Less than a month after the first International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup podium of his career, cycling star Christopher Blevins earned the biggest international finish of his career Friday.
Blevins, a 20-year-old from Durango, rode in front of the race alongside South Africa’s Alan Hatherly, 22, for the bulk of Friday’s UCI Mountain Bike World Championships under-23 men’s cross-country race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. It was Hatherly who would pull away during the final lap of the race to take the win. He completed seven laps of the grueling course in 1 hour, 21 minutes, 22 seconds. Blevins was second, 27 seconds behind the winning time. David Nordemann of the Netherlands was third, 1:05 behind.
The silver-medal finish came on the heels of Blevins’ second-place finish at the UCI World Cup event Aug. 12 at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada. That was his first World Cup podium.
“It’s definitely a surreal feeling, and honestly I mostly feel incredibly lucky to have everyone here cheering and everyone back home cheering,” Blevins told USA Cycling after the race. “We’ve got amazing support here, and I got chills hearing everyone cheering for the U.S., from the U.S. and also from Europe. It’s exciting, I’m beyond lucky and looking forward to more of this hopefully.”
Blevins is also the under-23 national champion in cyclo-cross, the elite men’s national champion in short-track mountain biking and is an accomplished road cyclist.
“Chris has had an incredible season across multiple disciplines,” Derek Bouchard-Hall, President and CEO of USA Cycling, said in a news release. “It’s now great to see him on the podium at a world championships, which is a huge achievement.”
It was the first time an American man has stood on the world championships podium after an under-23 race since Durango’s Howard Grotts placed third in 2014 in Hafjell, Norway. Walker Ferguson also was third in the under-23 race for the U.S. in 2001.
“It was super exciting to watch Christopher’s race today,” Grotts said. “It’s a huge result for him, especially since he’s only a second year U23. I was on the edge of my seat on that last lap. It would have been cool to see it come down to a sprint, but second is still incredible, and he’s got a couple years to win some of these.”
For Hatherly, the win came a year after he placed second to two-time under-23 world champion Samuel Gaze of New Zealand. A year ago, Hatherly was 11 seconds behind Gaze in the race in Australia. At that same race, Blevins finished 32nd, 5:31 behind Gaze.
Also in this year’s under-23 men’s cross-country race, Cole Paton of Fort Lewis College’s cycling team finished 61st. The rider originally from Cashmere, Washington, was down one lap. Jerry Dufour of Alabama placed 43rd. He was 7:49 behind Hatherly.
California’s Sandy Floren finished 50th, 9:02 back. Carson Beckett of North Carolina was the last rider to finish on the lead lap. He was 52nd, 9:02 behind. A total of 93 riders finished the race, and 97 started.
In the women’s under-23 cross-country race Friday, Switzerland’s Alessandra Keller won in 1:22:53 to edge fellow Swiss rider Sina Frei by 1:22.
Haley Batten of Utah was 12th, 7:03 behind Keller. California’s Savilia Blunk, another Fort Lewis College cycling team rider, was 13th, 7:20 behind.
California’s Gwendalyn Gibson placed 22nd, 11:21 back. Forty-nine women finished the race out of 59 starters.
Saturday, the elite cross-country riders will race for the coveted rainbow jersey associated with being a world champion. Durango’s Grotts, 25, will compete in the men’s field. He finished 39th at last year’s world championships in Australia and was 21st in 2016 in the Czech Republic before he made his Olympic debut later that summer in Brazil. He finished 38th at the Olympics. It was his first full season racing in the elite field.
“It’ll be a bit of a Pacman game because the start is narrow with a big bottleneck in the woods,” Grotts said. “But I’ll try my best to work my way up and have some fun out there.”