Durango’s Howard Grotts had his best career finish in an elite men’s cross-country mountain bike world championships race, while his teammate Kate Courtney won the women’s world title.
Grotts ascended from 32nd to 15th Saturday at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championship race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The 25-year-old finished eight grueling laps in 1 hour, 33 minutes, 45 seconds. That was 4:24 behind the winning time of Switzerland’s Nino Schurter, who won his seventh world title in a time of 1:29:21. Schurter finished 11 seconds in front of Italy’s Gerhard Kerschbaumer and 1:14 in front of Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands. It was the fourth world title in a row for Schurter.
Grotts’ previous best finish in an elite field at the world championships was 21st in the Czech Republic in 2016. That was the same year he represented the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Grotts finished third in the under-23 race at worlds in 2014. In the elite field in 2017, Grotts was 39th in Australia.
In the women’s race, Courtney became the first American to win a mountain bike world championship in nearly two decades, holding off Danish rider Annika Langvad to win the rainbow jersey.
Courtney, 22, is a Specialized teammate of Grotts and Durango’s Christopher Blevins.
“Kate is one of the most focused and really disciplined athletes I’ve met,” Blevins said in an interview with The Durango Herald in April. “We’ve got the same coach, Jim Miller, and he’s kind of trying to build up this new wave of American mountain bikers and get us on the podium in Europe, and that’s exciting.”
A day before Courtney earned the rainbow jersey, Blevins finished second in the men’s under-23 cross-country race.
Saturday, Langvad took an early lead, and Courtney spent much of the day decreasing a 20-second gap. Courtney caught Langvad, the 2016 world champion, with a few laps left.
She eventually opened a 48-second advantage when Langvad ran into trouble in a root section on the final lap. That turned out to be the winning margin, with Emily Batty of Canada finishing third.
The U.S. once dominated mountain biking, but the growth of the discipline in the late 1990s largely left the Americans behind. Alison Dunlap was the last to win a world championship in 2001.
“I’ve gotten to know Kate with her and my sister (Kaylee Blevins) in school together and cycling at Stanford,” Blevins said. “She’s a phenomenal athlete, and Kate approaches everything to exact detail. We’ve got a really, really awesome crew in America with Howard, Kate, our mechanic Brad Copeland and I. We all motivate each other, and I’m lucky to be part of it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.