Two Durango mountain bikers will look to add to their medal count at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Mountain Bike World Championships in October. One more is ready to add to the rich history of Durango mountain biking at the sport’s top event.
The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, rescheduled and moved this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are set for Oct. 7-11 in Leogang, Austria. Of the 11 cross-country mountain bikers selected by USA Cycling for worlds, three are from Durango. That includes under-23 men’s racer Christopher Blevins, a silver medalist in the U23 category in 2018. It also includes junior 17-18 racer Riley Amos for his second consecutive selection. And, ready to make her worlds debut, junior Ruth Holcomb was picked in her first year eligible.
For Blevins, who placed fourth at a UCI points race last weekend in Austria, it is a big race, as he is one of two American men, along with elite men’s selection Keegan Swenson, vying for one spot at the 2021 Olympics. A world championship and the rainbow jersey could help Blevins’ cause.
“I’m basically only aiming for the top step this year,” Blevins said of his last year as an under-23 racer at worlds. “Of course, I’ll still be happy if I do as well as I can and just don’t get the win, but I really believe in myself and the work I’ve done this year to bring the rainbows home.”
It is expected Amos and Blevins will be able to reunite with 2018 world champion and 2019 World Cup overall champion Kate Courtney, Swenson and under-23 women’s selection Haley Batten for the team relay Oct. 7. The same group claimed the silver medal at last year’s team relay event at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada. It was the first team relay medal for the U.S. since 2007.
“I haven’t heard yet if we will get to race the team relay or not, but I would love to,” said Amos, who entered the season as the top-ranked junior in the world. “The team will be even faster than it was last year, and we have a good shot at potentially taking a gold medal.”
Holcomb, a first-year junior 17-18 racer, hasn’t had much chance to prove herself in the age group without a national championship race this summer because of the pandemic. But she won a UCI race in Puerto Rico at the beginning of March to get her feet wet. After a hard summer of training, she is eager to test herself in her first career race overseas.
First, she will compete at the junior series race Oct. 2 in Nové Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic. Then it’s on to the world championship race Oct. 8 in Austria.
“I have seen my older friends go to worlds, seen (Blevins) go to worlds and so many other Durango people. I definitely wanted that for myself someday,” Holcomb said. “It was a big goal for me this year, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen for the longest time because of how everything has gone without races this summer. When I got confirmation, it was a big day for me.”
Holcomb also lost most of her final year in the junior 15-16 category because of an illness. Despite not being able to perform at her top level, she showed USA Cycling that she is still one of the top juniors in the country.
“They gave me a shot and are giving me a chance to develop this year and come into next year hot,” Holcomb said. “I’ve never raced in Europe, but I have to be ready to be super aggressive against those European girls who are not messing around. The courses are mentally and physically taxing.”
Holcomb said she is taking advice from friends such as Maddie Jo Robbins and any other athletes she knows who have gone to worlds. She has been coached this summer by Blevins, and he is eager to see what the budding women’s star can do.
“I’m super stoked for both Riley and Ruth,” Blevins said. “It’s been awesome to see them excel and carry the Devo tradition forward. I’ve had a lot of fun coaching Ruth, and she’s really impressed me this past year. I know this will be one of many world champs for both of them in years to come.”
Blevins has now been in Europe for two weeks chasing UCI points and training with Swenson and USA Cycling. Amos and Holcomb will leave next Sunday. They must pass two COVID-19 tests five days and three days before they depart and one more when they arrive in Prague.
It’s all part of the stress of trying to be a bike racer during the pandemic, but the Durango trio is ready to make the most of it.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Amos said. “We weren’t sure we would even be able to get to race this year, and so it’s awesome to get back into it. I look forward to the opportunity and am ready to deal with the pressures.”