DEER VALLEY — Robbie Squire has been racing mountain bikes on a national level for a little more than a year.

Yet he's already considered one of the best in the country.

In fact, just last weekend, the 18-year-old from Sandy placed 23rd in the junior cross country race at the mountain bike world championships in Italy.

"I was really excited after my race and even more so when I was told where I finished," Squire said via e-mail. "I hadn't been feeling strong in my riding in the week leading up to my race, but after the first lap I was feeling good and knew that I could finish the race strong."

Those outlying factors include starting from the 71st position and needing to pass scores of other cyclists as he fought his way up the charts. Squire ended the race as the highest-finishing American in the field and had to pass 48 cyclists before he finally crossed the finish line with bloody knees and legs after suffering a few nasty crashes in the race.

"Twenty-third was higher than what the U.S. juniors had done the last few years so I was really excited with my finish," Squire said. "Besides that, I started 71st and finishing where I did made me feel that if I had a better start position I could have done much better."

This weekend, Squire will be back on his home turf — or, rather, his home dirt — as he seeks a repeat win at Deer Valley when the National Mountain Bike Series makes its annual stop in Utah.

A year ago, Squire surprised the junior field by bolting out to a win — wearing tennis shoes instead of traditional cycling shoes that clip onto his pedals.

That victory caught the attention of a lot of people and he is now riding a top-notch bike with top-flight gear.

Local pro Bart Gillespie is a big fan.

"Robbie Squire from Sandy is a huge talent and at only 18 has huge potential," Gillespie wrote on his blog. Squire has "more raw talent than I ever thought of having. Fun to watch (him) improve!"

The high finish was a bit of a surprise for the youngster. The cross country race included several laps with some racers being pulled if they fell too far behind. Squire never fell behind and actually saw his times improve each lap.

Though he may be jet-lagged and tired from a week of racing and being a tourist in Italy, Squire will line up with dozens of the nation's best mountain bikers.

"I'll be returning from Italy only a day before Deer Valley so I'm hoping that I can adjust to the different time zone ... and have a strong ride. The course caters to me very well in that there is a lot of climbing. I did well last year as a beginner racer so I'm hoping that I have as good a race in the junior expert category."

Heber City's Kathy Sherwin, a pro-level cyclist who earned her first NMBS podium spot at this event last year, will be around trying to climb a step or two higher on that perch.

Gillespie, Mitchell Peterson (who competed in Italy with Squire) and a few other local and national stars will be in Canada for the British Columbia Bike Race and will miss the local NMBS stop.

Practice at the NMBS starts Thursday with qualifying races beginning Friday. Finals will be held on Saturday and Sunday.

Admission to the weekend's activities is free.

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