Christopher Blevins of Durango and Keegan Swenson are in a head-to-head sprint chasing one spot in this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. So it was only fitting that Sunday’s first big American mountain bike race of the season came down to a sprint finish between the two.
It was Blevins, 23, who swept the first weekend of racing at the OZ Trails U.S. Pro Cup with a commanding win in Friday night’s short-track race and a narrow sprint victory ahead of Swenson after seven laps of grueling cross-country racing Sunday in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“Down to the wire (Sunday) after trading blows with (Swenson) for all seven laps,” Blevins said in a post to Instagram.
Blevins finished in 1 hour, 26 minutes, 17.57 seconds. Swenson crossed the line in 1:26:17.76. Blevins was able to come around the last dirt bank in first riding into the pavement, and he held off the charging Swenson in the final 100-yard sprint to the finish line in front of cheering fans, something all the riders had missed a year ago with races – and the Olympics – canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the top story lines in the elite men’s race behind Blevins and Swenson was the performance of Durango’s Riley Amos. The 19-year-old was still fresh off an injury that left him with more than 20 stitches in his shin after crashing during a practice ride for the Pan American Continental Mountain Bike Championships in Puerto Rico. But two weeks later, Amos showed he will be a force to be reckoned with, as he rode strong with Blevins and Swenson all day when the three had separated from much of the rest of the field.
Amos would finish third in 1:26:41. Amos, Blevins and Swenson were the only three riders to keep every lap under 12 minutes. It was especially impressive after Amos was forced to miss valuable winter training time while resting a knee issue.
“Shout out to (Amos). He’s had setback after setback the past couple of months and still rode crazy strong for 3rd,” Blevins wrote. “This Durango kid is going to be real good for a real long time.”
Also representing Durango, FLC alum Cole Paton finished fourth in 1:27:35, as he finished 13 seconds in front of Puerto Rico’s Georwill Pérez Roman.
Durango’s Stephan Davoust placed 10th in 1:29:24, while Cobe Freeburn was 22nd in 1:34:16 and Cody Cupp was 26th in 1:35:11. William Dowling of Durango placed 54th. There were 71 finishers in the men’s field with only 42 on the same lap as the race winners. Another nine riders started but did not finish.
Durango’s Ruth Holcomb, who is coached by Blevins, won the junior women’s race for riders ages 17-18. She finished in 1:03:59 after completing four laps. Durango’s Lauren Aggeler was second in 1:04:44, as she turned in another strong performance backing up her silver medal in Puerto Rico behind Holcomb there, too.
“I had kind of a stomach bug earlier Friday and pulled out of the short-track. I wasn’t feeling myself,” Holcomb said. “I was worried how the cross-country would go, but as soon as I got on the course, I felt super good. The course was incredible – World Cup style and suited my strengths.”
Holcomb had gotten away on the second lap, but she would get a flat tire halfway through the lap and had to run her bike back to the pit area for a wheel change.
“The main group caught me, but they were still right there,” Holcomb said. “I was able to catch back up and work with teammates for a bit and then break away again. It all ended up good, just more excitement than I originally planned on.”
Also for Durango in the junior women’s race, Bailey Cioppa was seventh in 1:07:35. It came after her thrilling win in the Friday night short-track race that she won in a sprint ahead of Boulder’s Chloe Fraser.
In the junior men’s race, Durango’s Alex Green placed 10th in 1:07:15 in a race won by California’s Ethan Villaneda in 1:04:54. Durango’s Ivan Sippy was 18th in 1:08:42.
Riders will tackle largely the same course this weekend for the second U.S. Cup event in Fayetteville. Holcomb said there is one larger drop on the course that will add to the excitement on a slightly longer loop.