Christopher Blevins went from last man in the 40-rider field to 16th in his first elite men’s short-track race through snow and rain in Germany. Then, he climbed even higher in his first World Cup cross-country race in the elite field.
The 23-year-old from Durango finished 13th overall at the first International Cycling Union (UCI) Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup last weekend in Albstadt, Germany. His sensational start in his jump up from the under-23 ranks to elite saw him climb nine spots in the UCI world rankings to 30th.
The most decorated American U23 rider of all time finished the elite race in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 49 seconds. France’s Victor Koretzky, 27, won the race in 1:20:23, two seconds in front of Swiss powerhouse Nino Schurter. There were 151 men in the race.
“That’s one I’m proud of for sure, and I’m so thankful for the team around me both near and far,” Blevins said in a post to Instagram.
Blevins got another crack in short-track at the second World Cup on Friday in Nové Město, Czech Republic. But a couple of mechanical issues kept him from surging and saw him finish 34th. He will look for a cleaner ride Sunday in cross-country, though the wet and muddy course figures to only deteriorate further during the weekend of racing.
After last weekend’s races, Blevins said he was even happier to see Trinity Racing teammate Haley Batten of Utah take third place in her elite level debut in cross-country. Batten did even better Friday when she dominated the women’s short-track in Nové Město to earn her first elite victory.
“The real win of my day was watching (Batten) ride to third place against the best women in the world,” Blevins said after the race in Germany. “I’ve seen her fight and fight and fight through every stepping stone and knew she was capable of this and many more.”
These two weeks in Europe are important for both Trinity riders who will seek selection from USA Cycling for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. On the women’s side, Kate Courtney, who was fourth in Albstadt, locked up an auto selection with her 2019 performance, and now Batten is a lock for one of the two other American women’s spots at the Olympics.
The U.S. women, by virtue of being ranked in the top-two in the nation’s ranking, will get to send three riders to the Olympics to compete in cross-country. The men, however, are ranked 14th and will once again only get to send one man to the Olympics. That selection will come down to Blevins and Utah’s Keegan Swenson, the reigning national champion in cross-country.
Swenson, who placed 27th in Friday’s short-track in Nové Město, had a tough World Cup weekend in Germany, as he finished 81st in cross-country and was the third American overall behind Durango’s Cole Paton, who worked his way up from 98th starting position to place 54th in 1:26:55.
“It’s challenging to say the least, starting in the back, hopping on and off the bike to avoid pileups, being stuck at the singletrack – forced to wait with nowhere to go,” Paton said in a post to Instagram. “But, I stayed positive and clawed my way up to 54th. I’m happy with that ride and excited for another opportunity in Czech. Feeling good on the bike and hoping to put another clean race together.”
According to selection criteria, an eighth-place or better finish for Blevins on Sunday could gain him automatic qualification for the Olympics if he finishes higher than Swenson.
“As the selection criteria details, if an athlete, for both men and women, wins the Nové Město World Cup, they will automatically be nominated to the Olympic Games Team,” USA Cycling said in a news release. “If quota slots remain, then up to one athlete per gender who finishes in second through eighth place will be selected to the team. If more than one athlete meets this, then the highest placed athlete will earn the nomination. If no one automatically qualifies given these criteria, then the selection committee will utilize discretionary selections.”
USA Cycling said the window for selection will close May 24, meaning this weekend is the last chance for Blevins and Swenson to make their cases.
“Fired up for Sunday,” Blevins said after Friday’s short-track.
Blevins wasn’t the only Durango rider to turn heads moving up a division in Albstadt.
Riley Amos, 19, made his under-23 debut and competed for the first time at a UCI World Cup event. He stunned the field with a fifth-place finish in 1:12:23, which was 34 seconds behind Canada’s Carter Woods, 20.
Germany’s David List, 22, was second, six seconds behind Woods, and Italy’s Simone Avondetto, 21, was third in 1:12:06.
Amos was the top-finisher among 19-year-olds in a race with 132 riders total.
“Over the moon with what I was able to accomplish today in my first ever World Cup,” Amos said in a post to Instagram.
Amos credited the start plan from coach Jim Miller for helping him go from a fifth row start position to the fifth-place finish.
“Little bit of luck combined with good legs carried me to the top 10 by the end of the start loop,” Amos said. “From there, just rode consistent and hung onto the front group with everything I had, and had a blast on the descents.”
Amos, a Bear National Team rider, wore a special new jersey that was a blend of the Bear team and the Trek Factory Racing team, which is supporting him for his inaugural World Cup season.
“It’s been an incredible time and absolutely amazing support to help me perform my best,” Amos said.
Amos will race Saturday at Nové Město looking to further improve on his world ranking.
Also competing in the women’s U23 cross-country race in Germany was Durango’s Savilia Blunk. She finished 28th in 1:17:49. Austria’s Mona Mitterwallner, 19, won in 1:08:02. She was more than 2:30 ahead of second-place Caroline Bohe of Denmark.
“Tough race at the opening round of the World Cup,” Blunk said in a post to Instagram. “Was off to a good start in the lead but broke a chain at the top of the first climb. Carried momentum down into the tech zone where I got a new chain, then battled through the field from (last) till I ran out of time.
“Of course I’m bummed, but honestly there were a lot of positives to take from today. When you’re 2.5 minutes off the leaders after 6 minutes of racing, it’s so easy to mentally give up, but way too many people have invested in me to be here (including myself), and I’m proud for keeping the fight.”
UCI Junior Series
Durango’s Ruth Holcomb also made the trip for the first two World Cup stops of the year to compete in the UCI Junior Series races in Albstadt and Nové Město.
On the notoriously difficult Albstadt course, Holcomb finished 22nd in 1:07:23. She was the top-American finisher in the 51-rider field.
The win went to France’s Line Burquier in 59:12, while Switzerland’s Monique Halter was second in 59:48.
“After a pretty tough week of finishing school, traveling and back-to-back race weekends, I had a pretty difficult race last weekend in Albstadt,” Holcomb said in a post to Instagram. “While I was pretty disappointed (and) upset by my performance, each one of these races is a great learning experience. At this race in particular, I learned how important it is to have an incredible community around you that will be there even on your worst race days. Beyond thankful for the community behind me and so ready to give it another go this weekend in Nové Město.
Holcomb, the fourth-ranked junior women’s rider in the world, and Amos will both be in action Saturday.
The elite races will be Sunday and broadcast live streaming on Red Bull TV.