Riley Amos took his historic debut season as a men’s under-23 World Cup mountain biker to new heights Sunday.
The 19-year-old from Durango won the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race for men’s U23 riders Sunday in Leogang, Austria. His victory in the third World Cup race of the 2021 season backed up his second-place finish at Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic, and a fifth place in his World Cup debut in Albstadt, Germany.
Amos is believed to be the first American man to win a U23 World Cup in the cross-country discipline.
The last time an American men’s cross-country mountain biker stood on top of a World Cup podium was Durango’s Howard Grotts in 2011 at a junior World Cup race in New York. No American man has won an elite level World Cup in the cross-country discipline since Durango’s Ned Overend won two World Cup races in Italy and Switzerland in 1994. Tinker Juarez also won an elite men’s World Cup in 1994 in British Columbia.
“I am over the moon. I could not have done any better today,” Amos said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “It feels so special. Standing on top step and hearing our national anthem on a World Cup podium, it’s something I’ll remember forever. It was such a crazy feeling. To break this curse, in a sense, I know many more Americans are going to come follow these footsteps.”
Overend also was elated to see Amos’ result Sunday, though he was not surprised.
“It’s pretty crazy to think it’s been that long. We’ve had a lot of great American racers,” Overend said. “Getting it done is never that easy, and it’s always hard racing in Europe because of the travel and adapting to the courses, which tend to be a lot different there because of the weather. But in this sport, you can be the best rider and still not win that day. So much can go wrong, and it all really has to line up perfectly on the right day to get a win.
“Of course, Riley winning doesn’t surprise me at all seeing how well he’s been riding at the last World Cups. He’s super consistent. That’s a hard course over there, but Riley has great bike handling skills and is a great climber, and it’s a hard course for climbing.”
It was the long, sustained climb on the course that helped Amos get off the front and hold off the chasing field Sunday.
His winning time of 1 hour, 8 minutes, 26 seconds was 12 seconds better than Chile’s Martin Vidaurre Kossmann, who is the reigning Pan-American U23 champion.
Switzerland’s Joel Roth was third, 49 seconds behind Amos. Canada’s Carter Woods, the overall series leader after he won the first two races of the season, was fifth in 1:09:24.
“I had a great start and went to the front on the start loop,” Amos said. “There was a new climb that was 90 seconds straight up in a straight line. I went to the front there and hit it hard with everything I had. The last downhill is the trickiest on the course, and I knew I wanted to lead into that downhill because I knew I could ride it good and was super confident on it. I thought if I could lead into that downhill that the race would split up.
“I got off the front 15 seconds. After that, Martin and I were both going so hard on our limit with him trying to catch me and me trying not to get caught. He’d bring back a couple seconds on the climb, and I’d get a few seconds back on the descent.”
The Chilean was able to get within 10 seconds of Amos on the final lap, and Amos knew any kind of crash or bobble would see him lose his lead. But he was able to stay smooth on the final descent to the finish, where he crossed the line and triumphantly raised his Trek bike over his head in celebration. Amos has been riding with the suppot of the Trek Factory Racing team while in Europe this season in a bridge program to the top team from his Bear National Team.
“It’s huge. To be a first-year U23, not a lot of 19-year-olds have come into the category and been able to perform this well and win a World Cup,” Amos said. “The confidence that comes with it is so incredible. I am trying to take it all in, be humble and enjoy it while it’s here. It’s never easy, and it won’t always be this simple. There will be hard days, crashes and injuries to come back from that will be harder. It’s important to take this in while I have it and remember what this feeling is like for the years to come.”
It was California’s Kate Courtney who ended the American drought of World Cup victories in 2019 in Albstadt, where she became the first American on the top step of a World Cup podium since Alison Dunlap in 1999. Amos’ victory Sunday ended an even longer men’s drought.
Durango’s Christopher Blevins found himself on numerous U23 podiums, including two silver medals in the world championships, but never the top step. Durango’s Grotts earned a bronze at the U23 world championships in 2014 and had won the UCI junior series World Cup event in 2011 in New York. But he, too, never quite reached that top step at the U23 or elite level.
“We have so much talent here. You look at guys like Howard and Chris, and I think they’ve contributed to Riley’s success,” Overend said. “Everything from NICA racing to Durango Devo to the history of the pros that live here in Durango, I like to think that it all contributes to Riley’s success. I think we’re going to see a lot more. We saw it with Kate Courtney, and I think the junior development in our country right now is the best it has been. When the competition is high, then the cream rises to the top.”
Amos will race in the elite men’s field next week at the Swiss Cup. After that, he had planned to return home to prepare for the national championships in July, but now he said he may consider staying in Europe for the next World Cup scheduled for July 3-4 in France. He is now the 55th ranked rider in the world, regardless of age.
“After today, I am now super close to the overall lead, so I will have to reconsider my plans to come home maybe,” Amos said. “Coming into this year, I wanted to be a top-three guy among the first year U23s and maybe a top 10 overall. That was the goal for World Cups. Now, the goal is going to be to try to win the world championships.”
Blevins, fresh off being selected for the USA Cycling team for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, turned in a 21st-place finish Sunday in the elite men’s race in Austria.
The first-year elite rider turned in a steady performance to finish in 1:20:04. The victory went to Switzerland’s Mathias Flueckiger in 1:15:50. Ondřej Cink of the Czech Republic was second in 1:16:04, while New Zealand’s Anton Cooper raced to third in 1:16:35.
Still only 23, Blevins savored another opportunity to race against the world’s best before the Olympic race July 26.
Flueckiger also had won the short-track race Friday that goes to determine start position for the cross-country race Sunday. Cink was second in that race, too. Blevins would place 36th.
Blevins is now ranked 28th in the world and remained the highest-ranked rider age 23 or younger.
“A solid weekend of racing with quite the backdrop for it,” Blevins said in a post to Instagram.