USA Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships preview

Alex Howes
(Image credit: Jordan Clark Haggard)

American mountain bikers have their chance to earn a stars and stripes jersey this weekend in Colorado. While racing is taking place all week, the pro men's and women's cross-country races will take place Saturday evening at Winter Park Resort. 

The same venue was used in 2019, the most recent year a National Championships race was held. The 2020 race was cancelled because of the pandemic, so Keegan Swenson and Chloe Woodruff have been the reigning champions for two years now. 

The cross-country course is about five miles long. The first half consists of a sustained climb and descent, and the rest of the lap features a rolling climb back towards the start/finish. This is one for racers who ride well at altitude, as all of the racing takes place above 9,000 feet above sea level. 

A number of top riders will miss the event as they make preparations for the Tokyo Olympic games later this month. Christopher Blevins, Haley Batten, and Kate Courtney have all been selected to race in Tokyo and will remain in Europe until it's time to travel to Japan. 

The fields will still feature World Cup-caliber athletes. Keegan Swenson will look to defend his jersey, but a number of riders like Howard Grotts and Russell Finsterwald are worthy challengers. Alex Howes of EF Education-Nippo will also take to the start line. 

The women's field is harder to call because we don't know for certain who will show up. Defending champion Chloe Woodruff was initially selected to race in Tokyo, but in a surprise move, she resigned from the team last week and was replaced by Erin Huck. It's been reported that Huck brought an arbitration challenge against USA Cycling's initial decision to leave her off the team, but the chain of events is still unclear. Both racers could be threats for the win, but we haven't seen the final start list. 

Women's contenders 

Erin Huck

Huck could make the start as she has been training nearby in Boulder. She was the XCO and Short Track National Champion in 2016, and she's a strong rider at altitude thanks to living in Colorado. This year she raced to two top-20 results at the first two World Cup races of the season. 

Chloe Woodruff 

The defending champion may cause a great battle if she is at the race. Last month she won a round of the USA Cycling Pro XCT series against many of the women who will be at the race. The snub from the Olympic team could impact her performance in a negative way, but it could also serve as positive motivation. 

Hannah Finchamp 

Finchamp has also been racing the early season World Cups in Europe as she looked to turn her Olympic long list spot into an official ticket to Tokyo. She could match the pace of other Americans though, but the allure of a Stars and Stripes jersey could turn into a season high point. 

Alexis Skarda 

Skarda is a lesser-known rider but has been performing well on the domestic race circuit this year. She is currently leading the overall rankings for the Pro XCT series with consistent podium-caliber results, including a win at the Soldier Hollow Bike Festival in Utah. 

Evelyn Dong

Dong was second to Woodruff in 2019 and has also been focusing on domestic racing this season. She's used to racing at altitude and took fourth place at a recent Pro XCT round. 

Erin Huck Albstadt World Cup

(Image credit: USA Cycling)
  • Best XC helmets: cross-country and marathon helmets to give the racing advantage

Men's contenders

Keegan Swenson

The defending champion was an Olympic hopeful but missed the cut. Certainly, he'll be looking to take home another National Champs jersey, as he's still no doubt one of the fastest racers in America. 

Russell Finsterwald

'Finsty' is the current Marathon XC National Champion but he can still throw down in the shorter XCO format as well. At Nationals in 2019, he rode to a third-place podium spot, and he's another rider who lives and trains at altitude. 

Howard Grotts

Grotts holds multiple National titles to his name and was second to Swenson last time around. In 2016, he raced at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but in recent years, he's stepped down from World Cup-level racing to complete a master's degree in mathematics. He's been training though, taking the win last weekend at the Firecracker 50 marathon race in Breckenridge. 

Luke Vrouwenvelder

The Giant Factory Off-Road Team racer has had an impressively consistent domestic season that has him leading the Pro XCT rankings. Recently, he finished second overall at the G3 stage race in Winter Park, so he'll be familiar with the terrain. The winner of that race was his teammate, Stephan Davoust, who is another rider to watch this weekend.

Riley Amos 

Amos is racing in the U23 field this weekend, but we figured we'd throw his name in here since he took his first U23 World Cup win in Leogang (becoming the first American man to do so) earlier this season. He opted to skip the next round in Les Gets to go home and train at altitude for Nationals. He's clearly flying right now and could easily end up on the podium. It will be interesting to see how the U23 racers' times compare to the elite races. 

The cross-country action kicks off with the women's race at 3:30 p.m. local time, and the men are scheduled to start at 5:30. The races will be streamed on FloBikes.

Ryan Simonovich

Ryan Simonovich has been riding and racing for nearly a decade. He got his start as a cross-country mountain bike racer in California, where he cultivated his love for riding all types of bikes. Ryan eventually gravitated toward enduro and downhill racing but has also been found in the occasional road and cyclo-cross events. Today, he regularly rides the trails of Durango, Colorado, and is aiming to make a career out of chronicling the sport of cycling. 

Rides: Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Tarmac SL4