to maintain a high grade point average and dedicates himself to his studies as a junior at Lehi High School.

"TJ is a great student and a great kid in general," LHS assistant principal Wade Lott said. "He is perfect to represent the school and the community. We support and wish him all the luck in the world as he goes after his dreams."

FFKR Cycling Team: FFKR Architects-sponsored Utah team

Team BMC: BMC Racing Team is a ProTeam title sponsored by BMC, a Swiss-based bicycle frame manufacturer. BMC rider Cadel Evans won the 2011 Tour de France.

Team USA: Internationally competitive U.S. team (includes Olympics)

USA Cycling: Recognized by International Olympic Committee

Tour de France: Oldest, most prestigious and world famous cycling Grand Tour in Europe

Tour of l'Abitibi: The Tour de l'Abitibi is a junior bicycle stage race taking place in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec, Canada

Grand Tour: In cycle racing, a Grand Tour refers to one of the three major European professional cycling stage races of which the Tour de France is the oldest and most prestigious. The other two are the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España

Twitter: Follow TJ at tjeisenhart

Cyclist ratings, www.usacycling.org and search TJ Eisenhart

You Tube: 2011 Tour of l'Abitibi, http://bit.ly/wcob0I

Copyright 2016 Daily Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.