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Blevins: Durango cyclist explodes for world title

Durangoan Christopher Blevins, left, and Sina Frei of Switzerland, show the gold medals they won during the elite men and elite women Cross Country Short Track XCC races at the 2021 MTB World Championships, Mountain Bike cycling event on Aug. 26. in Val Di Sole, Italy (Photo by Javier Martinez de la Puente/NurPhoto via AP)
Blevins wins three medals at worlds, is joined by three Durangoans on silver medal relay

Durangoan Christopher Blevins, 23, scored three medals at the UCI World Mountain Biking Championships last week in Val di Sole, Italy, including the first-ever world title in short-track cross-country racing.

“I’d be lying if I said I expected it,” Blevins said about his world championship. “I’m trying to always be a confident racer, but to pull it off and make history as the first is special, especially since we’ve had so much of that in Durango.”

Blevins was referring to Ned Overend, who won the inaugural UCI Mountain Bike World Championship in 1990. The next year another Durangoan at the time, John Tomac, won the cross-country title. Since then, however, no American had won a world cross-country mountain biking title since Blevins accomplished the feat Thursday. Blevins also did it in a new discipline as the short-track cross-country race made its debut.

“Being the first is always really cool,” he said.

Blevins was joined by three other Durangoans in the mixed relay team that won a silver medal, including Savilia Blunk, Ruth Holcomb and Riley Amos raced with Blevins on the relay. Blevins also finished third in the cross-country E-bike race and was the only competitor to race five days in a row.

In his final event at the world championships, Blevins finished 18th out of 90 riders in the cross-country mountain bike race on Saturday.

“It was a cool experience, but I’m going to do that again,” he said.

In the short-track cross-country race, Blevins said he wanted to remain calm and composed while finding opportunities to let loose and explode.

Thirty-eight bikers competed in the race, doing eight laps around a spectator-filled course with climbs, drops, straightaways and riders racing side by side.

“It definitely takes a high level of focus and pack awareness; I got that from racing BMX,” Blevins said. “It’s intense; you got to not miss a moment.”

After the sprint start, Blevins positioned himself in about fifth place and waited for the right time to make his move.

“I wanted to be patient and be in the front group, and only see the front one time: just before the finish line,” he said.

Blevins started the last lap in third place, 6 seconds behind the leader. Right before the last corner, however, Blevins took charge and took the lead.

“You really had to lead going into the last corner,” he said, noting that it was only about 75 meters to the finish after that.

“I was eyeing it throughout the race and gauging my effort,” he said.

On the final lap, he went for it, passed the riders ahead of him late in the race and then held on for the title.

“It was a full-on sprint,” Blevins said. “I went into the finish straight and didn’t look back.”

Blevins ended up winning the race in 19 minutes, 30 seconds, two seconds ahead of both Brazil’s Henrique Avancini (second) and Germany’s Maximilian Brandl.

“Being the first one is always really cool,” he said.

While the world title was the highlight of Blevins’ weekend, he had plenty of other good results too.

The e-bike race was held on pretty much the same course as the cross-country championship, except the riders had to climb an extra one of the descents.

“It’s a lot more weight under you, like a moto, but you have more suspension at the same time,” Blevins said.

He ended finishing third on his e-bike, 1:11 behind the winner from France, Jerome Gilloux.

In the mixed relay, Blevins raced the lead leg for USA and gave his team the early lead. Each of the six riders did one lap before their teammates took over.

“It was one lap, 13 minutes all out,“ he said.

To train for the worlds, Blevins said he, Amos, Blunk and Holcomb rode together in Durango before heading off. He said he was here for about a week, doing intervals and doing some training with his teammates.

“I was on the relay with three other Durangoans, which is pretty special,” Blevins said. Brayden Johnson and Kate Courtney also joined the Durangoans on Team USA, which finished just 48 seconds behind the winning team from France. France’s winning time was 1:25:51.

The other Durangoans also raced solo at the world championships. Blunk, 22, finished 29th in the U23 cross-country race, 11:22 after Austria’s Mona Mitterwallner (1:06:57).

Amos, 19, placed 15th in the men’s U23 cross-country Olympic race, 4:06 behind Chile’s Martin Vidaurre Kossmann (1:10:31).

Holcomb, 18, finished 34th in the women’s junior cross-country race, 8:58 behind France’s Line Burquier (55:29).

Blevins, meanwhile, wrapped up the world championships with another top 20 finish in the cross-country race. Out of the 90 bikers who started the race, Blevins ended up placing 18th. Switzerland’s Nino Schurter won the world title in 1:22:31, finishing 3:53 ahead of Blevins.

“It was good to have that result,” Blevins said.

This is Blevins’ first year competing in the elite division. He said traditional cross-country races have been his focus for most of the season, but he shifted his focus to short track at the world championships. He said he hopes short track makes it into the Olympics soon, but added that he wants to win a rainbow jersey in the traditional cross-country mountain biking as well.

“That’s the hope,” he said.

Blevins began racing short track in Durango, competing on Wednesday night’s at Fort Lewis’ factory trails. He said he remembers some of the top pros showing up every now and then and “gawking at the legends of the sport.”

“That’s the fuel for every kid in Durango – seeing where a bike can take you,” Blevins said. “Having a front-row seat as a Durango Devo kid is the best front row seat you can have.”

Blevins will stay in Europe and next compete in a road race, the Tour of Britain, “for a little bit of a change,” he said.