The youngest member of downhill's youngest team talks about growing up and having fun in an adrenaline sport
Tegan Cruz looks like a lot of 15-year-olds — mussy hair, carefree smile and all — but few people his age can even approach his speed and flair on a bike.
Cruz lives near the mountains in British Columbia, and has grown up skiing, mountain biking and playing basketball as part of an active family. His brother, Lucas, is 18 and also races downhill. He constantly encourages Cruz to be better.
“He definitely helps me a lot with even just mental training, because he knows what it’s like coming into the World Cup scene and everything,” Cruz says. “On training rides, he’ll push me because he’s four years older than me and he’s a lot stronger than me. But it really helps to try to push and keep up with him.”
Cruz’s goal in his first year on the RockShox Trek Race Team is to race as much as he can, and absorb as much as he can. His new teammates aren’t much older — they’re all 19, in fact — but they have a relative wealth of experience in comparison. Jamie Edmondson finished fourth in the elite men’s World Cup race in Lousã last year. Vali Höll won two elite women’s level events, including Crankworx in Innsbruck. And Ethan Shandro, who recently competed with Trek Factory Racing, has already taken Cruz under his wing; the two live near each other and often ride together.
As part of RockShox Trek, and with strong support by his side, Cruz has all the resources he needs to take perhaps the biggest step of his career so far. But first, he’s going to appreciate where he is: Racing with some of the best in the world, with a whole lot of speed still to discover. Not a bad way to spend 15.
Below, Cruz discusses choosing downhill over BMX, what it was like winning the Canadian Open the same day as his brother, and his favorite recipes from his Filipino grandmother. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How’d you get into downhill racing? What was your introduction to the sport?
Tegan Cruz: My family. We’ve grown up in Pemberton our whole lives, big mountain biking area here for sure. But we started off as BMX racers, which we noticed is a really good skill for our racing today. I went to BMX World Champs in 2017 in South Carolina, which was pretty cool. And I transitioned from BMX over to downhill maybe three years ago. Before that, I was doing both.
And why did you transition to downhill off of BMX?
Cruz: Living half an hour away from Western Mountain Bike Park, one of the best bike parks in the world. Every time I go up there with my dad or my older brother, we’re just always having a blast up there. My brother transitioned over to downhill and then I stayed another year in BMX, then just decided downhill is the way I want to go.
You mentioned that a lot of the BMX skills sort of translate to helping you and your downhill racing. How does that work? How does BMX help you in downhill?
Cruz: I really noticed how valuable it is while riding the most technical of tracks; how you’re able to find the flow in the track, just like BMX, and pump your speed out.
You mentioned your older brother, Lucas. What does it mean to you to be able to compete in the same sport as your brother? What does it mean to you to be able to share biking with your family?
Cruz: My family is a big, big biking family for sure. And skiing. And me and my older brother, I’m lucky enough that he includes me in all our bike training trips that he does with most of the older guys. And it’s pretty cool how we get to travel together and race together and everything.
I feel like it definitely helps me with my riding skills, riding with one of the top Canadian racers. He teaches me every day, and it will continue to help me.
How much does he does he coach you? Does it seem like he’s trying to try to build you up into the next great Canadian racer?
Cruz: Yeah, he definitely helps me a lot with even just mental training, because he knows what it’s like coming into the World Cup scene and everything. And with physical training, when he goes and works out in the gym, he’ll invite me to go with him. Or just on training rides, he’ll push me because he’s four years older than me and he’s a lot stronger than me. But it really helps to try to push and keep up with him, for sure.
He is including me in a lot of his training and just taking me out for rides, which is very — I feel very lucky to have that.
Especially with signing with a big team like this, he keeps telling me to stay grounded and don't let the pressure get to me. Just keep calm and have fun on your bike, because that's what it's all about.
As you’re racing more and more competitive races, and taking a big step up by joining the RockShox Trek Race Team, what sort of advice is he giving you to handle that?
Cruz: Especially with signing with a big team like this, he keeps telling me to stay grounded and don’t let the pressure get to me. Just keep calm and have fun on your bike, because that’s what it’s all about.
So then, tell me about this opportunity. How did this come about? How did you get involved with RockShox Trek to begin with?
Cruz: Lucas was on SRAM TLD racing two years ago, and I got to meet most of these guys, which is pretty cool that I am now joining up with them. But at Crankworx in 2019, Crankworx Whistler, SRAM had a big pit area, and I got introduced to most of those guys there, which is super cool. I noticed they’re all super nice and everything. They’re awesome guys. And I’m very thankful for this opportunity.
How well do you know your new teammates? And how’s everyone getting along so far?
Cruz: I have not yet met Jamie in person yet. But I have for the past few years been riding with Ethan Shandro a lot. And just hanging out with him, we’re good buddies. He comes down to my place a bit and trains. Everyone’s really nice. I met Vali two years ago in Switzerland for the World Champs. And yeah, it was pretty amazing. At the time, I thought it was crazy, because she’s on Red Bull and everything, to meet her, the world champion. And now I’m on the same team with her.
I imagine you’ll get a little bit more racing in this year. What are you hoping to accomplish?
Cruz: Just to really learn from the other teammates who have experience and have tasted the World Cup podiums, like Vali has with winning so many races, World Champs and everything. Just to learn a lot and to develop my riding skills as much as I can before the World Cup, and try to get some big races under my belt.
How do you want to get better as a rider?
Cruz: Not just physically — I want to get physically better and work on my biking skills, too — but mental strengthening, just figuring out what works best for me before getting into a start gate, and getting my mind clear, which will be my focus at most of the races.
So this is a chance to introduce yourself to a lot of people who may not know you yet. How would you describe yourself to people who are just getting to meet you?
Cruz: That’s a good question. I keep everyone around me happy and smiling for sure. Just trying to have fun in the pits and everything, riding the smiles on all our faces. I definitely feel like I have a bit of a goofy personality.
I keep everyone around me happy and smiling for sure. [I'm] just trying to have fun in the pits and everything, riding the smiles on all our faces.
Besides your brother, who else has been really supportive of you in your career so far?
Cruz: My parents, my whole family — even my grandparents, aunties, uncles — everyone is super supportive around here. And most of my family lives in British Columbia and comes out to all the races, which is pretty amazing to get down the racetrack and see your whole family sitting down in the stands.
What’s your favorite moment ever on a bike? It could be a race or it could be something else, but what’s the happiest you’ve ever been sitting on two wheels?
Cruz: That’s an awesome question. In 2019, at Whistler Crankworx, the Canadian Open, the biggest downhill race there, I get down the track and slide into first place. And I was the last one to drop, which is a pretty amazing feeling with everyone sitting around you. But the best part might have been 10 minutes after that when Lucas drops down, and he wins the same race I do. And we’re sitting there with our bikes, both with our gold medals, which was pretty cool.
That’s an incredible moment. How did you celebrate after that?
Cruz: Where did we go? We went out for dinner somewhere. We love eating food for sure. We’re half Filipino, and my grandmother always cooks us up these amazing meals, which is awesome. We have a lot of big celebration meals.
That sounds amazing. What’s your favorite dish that she makes?
Cruz: There’s so many. Some of my favorite dishes are the beef and broccoli, which is amazing. Or sinigang, which is a Filipino soup.
What else are you interested in outside of downhill racing?
Cruz: I’ve been playing basketball for maybe four years now, just with the teams here in Pemberton, and it’s definitely one of my other favorite sports to do for sure. It’s pretty fun. Funny thing is, Lucas is actually my team’s coach for this year.
How are you sort of enjoying this racing journey overall? Obviously, you’re very young. Does it feel surreal? Is this what you thought you’d be doing a few years ago?
Cruz: It’s definitely pretty crazy, everything that’s happening and the opportunity I’ve been given, but I’m very, very excited for what’s coming. And last year, I never would have thought I would have been given such a big opportunity and a chance to race around the world and prove what I can do.