Chasing the Dream with Ben Cruz

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Ben Cruz rides the Ranch in Marin County, California, where he trains and tests WTB product with Weir.

It’s graduation day for Team WTB rider Ben Cruz who, after three years of riding and racing domestically with teammates Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler, has proven he can run with the big dogs and outrun a lot of them! To that end, it’s no surprise that Cruz will be joining his Cannondale OverMountain teammate Jerome Clementz in 2013 on the international race circuit as a full-time bike racer. Despite some new digs by way of bike parts, a slightly different kit, and race schedule (mostly World Enduro Series events), Ben’s not likely to stray far from his roots. In this case, that’d be his own special brand of “spirited” mountain biking that’s as infamous as it is contagious, and his long history with WTB. With much to give to the sport, the talented 22-year-old rider is on his way to pushing new limits and WTB is proud to be a part of his journey.

Legendary "Blind Bobby" is just one of the WTBers proud of how far Ben's come.

We caught up with Ben, Mark and Jason as they prepare for another busy season of riding and racing. Here’s what Ben had to say about the Team, his road to becoming a full-time pro athlete, and what’s up next for him. And, here’s what Weir and Moeschler had to say about what Ben had to say…

Q – How long have you been riding for Team WTB and how did you come to join up?

Ben – Mark brought me on. I always was around since I grew up real close to his place (in Novato, CA). After high school, I was working in bike shops, wrenching and riding everyday. I think my first trip with the Team was in 2009. It was the first time I met most of the guys and it was at the Ashland Spring Thaw. I remember showing up with about 15 guns and a cooler of alcohol. Ended up doing pretty well that race and I think the level of drinking and riding sparked a fire of youth in the Team’s eyes again (haha). When I first met Jason, Mark introduced him as the smartest fast guy I’d ever meet. To this day that statement holds true.

Rolling into town back when we had to worry about what Ben might be concealing. Glad those days are gone...

Mark– I admit he is a bit rough. I got a 52 willy that runs smoother, but I tell you one thing….If doomsday does come we made the right choice. Kid has a wicked skill set on and off the bike.

Jason- I still remember that first race. I was wondering, who in the heck is Mark bringing around now? Why do I have to put up with loose dudes like this? Then I got to work, and started pounding out the dents.

Q – What’s your experience been on the Team? How have you grown as a rider, professional athlete, etc.?

Ben – I’ve loved it all. There have been times when I’ve collapsed from laughing so hard. The best memories of my life have happened because of the Team. All the amazing trips, races, new friends, and adventures have made me who I am. My friends all call me a gypsy; I thank WTB for this (LOL)

Stage racing=sleeping  outside for this bike gypsy...

As a rider I’ve grown by watching. I’ve had opportunities to ride amongst the best racers and riders in the world and take little bits of everything I’ve seen and heard them say and mix it all into a big pot and make a stew of bike knowledge. Mark and Jason showed me the ways of having pain and suffering as a daily routine and that’s helped get me to where I am now. Nothing comes for free and pain is just as good as money sport.

Alternative training practices... Don't try this at home kids.

I’m still working on this professional athlete thing but it’s coming along. The training and eating are getting to be more like habits than chores, and I’m really thankful I’ve had the old guys to slap me upside the head and set me straight back down the road when I decide it’s time to do some donuts

Here's what feeling old and happy looks like... not bad, eh?

Mark- Ben is a different shade of the same color that I am. It’s hard to explain sometimes and even harder to read for myself. Things we do to each other—seems like we just beat up ourselves at times. He teaches me the things I don’t want to learn. His youth makes me feel old but at the same time happy. The time we have had and will have are a blessing. I will never take them for granted.

Jason- Ben treats Mark and I like his elders, which shows me that he is a respectable young adult. He listens to us, and then reciprocates, mostly related to life lesson lectures. Ben has a riding style all his own. I don’t take any credit for the riding style. But if it is good behavior you see, you can stick the gold star on my hat.

Where were you on this one Jason?

Q- Outside of racing, how has your role on the Team influenced WTB product? (Test riding prototypes and product development)

Ben – I’m not the smoothest rider. I’ve always been good at breaking stuff. When it’s time to see if something can be broken, it tends to end up on my bike. I’ve done a good amount of testing on different projects, logging big hours on the bike and beating on proto hubs and giving my feedback has been a fun time. I went through a wheel-exploding phase a few years back that wasn’t fun for me, but everyone else seemed to love it in the development department.

Ben spends more time in the air than on the ground at the Ashland Mountain Enduro.

Mark- Never scared to go all in, this kid likes to float the valves. Not really the best for his body but as a product tester, he is one of the best.

Jason- Ben is real tough on equipment. Part of that is because he rides in all weather, and the other part is because he puts very uncommon stresses on his bike because of the style of trails he rides. When Ben came to us, he was a typical high school rider. He was constantly breaking things. Mark and I stay on him on paying close attention to his equipment while riding. 1st priority is keep it upright, 2nd priority is keep it together.

Decline captures the many contrasts of these two racers, including their bikes and riding styles.

Q- What’s your experience been training/riding/racing with your teammates Jason and Mark? What was your most memorable moment(s) with them?

Ben- It’s been awesome. Who better in the all-mounatin world to have showing you the ropes than two of the best!! They taught me shitloads about riding and racing and a lot about life as well. At first it was Mark showing me technique on the trail and pushing me to ride everyday, then I started getting Jason’s talks on nutrition, and that look when he knew he had to repeat his sentence in a simpler form for me to understand—haha. There has been soo many awesome times!! It’s impossible to put a finger on just one.

Despite the heat, there were too many good times and great people in PA to complain...much.

The sweaty trips to PA with Cush's cat windmilling litter onto Mark...

Meet Louise... what she lacks in fur she makes up for in Team WTB hospitality.

or the time I yelled at the flight attendant that “He Sucked” then the not very nice lady (explicative removed) in front of us Tweeted about it. Then we found her Twitter account and… well it was funny.The level of ridiculousness on some of the trips with just me and Mark was through the roof. After those car rides you never remember what was actually said but having cramps in your face from laughing so much is the memory that stays with ya forever.

Mark- Ben makes me feel like his age, Jason makes me know I’m not. The balance between the both of them is uncommon and maybe the best thing this team ever had. I owe both of them a lot for what they have taught me.

"Bet you can't hit that squirrel..."

Jason- I try to make sure that Ben and Mark never travel as a pair. Those two can really have a good time, and I like to be there to make sure they get home safe after the post race celebrations. I would be crushed if anything every happened to them. Riding with Ben is very interesting. I never lead at the start of a downhill. I always let him and Mark go first. It is very rare for Mark to come unglued, but I have seen Ben bouncing down the hill like a fish out of the water more times than you can imagine.

Q- What’s your best memory and/or greatest achievement while on the Team?

Ben- Going from being just a punk kid in cut off jeans, falling all the time to a trained athlete with the skills and knowledge to compete at the top level is a huge achievement. Can’t say I did it on my own but getting to where I am is my biggest achievement and it’s not gonna stop here. Gonna shoot for the stars and chase down that dream.

Best memory is Jason drinking a beer at 8 am on the Pacifico shoot!!! It’s a once in a lifetime sight and I got pics of it!!!

See for yourself…

Mark- Knowing that we’ve become friends for life and that these types of things don’t just happen over night. It takes time, a bit of heartbreak and high-life. We as a team have been through a lot, whether out loud together or in our head alone. We don’t give each other an inch but we give each other our respect. Never given—earned. We now, after all this time, look out for each other in a different way, something that comes with stress of life and striving to be better.

Jason-That beer cost me $2K in stitches, and three weeks off the bike. Never again will I be provoked. Ben has come a long way. My best memory from a race with him is from the Ashland Enduro last year. He was eating sausage for breakfast. Nothing else. Just sausage. We had a lot of physical racing to do that day, so I suggested some better foods for him to eat before we headed out. He stuck with sausage because we were short on time, then proceeded to beat me in the day’s race, which were tracks that were suited much more to my riding style. Impressed, pissed, proud, and bewildered all in the same day.

A lot of WTB on the Ashland Enduro podium: Nathan Riddle 2nd, Ben 3rd, and Moeschler, impressed, proud and bewildered in 4th.

Q- What do you look forward to now that you’re a full time racer for Cannondale’s Overmountain Enduro Team? And what does that mean exactly? (Will you still be sporting a WTB logo on your jersey, riding WTB, etc.?)

Ben- Full-time Cannondale Overmountain means that I am Cannondale’s bitch. I ride Cannondale bikes with Sram Rock Shox setups. I will be a poster boy for the company, traveling and racing with the Frenchie (Jerome Clementz) on the international circuit. I will also play a huge part in testing and development of new projects. Being able to train and race full time is a huge step for me and it’s really made biking just not my life but an actual job! Really excited for what the future holds. I will still be running WTB products on my bikes—wheels, tires, grips, saddles and my race kit will be similiar to Mark and Jason’s minus a few logos. WTB has gotten me this far and there was no way I was walking away from my family and my roots. Thanks for everything and it’s been an amazing ride getting to this point. Moving on to the next level of my career is exciting and scary but everyone grows up right?? haha well maybe not from what I’ve learned from the Team haha… dirty old men

On cloud 9, racing abroad with Jerome Clementz and Weir at the Trans-Provence stage race.

Mark- Jason has always been the one person that I listen to with no prejudice. He speaks in a way that makes so much sense you can’t even attempt to argue. We are lucky we (WTB) found him, in turn we found Ben and Jason and I found value not just in Ben’s marketability and testing ability but his friendship. It’s always hard to say things that make you feel vulnerable. After years of giving so many kids a chance and learning that not every kid wants what we want, we found one. Ben will always be part of WTB and us.

Ben and Jerome prove they're contenders in any enduro on and continent, dominating with first and second-place finishes at the Montenbaik Kona Enduro in Soutehern Chili.

Jason- WTB is fortunate that Mark found Ben. Mark and I have been traveling and racing for so many years. Last year was the first year we made decisions to stay home for a few events, and just send Ben, knowing that the sponsors would be represented well. So yeah, I guess that does mean that Ben really has graduated. 

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