Madeline “Maddie Jo” Robbins had a singular focus all season, and that was to race at the world championships of mountain biking. Even a broken wrist wouldn’t keep her away.
The Durango High School junior won the USA Cycling junior women’s cross-country national championship in July to earn a spot at this year’s International Cycling Union (UCI) Mountain Bike World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Robbins won the national title despite a broken scaphoid in her left wrist. The scaphoid is a large bone that controls thumb movement, key to gripping the handlebars of a mountain bike.
Knowing a crash could further injure the bone and lead to surgery, Robbins continued to train in July and August in the buildup to her first world championship appearance.
The 17-year-old started Thursday’s UCI junior women’s world championship race strong and got up as far as sixth place, but she was caught in a crash early in the race and went on to finish 34th. She finished 12 minutes, 11 seconds behind race winner Laura Stigger. The 18-year-old from Austria finished in 1:09:46 to edge Tereza Sásková, 18, of the Czech Republic by 3:03. Great Britain’s Harrie Harnden, 17, finished third, 3:37 behind Stigger.
“That was the most insane and brutal race I have ever done,” Robbins said in a message to The Durango Herald. “We were warned that the other girls would be aggressive, but I didn’t expect that much intensity. I was feeling really good before the race. My legs felt good, and I was super excited. I had a really good start and found my way to sixth, but, going into the first descent, another girl rammed me and I went flying.
“After collecting myself and my bike, I tired to run down to where I could hop back on, but it was tough as the other girls were doing everything they could to not let me back on.”
Robbins continued to pick off riders in front of her with the bulk of the five-lap race still in front of her, but her flow was disrupted, and eventually the grueling course took a toll.
“The next laps, I gave all I could, and by the third lap I was feeling pretty dead,” Robbins said. “But it was worlds, so I had to keep digging. That was the most taxed I ever felt after a race.
“I don’t think I would have been top 10 or anything, even without the crash, as the race was just a whole other level than the races I haven previously done, but who knows.”
Robbins was blown away by the Swiss fans who lined the course. She said many rang large cowbells or chainsaws to create noise along the route.
“That was really cool, and it sounded like I was in a movie or racing through the middle of a giant party,” she said. “But it was also mentally taxing, as it was a lot of constant stimulus.”
Robbins was the top U.S. finisher in the junior women’s race. California’s Mina Ricci, 18, finished 45th down one lap. Robbins did it all with the wrist injury, which she wore a small brace to try to protect during the race.
“My wrist inhibited me from being able to ride trails, which I think was hardest mentally, as that meant I was stuck on the trainer or the roads, which definitely aren’t my favorite,” she said of her training leading up to the race. “I tried to stay positive and think about how I would be racing at worlds at the end of the training, which was helpful and rejuvenating. I also have a really great support team in town who helped me stay excited and balance recovering my wrist with training.”
Part of that support team was Robbins’ parents, Denise and Jeffery, as well as her older brother, Lucas. Robbins also is a proud member of the Durango DEVO program, the Bear Development Team and is the defending Colorado Cycling League state champion for the Durango High School squad.
She will get back to the high school cycling circuit and will aim to defend her state title when Durango hosts the state championships in October.
With the experience of her first world championships, Robbins is ready for anything.
“It was also super cool to be in such a competitive field and to see all the different countries represented,” she said. “It was a cool feeling when you would pass someone and their jersey was another country like Australia or Japan; it really made it feel special. It has also been really cool to be with Team USA and learn from the older riders who all have been to a couple of world championship before, and some even have an Olympics or two under their belts.”
Durango’s Quinn Simmons, he junior national champion in cross-country and short-track mountain biking, skipped mountain bike worlds to focus on the upcoming road world championships to be held Sept. 22-30 in Innsbruck, Austria. Simmons is also the junior men’s road race champion.
“Just wanted some more time at home to better prepare and get in some more specific training,” Simmons said of his decision.
Durango’s Christopher Blevins got the hole-shot to open Wednesday’s team relay event at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. That helped the U.S. get into a strong position en route to a sixth-place finish.
Blevins, 20, was the lone Durango rider to compete in the team relay. He was followed by junior men’s rider Paul Fabian, elite women’s racer Kate Courtney, under-23 women’s rider Haley Batten and elite men’s rider Keegan Swenson.
The U.S. finished sixth, 1:37 behind the winning time of host Switzerland, which was anchored by Nino Schurter. The Swiss finished in exactly one hour. Germany was 13 seconds behind, and Denmark placed third at 34 seconds behind.
Blevins, along with Durango-based riders Savilia Blunk and Cole Paton – both of the Fort Lewis College cycling team – will compete in Friday’s under-23 races at the world championships. Saturday, Durango’s Howard Grotts will compete in the elite men’s race.