Durango’s dominance in mountain biking gets bigger every year. That was evident last weekend at the second leg of the US Cup series in San Dimas, California.
Olympian Howard Grotts returned to a U.S. race with the Bonelli Park XC, the second of four stops on this year’s USA Cycling US Cup mountain bike series, which offers a $10,000 bonus to the series overall winner for short-track and cross country racing.
Even with Grotts in the field, it was again young Durango phenom Christopher Blevins who stole the show. After finishing third in Saturday’s UCI Pro Men’s division of the cross country race, he won an all-out sprint to the finish line in Sunday’s short-track cross country race to maintain his overall lead in this year’s US Cup standings. He will take that lead into the final two events in July at the Eastern Grind at Catamount in Vermont and the Boston Rebellion in Massachusetts.
“I knew I had the confidence to be up there with those guys, but I did not expect to be able to beat some of them,” Blevins said in a news release. “It is definitely an honor to be riding with them and competing so well against high competition.”
Blevins has plenty of reason to be confident. He swept both races at the first US Cup stop at Fontana City, California. Weeks earlier, he won two of three races at the Cactus Cup in Arizona to win its overall title. It’s been an impressive leap into the professional ranks for the reigning junior national champion who splits his time between the mountain bike and road bike while also juggling his freshman year at California Polytechnic State University.
Grotts finished second in Saturday’s cross country race and fifth in the short-track. He was in the six-man sprint to the line in short-track and witnessed Blevins’ prowess first-hand.
“I still haven’t figured out how to play the tactics right for that one,” Grotts said of short-track in a post on Instagram. “Fortunately, (Blevins) timed his race to perfection (and has one heck of a kick) to take the W!”
Blevins finished the short-track race in 20 minutes, 22 seconds. Cameron Ivory of Australia placed second in 20:23, nipping three-time Olympian Todd Wells of Durango in a photo finish. Grotts also crossed in 20:23 along with Durango’s Benjamin Sonntag.
“It stayed together like a fat tire criterium,” Blevins said. “There was no separation from any of the attacks, so I used what I know from road racing to position myself well. It was a finish where you have to be on the inside because you run a lot shorter of a line. Fortunately, I was able to get that inside line.”
The third-place finish was a reward in itself for Wells, who struggled with a crash and a few bike problems a week earlier and also battled a tough cross country race Saturday in which he finished 17th.
“I had a much better start and found myself at the front of the big group right from the gun,” Wells said in an email to The Durango Herald. “It is always a very tactical race there since the course is very fast with no sharp corner to break it up. I stayed out of trouble and managed to position myself perfectly at the front at the top of the last climb. I led out the sprint up the grass hill into a headwind, and Blevins jumped by on the inside to get the win with Cam Ivory piping me at the line in a photo finish. It wasn’t a win, but it felt like it after my rough showing the day before in the XC.”
Also finishing strong for Durango in the short-track race was Payson McElveen in 11th in 20:26. Troy Wells placed 15th in 20:49, Daniel Johnson was 21st in 20:56 and Jacob Sacket placed 29th in 21:35.
Saturday’s cross country race was all about Grotts and Anton Cooper of New Zealand. The two exchanged leads on the 2.55-mile course, but it was Cooper who won in 1:23:44. Grotts was 10 seconds back, and Blevins finished in 1:26.19.
“Had some fun testing out the XC racing legs and battling with (Cooper),” Grotts wrote. “The diesel engine was there, but he handedly put me away on the last climb.”
Cooper is an up-and-comer in his own right after winning the 23-and-under world championship two years ago.
“I popped off those two partially because I knew I could not keep that pace up for several more laps and partly because I was tired,” Blevins said of Cooper and Grotts.
Sonntag was 14th in the cross country in 1:28:45. He was pleased with his weekend after the sixth in short-track.
“Good feeling after starting the season a bit later than in previous years,” Sonntag posted to his Instagram. “Hungry for more.”
Wells was 17th in 1:29:47. McElveen finished with him in 18th place, another 13 seconds back. Johnson placed 30th in 1:33:13 and Henry Nadell took 38th in 1:35:10. Troy Wells (59th) and Jacob Sacket (67th) rounded out the Durango-based finishers.
In the UCI Pro Women’s division, Ellen Campbell placed 28th in the cross country race, which was won by Boulder’s Erin Huck. Kelsay Lundberg also attended the race but did not finish.
A few more positive results rolled in for junior men. Quinn Simmons of Durango High School earned his second consecutive US Cup cross country win in the 15-16 age group. He then finished sixth in the 18-and-under junior men’s short-track race, finishing 11 seconds behind Canada’s Gunnar Holmgren, who won in 19:48.
Holmgren also won the UCI Junior Men 17-18 cross country race in 1:20:18. Durango’s Lucas Robbins was 42nd in that race. Robbins also placed 19th in the junior men’s short-track race.
Several riders will stay in California for next week’s Sea Otter Classic in Monterey. Blevins will return home for 10 days before getting on a road bike for the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.