A winter full of snow in Durango didn’t slow down the town’s competitive mountain bikers in the first big race on U.S. soil this season.
Durango talent of all ages filled the results pages for The Cactus Cup held last weekend at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. It was a strong start before the USA Cycling Pro XCT circuit begins Saturday at the US Cup-Bonelli Park event in San Dimas, California.
The Cactus Cup is a three-day event, and the rider with the lowest combined time in the Friday night short-track, Saturday 40-mile cross-country race and Sunday’s enduro event is crowned the overall champion.
Despite winning the short-track and enduro, defending champion Christopher Blevins of Durango wasn’t able to repeat his 2018 Cactus Cup win. This time, he was edged by Fernando Riveros Paez of Phoenix, who had a combined time of 3 hours, 1 minute, 58 seconds. Retired pro mountain biker Todd Wells of Durango was second in 3:02:35, while Colorado Springs’ Russell Finsterwald was third in 3:02:57. Fort Lewis College’s Henry Nadell was fourth in 3:05:46, and Durango’s Cal Skilsky was sixth in 3:06:55.
“Had a blast racing the Cactus Cup,” Wells said in a post to Instagram. “Still need some work on my sprinting and enduro skills but was awesome to hang out with the (mountain bike) community and soak up some sunshine.”
Blevins finished 12th overall after a flat tire during the cross-country race cost him valuable time and led him to finish 25th. His overall time was 3:12:35. Durango’s Keiran Eagen, an FLC rider, was 20th overall, and Durango High’s Cobe Freeburn placed 21st overall.
The women’s Cactus Cup was won by Erin Huck of Boulder. She won the short-track and cross-country race and was second in the enduro. She won the overall title in 3:23:58. Alexis Skarada of Grand Junction was second overall in 3:33:55, and Rose Grant of Montana was third in 3:34:17. Durango’s Katja Freeburn, also an FLC rider, was sixth in 3:47:29.
Now, Blevins and many of the Durango riders will turn their focus to Bonelli with International Cycling Union (UCI) points on the line on home soil. Blevins is going into his first season with sole focus on mountain biking in an attempt to make the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, as he left the Hagens Berman Axeon road cycling team ahead of this season.
“It hasn’t felt that weird mostly because the second half of the 2018 season was all mountain biking, and I wasn’t thinking about the road at all,” Blevins said of the start to 2019, as he typically has had road racing as an early-season focus in past years. “It was a little weird when Axeon team camp was going on and I was still in school, but I’m just excited for kind of having a set schedule and not having the stress of trying to do both.”
Blevins won the short-track in 22:37, well in front of California’s Alex Wild, who was second in 23:25. Racing was in the dark with riders mounting lamps to the top of their helmets or handlebars. Durango’s Stephan Davoust was fifth in 23:31, and Wells was sixth in 23:32. Skilsky placed eighth in 23:48, while Eagen was 18th, Cobe Freeburn was 23rd and Nadell was 31st. William Dowling of Durango was 32nd.
Huck won the women’s short-track in 26:06, 17 seconds ahead of Grant. Katja Freeburn was sixth in 29:09, and Ashley Carelock of Dolores was 11th in 30:29.
Riveros Paez would claim the men’s elite 40-mile cross-country race in 2:28:09, while Nadell was second in 2:28:11. Wells finished in the same time as Nadell and was third in the sprint. Skilsky placed eighth in 2:32:55. Blevins crossed in 2:40:13, while Eagen was 28th in 2:42:34 and Cobe Freeburn was 29th in 2:43:10.
Huck won the women’s elite 40-mile race in 2:45:47. Skarada was second in 2:54:54. Katja Freeburn placed sixth in 3:05:55, while Carelock was 10th in 3:13:21. Durango’s Stella Sisneros was the 32nd woman overall and was 12th among girls 18-and-under in 3:26:35.
Legend Ned Overend competed in the 40-kilometer cross-country race. He finished seventh among men and was first in his age group in 1:35:07.
The enduro closed out the weekend, and Blevins won the men’s competition in 9:45. Skilsky was second in 10:12, while Riveros Paez was third in 10:20 to claim the title. Davoust finished sixth in 10:28, Nadell was ninth in 10:42, Wells was 13th in 10:52, Cobe Freeburn was 17th in 11:15 and Eagen was 21st in 11:25.
Grant won the women’s enduro in 11:46, and Huck was second in 12:05. Katja Freeburn placed fifth in 12:25, and Sisneros was 10th in 13:42.
In the junior girls short-track race, Durango’s own Lauren Aggeler placed second in 14:35, 27 seconds back of winner Maci Waldron of Mesa, Arizona.
While the pros will compete for points this weekend at Bonelli, the weekend will also feature plenty of junior riders from Durango, too. If last weekend was any indicator of early-season fitness, it will be another weekend with Durango talent filling the top of result sheets.