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Region’s cyclists rake up titles; Cortez rider is 19th

Blevins, Cioppa and Vermette win national titles on final day
Savilia Blunk celebrates as she wins the elite women's cross-country national championship Saturday in Winter Park. (Courtesy Orange Seal)

Cyclists from Durango on Sunday won three more national titles on the final day of the 2022 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships in Winter Park, bringing the local total to nine.

Christopher Blevins of Specialized Factory Racing won the elite short track cross-country national championship while two other former DEVO riders, Stephan Davoust (Giant Factory Off Road) and Howard Grotts (Specialized), joined him in the top four.

Durango downhill mountain biker Asa Vermette stands on the podium after winning a national title on Sunday. Vermette won the junior men's 15-16 age category for his second national title. (Courtesy Josh Vermette)

Asa Vermette (GT Bicycles) won a second consecutive downhill national title, winning the junior men’s 15-16 competition. Vermette, who won the 13-14 title this year, flew down the course in a time that rivaled the top pro men. Vermette’s seeding run was just a half-second slower than Aaron Gwin’s run. Vermette’s finals time of 3 minutes, 37.63 seconds, was faster than all but five of the pros.

Bailey Cioppa of Bear National Team also won a Stars and Stripes jersey on Sunday, winning the short track junior women’s 17-18 category. Cioppa beat fellow Durangoan and runner-up Lauren Aggeler of Team Durango Segment 28 by seven seconds.

Savilia Blunk of the Orange Seal Off-Road Team scored a pro women’s cross-country national title on Saturday.

“I’m super-stoked,” she said. “This one feels big.”

Aggeler scored the junior women’s 17-18 Cat 1/2 national title in 1:22:58, besting her closest competitor by almost four minutes. Cioppa finished sixth in the race (+5:58).

In the enduro competition, Amy Haggart of Durango won the master women’s 50-59 national title.

Anna Morozowich won the girls’ 11-12 cross-country championship, edging her sister, Leah, in a sprint to the finish line.

Trish Thomas of 2nd Ave Sports/Stans Cycling Team also scored a national title on Thursday, winning the women’s Cat 1/2 title in the 45-49 division by 1:13 in 1:25:42.

DEVO defended its national title from last year in the team relay. Orrin Bleth, Guy Leshem, Maddy Glotfelty and Jesus Vargas combined forces and won the championship race by almost a minute in 35:50.

In Saturday’s elite women’s cross-country race, Blunk battled tough competition for her elite women’s cross-country title. She won the short track title last year.

“It was a stacked field for the first time in a few years,” Blunk said. “The start was a little harder than I anticipated, but at that altitude pacing is super-important, and I knew that.”

Blunk and Kate Courtney of Scott-SRAM Off Road eventually separated from the field. Courtney led down the first descent, but Blunk passed her near the start/finish.

On the second climb, Blunk said she could tell Courtney was hurting a bit, so she pushed on.

“I just held that acceleration and tried not to look behind me,” Blunk said. With about a lap-and-a-half to go, Blunk said she treated the race like a time trial, kept pushing hard and finished first in 1:13:15, beating Courtney by 1:43. Gwendalyn Gibson of Norco Factory Team finished third (1:15:23).

“It’s super-exciting,” Blunk said. “A big shoutout to the Orange Seal Off Road team for always working their butts off and to Cole (Paton) for always being my rock.”

In the pro men’s cross-country championship, Blevins finished second behind Keegan Swenson. Swenson (Santa Cruz Bicycles) took a lead of roughly 1:45 on the second of four laps. Blevins tightened the gap, but couldn’t catch Swenson, who won his third consecutive pro men’s title in 1:22:52.

Blevins finished second in 1:24:28. He was followed by Eric Brunner of Blue Competition Cycles in third (+1:41) and Durango riders Howard Grotts of Specialized (fourth, 1:24:41), Stephan Davoust of Giant Factory Off Road (fifth, 1:27:17) and Paton of Orange Seal Off-Road (seventh, 1:27:56).

Riley Amos of Trek Factory Racing, who had planned to race in the pro men’s race, withdrew after breaking his collarbone during a training ride.

In the U23 women’s cross-country championship, Michaela Thompson of Team Durango Segment 28 reached the podium in third place. Madigen Munro of Trek Factory Racing won the title in 1:17:19, ahead of Sofia Waite of WE Development (1:18:10) and Thompson (1:19:51). Aleah Austin of Team Durango Segment 28 finished 10th in 1:28:48), and Ruth Holcomb of Bear National Team did not finish.

In the men’s U23 championship, Cobe Freeburn of Bear National Team led the local contingent in seventh place (1:30:19), finishing 5:20 after the winner, Bjorn Riley of Trek Vaude (1:24:59). Ivan Sippy of Team Durango Segment 28 finished 17th (1:34:22). Ian Kutzleb placed 23rd in 1:35:32, ahead of Henry Nelson of Fort Lewis College (26th, 1:36:48) Beckett Ledger of FLC (35th, 1:41:10) and George Piepgras of FLC, who finished 56th after getting dropped after two laps.

Durangoan Christopher Blevins wins the short track cross-country national mountain bike title on Sunday in Winter Park. (Christopher Blevins/Instagram)
Short track champs

With afternoon showers enveloping the mountain Sunday, the Elite Men finished in a torrential rain, which delayed races in multiple downhill categories.

On the endurance side, short track racing was the day’s primary focus.

Cioppa earned the first title of the day on the 1.1-kilometer course, winning the junior women’s 17-18 category. Aggeler was a close second.

As the clouds moved in, the Elite Women took to the short track course. After settling in during the first couple of laps, a group of four riders that included Courtney Blunk, Kelsey Urban (Kentfield, California, Team 31) and Gibson eventually pulled away from the pack.

“It came down to the last lap,” Blunk said. “I attacked at the bottom of the climb, she countered at the top, and then it was a drag race to the finish. It was a great battle.”

Courtney finished first in 29:56, two seconds ahead of Blunk in second.

The Elite Men were the final racers to take on the short track course. Similar to the women’s race, a large group of riders stuck together for the first couple of laps until Eric Brunner of Blue Competition Cycles decided to take a solo flier.

Several riders, including Blevins, Davoust (Giant Factory Off-Road Team), Grotts (Specialized) and Swenson reeled him back. Swenson realized he had a slow leak in his tire and scrambled for a solution. Russell Finsterwald of Specialized Off-Road offered him a cartridge, but the leak was race-altering.

Blevins then pulled away from the competition to win the short track national title in 29:37.

“He was pumped,” said DEVO coach Chad Cheeney. “He looked like a kid out there with a big ol’ smile.”

Davoust finished two seconds later in second, followed by Finsterwald and Grotts. Paton finished sixth, Swenson crossed eighth, and Keiran Egan (Durango Segment 28) finished 19th.

In the men’s U23 short track race, it was a place switch after Saturday’s cross-country event. Brayden Johnson (Bear National Team), who took silver in the longer event, was crowned national champion in the short track, and Saturday's champion, Bjorn Riley (Trek Vaude), took home silver. Ivan Sippy finished eighth, Freeburn finished 16th, Kutzleb crossed 29th, Nelson placed 35th and Piepgras crossed 41st.

Sunday morning kicked off with the amateur and master downhill riders taking to the track at the Trestle Bike Park. The riders got one run in the finals to prove they were the fastest, and Vermette did just that.

Kailey Skelton of KHS Factory Racing won the pro women’s title in 4:15:34, and Dakota Norton of Intense Factory Racing beat Gwin by 1.5 seconds to win the pro men’s title (3:28.81). Shane Ellis of Durango DEVO placed 51st in the pro men’s race in 4:07.65.

Lots of other cyclists from Durango competed Saturday and Sunday in championships, and several reached the championship podium in Winter Park.

Ben Mackenzie finished third in the junior men’s 17-18 enduro. Bryan Hastey placed 11th, and Max Johnson of Cortez finished 19th.

Ethan Wright (100%, Deity, Odi, Png, Peaty’s) placed third in the men’s 19-24 downhill championship.

Cole Fiene placed 18th in the men’s 15+ enduro. Gunnar Ensign placed 23rd.

Ainsley Haggert finished seventh in women’s 15+ enduro.

In the men’s 19-29 enduro, Kye Cordes finished fourth.

Glotfelty finished eighth in the women’s 17-18 enduro.

In the junior men’s 15-16 enduro, William Albert finished 21st, Dylan Timmerman placed 22nd, Kyle Bleth placed 38th. Nainoa Love did not finish.

Travis Brown, an Olympian in the 2000 Games, also finished second on the men’s 50-55 cross-country race.

Nainoa Love throws a back flip during a race run Friday in Winter Park. (Courtesy Chad Cheeney)