A group of five riders led the final race of the 2021 World Cup XCO season as it entered its last lap in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Among those riders was current XCO World Champion Nino Schurter as well as Ondrej Cink, who has been a constant threat all season long. One man had been riding in that front group all day long but hadn’t yet shown his cards. That man was Christopher Blevins.
Blevins was coming off of a whirlwind season. He was the only American man to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games mountain bike race, where he placed 14th. Then he went on to win the first-ever Short Track World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy. Before coming back to the United States to compete at Snowshoe, the mountain biker competed in the Tour of Britain with his Trinity Racing team and was a player in the breakaway on a couple of stages.
That must have all been playing on Blevins’ mind as he toes the line for the Snowshoe XCO race, a remote mountain resort about four hours from Washington D.C. He was also coming to the race with years of experience, first on a BMX bike as a young boy and then on mountain, road, and cyclo-cross bikes as his career progressed. Two days prior, Blevins raced to a fourth-place finish in the Short Track race, earning a front row start position for Sunday.
Blevins would never slip back from the front of the race. Just before one of the final descents on the track, Blevins moved into second, just behind Schurter. Schurter pushed the pace on the short, rocky descent but Blevins remained with him.
On a final section of wide singletrack, Blevins rode inside of Schurter on a right-hand corner and didn’t hold back. The 23-year-old got to the finish line with time to celebrate, crossing the line before dismounting and hoisting his Specialized Epic race bike over his head in victory.
The first American man to win a World Cup cross-country race since 1994
“This meant absolutely everything,” Blevins said in a post-race interview on Red Bull TV. “I mean, I’d be lying if I said I expected anything close to this or even really dreamed of it. It just shows there’s so much magic in sport, regardless of what it is. This is like everything to me, to do it with my family, all of the USA fans, and obviously in the USA. I’m over the moon.”
He had just become the first American man to win a World Cup cross-country race since 1994 when Tinker Juarez was victorious four years before Blevins was born.
It’s easy to become hyperbolic about one single race result, but Blevin’s background and recent victory seem to signal a promising future for American cycling.
Blevins grew up in Durango, Colorado, a town steeped in mountain bike history (and from where I’m writing this story). Durango hosted the first-ever UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and his home to legendary racers like Ned Overend and John Tomac. The town is also home to a youth mountain biking program called Durango Devo.
Durango Devo puts an emphasis on having fun rather than race results. In the low-pressure environment, the cream seems to naturally rise to the top, and talented riders can choose to participate in racing and more structured training when they are ready. The program has produced some of America’s top cyclists, including Tour de France stage winner Sepp Kuss.
After coming to cycling through BMX, Blevins rode with Durango Devo and won multiple national titles as a junior. Although he was talented in the dirt, Blevins also experimented with racing on the road. He was successful in junior road races in Europe and placed second in a stage of the Tour of the Gila, a major pro road race in the US.
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In 2018, a year in which he also placed second in the U23 XCO World Championships, Blevins decided to leave road racing behind in order to focus on mountain biking with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games. It was a long shot, but Blevins had proven himself and had a spot secured on the Specialized Factory Racing team.
While the 2020 Olympics were delayed by a year, the pandemic year was still a success for Blevins. He again finished second in the U23 World Championships behind Tom Pidcock, who would go on to win the Tokyo MTB race.
This year was Blevin’s first year racing in the elite category, and Blevins began the MTB season trying to qualify for Tokyo. In early season World Cups, he bested his fellow American competitor Keegan Swenson, earning him the sole spot for an American man in the Olympic race.
Of course, his season has been capped off with the World Championship short track race and World cup win in Snowshoe, thrusting his name into the conscience of the mountain bike world. The success feels like a milestone in USA Cycling’s quest to become a cycling nation that can compete with the European powerhouses.
For years, commentators have been wondering if youth cycling programs in the US will translate into elite racing success. In addition to programs like Durango Devo, the country has seen a boom in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which runs high school mountain bike races. In cross-country mountain biking, a key American player has been Kate Courtney, who is the 2018 World Champion and 2019 World Cup overall winner and got her start in the NICA high school program. On the men’s side, however, riders have struggled with elite XC racing.
Blevins’ win proves that American men can compete at the highest level and serves as further proof that the youth programs are an outstanding source of cycling talent.
Adding to the excitement of Blevins’ promise is the fact that he is an upstanding person and has eclectic interests off the bike. He is an ambassador for the Outride program, which is associated with Specialized Bicycles and seeks to improve the lives of youths through cycling. He also works with the Silver Stallion Bike Shop, which provides bikes and mechanical assistance to riders on the Navajo Nation Native American reservation. Off the bike, the racer has produced a rap and spoken word poetry album.
After Sunday’s race, Blevins recognized how the US is rising in the mountain bike world.
“The streak is over and we’ll make it a winning streak from now on,” he said. “We’ll have a lot more from now on. It’s such an honor. Like I said after the short track win at Worlds, it’s so much bigger than me, there’s so much work that’s gone into mountain biking in the US. The women are well on their way and us men are finally catching up.”
The future of American mountain biking is in safe hands.
|Rider Name (Country) Team
|Christopher Blevins (USA)
|Vlad Dascalu (Rom)
|Ondřej Cink (Cze)
|Nino Schurter (Swi)
|Luca Braidot (Ita)
|Luca Schwarzbauer (Ger)
|Milan Vader (Ned)
|Victor Koretzky (Fra)
|David Nordemann (Ned)
|Maxime Marotte (Fra)
|Simon Andreassen (Den)
|Jordan Sarrou (Fra)
|Thomas Griot (Fra)
|Antoine Philipp (Fra)
|Henrique Avancini (Bra)
|Mathias Flückiger (Swi)
|Pierre De Froidmont (Bel)
|Bartlomiej Wawak (Pol)
|Reto Indergand (Swi)
|Andri Frischknecht (Swi)
|Nadir Colledani (Ita)
|Lars Forster (Swi)
|Maximilian Foidl (Aut)
|Lukas Vrouwenvelder (USA)
|Alan Hatherly (RSA)
|Anton Cooper (NZl)
|Leandre Bouchard (Can)
|Stephane Tempier (Fra)
|Peter Disera (Can)
|Bruno Vitali (Swi)
|Vital Albin (Swi)
|Tyler Orschel (Can)
|Quinton Disera (Can)
|Marc Andre Fortier (Can)
|Raphael Auclair (Can)
|Felix Belhumeur (Can)
|Malcolm Barton (Can)
|Georwill Pérez Román (PuR)
|Alexandre Vialle (Can)
|Andrew L'Esperance (Can)
|Ryan Standish (USA)
|Carson Beckett (USA)
|Stephan Davoust (USA)
|Edward Anderson (USA)
|Brian Matter (USA)
|Cristobal Gonzalez Cornejo (Chi)
|Kenneth Hall (USA)
|Sandy Floren (USA)
|Filippo Colombo (Swi)