It may be summer break, but Lakeport teen Nathan Barnett is working as hard as ever, pedaling as fast as he can toward his goal of racing bicycles professionally.

"He works out all the time, rides his bike about every day and he's become this extremely healthy eater," said his father, Scott Barnett.

And it's paying off. Less than two years after he traded his BMX bike and dirt motorcycle hobbies for mountain bike racing, the 16-year-old Clearlake High School student ranks 10th in the nation in his age group.

Earlier this month, he placed third in the downhill and cross country races in the "expert junior men's" category at the Downieville Classic in Sierra County.

He has trained and raced with Levi Leipheimer, the Kelseyville High School bike team and the Norcal high school cycling league.

Barnett's quest began after he was introduced to someone just returning from a bike run.

He began researching competitive mountain biking and convinced his dad to buy him one for 8th grade graduation. It was a black and gold Specialized mountain bike, Barnett said.

His father remembers his son's first downhill mountain bike race.

"He wound up getting beat up but was in third place. He liked it" despite the scrapes and bruised shoulders, Scott Barnett said.

Nathan threw himself into the sport and quickly improved. In search of knowledge, he sought out people involved with the bicycling world, including the man he considers his mentor, Jeff Cramer, a cyclist and owner of Main Street Bicycles in Lakeport.

"I still race. . . . I'm old and slow," said Cramer, 51.

Cramer and his wife also were key to establishing the Kelseyville bicycle team.

He said Barnett shows a lot of promise.

"He's talented and determined," Cramer said.

And he's willing to work hard and take advice, he said.

That has included tips on how to be as fit as possible.

In addition to working out and cycling more than 100 miles a week, Barnett also has cleaned up his diet.

"It's been a big change. When I first started riding, I'd eat Taco Bell after my ride," he said.

Now, Barnett avoids sugar, dairy products and fast food. Now a snack is more likely to consist of some meat and fresh fruit, preferably organic.

Barnett said it takes surprisingly little effort to eat right because he's so motivated.

"It's really easy for me to do everything possible to be better," he said.

Barnett is hoping that effort wins him a cycling scholarship for college and a career related to his passion.

His preference is to make it as a racer, but he knows that's usually a short-lived career.

He's considering careers in cycling-related marketing, design work or engineering.

Chances are, he will have a shot at his first choice, Cramer said.

"I think if he keeps on the direction he's going now, I would see he's one of those people everyone is thinking of. At least in the cycling industry," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.