Atomic Youth


Dec 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Bahati drops the hammer

Rashaan Bahati [20]


Los Angeles, California
"Five, four, three..." Rashaan Bahati is in a Colorado Springs lab, pedaling a road bike on a trainer set to zero resistance. "Two, one...huh!" A technician throws a lever connected to the racer's cranks. It's as if Bahati had rounded a corner and plunged into a pool of wet cement. The friction is unbearable. Or it would be for most. Bahati, a sprinting prodigy, churns cement to froth.

Six feet tall and 156 pounds, Bahati seems tailor-made to dominate the sprint finishes of road races. At 18 he won the 2000 Junior National Criterium and the Junior National Road Championships, and then went out and beat up on the best sprinters in the country, taking first in the Elite Senior National Criterium Championships in Downers Grove, Illinois. "When you see someone do something unbelievable early in his career, that's enough," says Team Saturn coach Jim Copeland, who signed Bahati to his road-riding crew shortly thereafter. "He pretty much showed everybody that he's the fastest junior out there."

Of course, smoking a field of Americans is one thing; European stage races like the Tour de France and one-day Spring Classic events like ParisÐRoubaix are another. To win those events, riders must sprint after a grueling 100-mile-plus grind. Balancing endurance (for hanging in the peloton) with speed (for matching the world's great sprinters, like Italy's Mario Cippolini, his role model) will require Bahati to retrain some of his naturally occurring fast-twitch muscle fibers into more energy-efficient slow-twitch fibers. To win, he'll need a U.S. PostalÐ or Once-caliber team to support him. Still, Bahati scored two top-ten finishes in his first European stage race in Antwerp this fall, with no support from his national team comrades, who had fallen back. "It's like you're a musician playing the drums," says Bahati. "If you keep getting to gigs and performing, eventually someone will notice." —M. P. Tim Johnson [25]


Middleton, Massachusetts
As if the sport weren't brutal enough—cyclocross competitors slog modified road bikes over tarmac and dirt, dismounting at full tilt to carry their bikes over obstacles—American riders before 1999 were forced to start races at the back of the pack. But that year, at the World Cyclocross Championships in Poprad, Czech Republic, Johnson pedaled through blinding snow to finish third in the under-23 division, putting an American on the podium for the first time in cyclocross history. The bronze gave the Yanks some cred in the Eurocentric sport ("We're not looked at as freaks anymore," says Colorado's Marc Gullickson, Johnson's chief rival) and earned Johnson a spot on road-racing Team Saturn. "My goal is to get stronger using the road," says Johnson, who won the 2000 U.S. National Championships, and who's gunning for another cyclocross world medal this February in Monopoli, Italy—this time in the elite category. "Winning takes luck you can never count on, but a medal is a dream I can achieve." —Alan Coté