Christopher Blevins conquered the field Thursday at the Sea Otter Classic’s International Cycling Union (UCI) pro mountain bike race in Salinas, California. During the last of eight laps, he turned in a time nobody could match.
Blevins finished the final circuit in 9 minutes, 51 seconds, the fastest lap by anyone the entire race. He won in 1 hour, 23 minutes, 45 seconds. That was five seconds ahead of Canada’s national champion Peter Disera and 24 seconds ahead of third-place Andrew L’Esperance of Canada. Utah’s Keegan Swenson was the second-fastest American in 1:24:23, good for fifth place.
Only two sub 10-minute laps were turned in Thursday, as Disera finished the final lap in 9:55 trying to chase down Blevins.
“This is a special one,” Blevins said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Sea Otter is just an iconic race, and it is a UCI HC, which is big points. As far as strictly points and prestige, I think this is my biggest win in the U.S. There are others I am probably more proud of going against some super good Europeans, but this one is special to come in on that track in first.”
On a windy day, Blevins conserved energy in the group of seven riders. On the final steep climb on the last lap, he attacked and built a gap on the Canadian teammates. Blevins long has watched fellow Durango mountain bike star Howard Grotts punish his opponents with attacks on steep climbs and channeled the four-time defending cross-country mountain bike champion and 2016 Olympian with his own move Thursday.
“Howie is incredible at that. When Howard goes all in, especially uphill, it’s hard to follow him,” Blevins said. “When you do that, the people behind you have a mark to reach. If you get a gap, it’s easier for them to close the gap; all they have to do is keep their eyes on your wheel and pedal.
“It’s harder to be the winner on the front. It’s that hunter and prey dynamic. Mentally, if you go all-in on a move like that, you have to bury your head and act like a wolf is chasing you.”
Blevins called it a tactical race on a tame course that features pavement and grass sections.
“A little bit of dirt, nothing technical at all,” he said. “A few steep climbs, which really suited me.”
Only four days after he was third at a UCI Category 1 race in Mexico on the heels of his under-23 Pan-American Continental mountain bike championship gold medal, Blevins returned to sea level and had fresh legs. He said racing at altitude over the weekend, despite an illness and a busted-up chin that required stitches, was an advantage leading into Sea Otter.
Also for Durango, Stephan Davoust placed ninth in 1:25:10. Cole Paton of Fort Lewis College was 16th in 1:26:32, Cal Skilsky was 22nd in 1:27:52, former FLC rider Ryan Standish was 23rd in 1:28;11, Durango’s Daniel Johnson was 28th in 1:29:31, Payson McElveen was 31st in 1:29:46 and Benjamin Sonntag was 33rd in 1:30:05. A total of 71 riders finished the race.
“Had a pretty good first few laps, but some pretty debilitating back pain had me going backwards the rest of the day,” McElveen said in a post to Instagram. “Onwards and upwards with another shot on Sunday.”
The pro women’s race was won by Annika Langvad of Denmark in 1:21:52. Boulder’s Erin Huck was second in 1:22:23, and world champion Kate Courtney was third in 1:23:30. FLC alumna Sofia Gomez-Villafañe was fourth in 1:25:38. Current FLC rider Savilia Blunk placed 13th in 1:28:42.
There will be a cross-country race Sunday with one lap of the long Sea Otter course. Blevins plans to compete, but he also will race in the dual slalom downhill event Saturday.
“That will take most of the day, hopefully, if I do pretty well,” Blevins said. “I don’t know what to expect, but I will put on a full face and channel my BMX days again.”