For a generation, American mountain bikers have struggled to compete with top European countries on technical World Cup courses filled with roots, especially when weather conditions deteriorated. Riley Amos set out to buck that trend Saturday.
Fresh off a fifth-place finish in his under-23 International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup debut last weekend in Albstadt, Germany, the 19-year-old from Durango lined up in the rain Saturday at the second World Cup of the season in Nové Město, Czech Republic.
Filled with emotion in the final hundred yards to the finish line, Amos sat up, covered his face and let out a scream before pumping his fist in the air as he crossed the finish line in second place for his first World Cup podium.
“It was such a war out there,” Amos said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Nové Město’s course is always something that every World Cup racer and fan talks about because of how unique it is with the real good technical sections, the climbs and the insane roots out there.
“It was definitely the most emotion I’ve felt, and it’s still not set in. That last minute of the race is about as real as it has felt for me so far. For American mountain biking, we have traditionally struggled to ride at the front of a course like today. The Europeans are known to dominate us. It felt good to represent a bit for America, and I have some hope for the future, for sure.”
Canada’s Carter Woods, 20, won for the second time in as many weeks. He finished the seven-lap race in 1 hour, 23 minutes, 44 seconds. Amos would cross the line in 1:25:39, while Switzerland’s Alexandre Balmer, 21, rode to third in 1:26:05.
Amos had built a gap on third place as large as 39 seconds, but a couple of mishaps during the middle laps quickly reduced his advantage to only five seconds. He was determined to keep a podium spot on the final lap and once again found his rhythm.
“It was so hard to keep wheels on the ground on a day like this where it was so slippery and the conditions were changing,” Amos said, noting it stopped raining halfway into the race to create an even more difficult greasy kind of mud than when it was actually raining. “I was screaming at myself that I had to keep my gap and I had to ride the next few sections on the last lap smooth. It was hit or miss, a 50% chance that you would make your line or not. But I broke it down, tried to pick really good lines and put every ounce into cleaning the first few sections of course. It gave me my time back, I kept it smooth to the finish, and I was absolutely blown away.”
Amos was one of two U.S. athletes in the 146-rider field. Bradyn Lange of Texas finished 70th.
An alum of Animas High School who just finished his freshman year at Fort Lewis College, Amos has shown a meteoric rise in recent years to reach a world-class level. After winning his first national title at 16 and going on to win again at 17, Amos’ Durango Devo upbringing has kept him focused on having fun on the bike. But his experience working with Durango’s Todd Wells, a three-time mountain bike Olympian, helped him reach new heights as a junior before moving up a level where he is now coached by Jim Miller, the Chief of Sport Performance at USA Cycling.
Still, Amos said he never expected to post results as good as fifth and second in his U23 World Cup debuts.
He has been supported on this trip by the Trek Factory Racing Team in a bridge program along with his Bear National Team. That allowed him access to a new Trek Super Caliber bike, a full mechanic team and the ability to learn from Trek Factory Racing’s Anton Cooper, Jolanda Neff, Evie Richards and Stéphane Tempier.
“I’ve been very lucky to have this opportunity,” Amos said. “Getting to learn from the absolute best in the sport, picking up bits and pieces from them the entire week and seeing how they work is incredible. Support from staff in the pits and having the mechanics take apart my entire bike daily and rebuild it to run as beautifully as it possibly can, they’ve given me the best opportunity to do well, and I couldn’t have done it without them. I feel so fortunate to be here and even more fortunate to put performances together that make everybody happy.”
Amos admitted his result Saturday finally allowed him to think of his future potential and the chance to look toward the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Inspired by this year’s Olympic hopefuls, Durango’s Christopher Blevins and Utah’s Keegan Swenson, Amos believes U.S. mountain biking will continue to rise in the coming years, and he wants to be part of it.
“I have hope for Paris for the first time,” he said. “It’s on the horizon out there, and I am definitely looking forward to trying to qualify for the next Olympic cycle at this point. I am super stoked for that. With even more up-and-coming riders and seeing the progression of Blevins and Swenson, I am looking foward to being at the front of races and working so we can take a couple of guys in 2024.”
First, Amos will return home for some high-altitude training Monday in preparation for the local Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. He plans to race the road and mountain bike races and seek the King of the Mountain title.
Then, it will be back to Austria to continue the World Cup season June 12.
“I came in strong this year at two courses that suited me well,” Amos said. “Albstadt had the good, steep climbs, and Nové Město has the techy bike handling that suits me. It’s going to be hard to back these results up the rest of the year, but it’s definitely possible. I look forward to continuing the ride.”
It was a tough day for the UCI Junior Series riders from the U.S. Summit County’s Tai-Lee Smith was the top American finisher in 1:21:25 in the womens’ race for riders ages 17-18.
Durango’s Ruth Holcomb, the fourth-ranked junior in the world, was riding at the front of the race for several laps, but a hard fall on a technical rock section saw her slam to the ground and hit her head. She did not finish.
A top-eight result would have netted either Durango’s Christopher Blevins or Utah’s Keegan Swenson a spot in the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Neither could make it happen, and now their fate will be decided by a discretionary selection by USA Cycling to be announced June 10.
Utah’s Haley Batten did secure the second of three spots for the U.S. women’s mountain bike team at the upcoming Olympics, as she backed up her short-track win Friday in Nové Město with a second-place finish in Sunday’s cross-country race. She will join California’s Kate Courtney at the Tokyo Games with the third rider to be selected by a discretionary pick.
The women’s race was won by France’s Loana Lecomte in 1:25:13. Batten was second in 1:26:52, and Australia’s Rebecca McConnell was third in 1:27:04. Erin Huck of Boulder was the second American to finish in 16th overall in 1:31:23. Courtney was 41st in 1:34:46.
The men’s race win went to Great Britain’s Thomas Pidcock in 1:20:55, one minute ahead of Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands.
A week after he placed 13th in Germany, Durango’s Blevins turned in a solid 20th place result in 1:26:20 on the tough course that deteriorated all week in heavy rain conditions.
Swenson would finish 58th in 1:29:48. Blevins has now finished both World Cup races well in front of Swenson and owns a win in the only race the two have competed in domestically head-to-head this year at the first U.S. Cup in Arkansas. Blevins then went to Europe to prepare for the World Cups, while Swenson, the reigning cross-country national champion from the 2019 nationals, won the second U.S. Cup.
In terms of UCI rankings, the 23-year-old Blevins is ranked 26th in the world, up four spots after his finish in Nové Město. Swenson, 27, is ranked 76th after he climbed three spots this week.
That and plenty more will be considered when USA Cycling meets to announce the full Olympic team June 10.