Before Sunday, the last time a U.S.A. male mountain biker won an elite UCI World Cup cross-country Olympic race was Tinker Juarez back in 1994.
Christopher Blevins of Durango, however, changed that. Blevins took the crown in the season finale Sunday at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia, winning the cross-country race by 9 seconds in 1 hour, 15 minutes and 14 seconds.
“It was a big day, not just for me, but for everyone on USA Cycling,” Blevins said, calling it a culmination of the investment, time and resources that he’d experienced in the past 10 years for mountain bike development with the organization.
“It was cool to make it happen on home soil,” he said.
The competitors did seven laps during the race. Blevins said the course was “very open” with “more fire road” that allowed riders to stay together longer in the lead pack.
“It was closer to a road race,” he said, adding that tactics played a part in his strategy of conserving energy for the end.
Blevins also recently raced in the 8-stage Tour de Britain road bike race, where he finished 58th for Trinity Racing. He said that tour, once he recovered from it, helped his fitness.
On Sunday, Blevins stayed with the lead group throughout the race, but didn’t take the lead until the final climb.
“Once I was in the lead, (the crowd) was insane,” he said. “There was so much emotion.“
Blevins surged by the leader, sprinted up the final hill to get some separation, went down through a rock garden all alone and then pedaled to the finish line with his arms raised.
A lot of other riders got flats in the rock garden, riding it too aggressively, so Blevins said his approach was “to be smooth” down the section during the race.
He also said he could hear his friends and family, and other USA fans, cheering him on through out the race, but kept his reaction in check until the end.
“I let it build up for that last attack,” he said.
And when he finished, no one was close to him, allowing him to celebrate as he crossed the finish line in first place.
“It was nothing short of one of the best moments in my life; just pure joy and excitement,” Blevins said. “Sometimes these days sneak up on you as an athlete and reminds you what can be so magical about sports.”
Winning in the U.S. was also special for Blevins because his whole family was there cheering him on. He said it was the first time he had his whole family see him race in a few years.
Blevins wore the rainbow jersey that he won Aug. 26 in short-track cross-country at the UCI world championships for the for the short--track race in Snowshoe.
“It was weird, I looked in the mirror a couple times, like ‘what’s going on,’” he said about putting on the rainbow jersey. “It was just the best.”
Blevins placed fourth in the short-track race, which was his highest finish at a World Cup event in the discipline.
Several other Durangoans also competed in the World Cup in the U23 division. Savilia Blunk finished third in the cross-country race in 1:07:18, just 3:20 behind the winner from Austria. Riley Amos placed 15h in the men’s U23 cross-country race in 1:10:55, and Coby Freeburn finished 27th in 1:15:11.
Blevins’ cross-country win, however, was the highlight, especially since Blevins wasn’t even born the last time the feat had been accomplished by an American male.
“I felt the opportunity and the pressing nature of going all in and seeing what I could do,” Blevins said. “Now that the streak is over we can turn it into a positive streak every year.”
“It was a special moment, being in the U.S. and doing with and for U.S.A Cycling,” he said. “I think I’m on the front of a new wave of U.S. riders coming up.”