Less than 24 hours after a scary crash took Durango’s Christopher Blevins out of the elite professional men’s cross-country mountain bike national championship race, he jumped right back in the action.
The 21-year-old Blevins, who skipped his final years of under-23 racing eligibility in the U.S., lined up for Sunday’s short-track race at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships at the Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park with fresh legs after he had to drop out during the first lap of Saturday night’s cross-country race won by Utah’s Keegan Swenson. While Saturday night was Blevins’ second elite pro cross-country race at nationals, Sunday was his third time competing with the pro men in the short-track event, and he won last year’s national championship in West Virginia.
Sunday on Colorado soil, Blevins made it back-to-back Stars and Stripes jersey wins, as he had the legs the final two laps to put the pressure on a star-studded field of riders. His final lap of 2 minutes, 13 seconds was enough to get away from North Carolina’s Richard Cypress Gorry for a four-second win in a finishing time of 28:24 after 12 laps of racing.
“The crash could have been a lot worse, honestly,” Blevins said of Saturday’s wreck. “It’s was nerve-wracking more than anything. I hit my head and rung my bell a bit and hit my throat area, and that was a weird, uncomfortable pain. It wasn’t a typical crash where you come away with road rash, it was just uncomfortable and weird. It was a bummer.
“Short-track is my favorite type of event because the courses are fun and suit me well. I needed a bounce back for my confidence, and I had high expectations for myself in this elite field. I wanted to be the guy to win.”
Gorry helped set the pace early, but he was three seconds behind Blevins on the final lap. Durango’s Stephan Davoust finished third – five seconds behind Blevins – to back up his fifth-place finish a night earlier in cross-country.
“I was stoked with fifth (Saturday) and happy to walk away from the weekend with that,” Davoust said. “I came out in short-track and pulled off a third. In the last corner, I made a sprint pass and pulled it off to take third, and I’m beyond myself now with how the whole weekend played out.”
Russell Finsterwald of Colorado Springs ended up fourth in the same time as Davoust, and Durango’s Howard Grotts placed fifth, six seconds behind Blevins, his fellow Durangoan and Specialized teammate.
“Howie is just an insane talent,” Blevins said of the 26-year-old Grotts, the 2016 Olympian who had taken most of 2019 off before lining up at nationals this weekend. “More than anything, I was excited for him, and I know he was happy with himself.”
Swenson, who beat Grotts on the final lap for the cross-country title on Saturday, hung tough and finished eighth, 18 seconds behind Blevins. Former FLC rider Ryan Standish placed 10th, 44 seconds behind. Durango’s Payson McElveen was 13th, 1:17 back while riding on gravel tires in a calculated gamble on a course that featured pavement climbs before singletrack and flowing descents.
Durango’s Cal Skilsky placed 14th, and Cody Cupp was 18th out of 33 riders in the field.
Blevins will head back to Europe for next weekend’s UCI World Cup in Italy before preparing for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Aug. 28 through Sept. 3 in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada. He is the reigning silver medalist among under-23 men.
He had been disappointed with his summer of racing at world cups in Europe and placed pressure on himself at this year’s nationals. He said he needed to remind himself he is still only 21, and he has already impressed his elite peers beyond his years.
“Chris had a great ride today,” Davoust said. “We definitely knew he would be fresh, but he’s always strong no matter what the circumstances. He’s a force to be reckoned with in any race, and he kind of put us all to shame the last lap or two. He played it smart, great race.”