Ruth Holcomb continued to show she is the best junior women’s mountain biker in the nation. Riley Amos once again proved he can compete with the elite professionals while only in his first year as an under-23 rider.
The two-weekend OZ Trails U.S. Pro Cup mountain bike series concluded Sunday with the cross-country races in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Holcomb made it a two-race sweep, as she turned in a dominant win in the junior women’s race with a five-lap time of 1 hour, 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Her win highlighted a huge day of podium finishes for Durango cyclists.
“The most special feeling is getting to race with my teammates and friends and with all the cheering fans that were there,” Holcomb said. “We missed that with racing last year, but being back with my teammates and people like Lauren Aggeler and Bailey Cioppa from Durango, it was so fun to race with them and be back in that environment after a year without races.”
The 18-year-old Holcomb finished more than a minute ahead of Tai-Lee Smith of Breckenridge, who was second in 1:09:43. Durango’s Lauren Aggeler also showed strong form once more, as the 17-year-old was third in 1:10:22. Also from Durango, Bailey Cioppa finished one spot off the podium in sixth with a time of 1:14:09. But Cioppa, 17, could return home to Durango proud, as she swept the short-track races during the two weekends of racing.
Holcomb left no doubt she is the top junior women’s rider in the country in her final year in the category before a bump up to the under-23 ranks.
“It feels really good to get some UCI points and move up to fourth in the world rankings,” Holcomb said. “That’s big not only for call-ups at future races and World Cups, but it’s a big confidence booster to know where I stand after racing all of the girls my age in the U.S. right now.”
A week after he raced to third place behind only Olympic hopefuls Christopher Blevins of Durango and Keegan Swenson of Utah, Amos again rode at the front of Sunday’s race and finished on the podium with a fourth-place result. With limited training leading in because of a nasty crash in Puerto Rico that split open his shin as well as a knee issue that slowed down his winter workouts, Amos gutted through stomach cramps and fought his way back into podium contention on the final lap to cross the finish line in 1:19:33.
Swenson would win the race in 1:17:28, while Canada’s LeAndre Bouchard was second in 1:17:52 and Luke Vrouwenvelder of North Carolina was third in 1:19:06.
“I’m definitely surprised at the level I’m at right now,” Amos said. “This year as been less than ideal for prep between the knee issues and the crash. My goal is to build to this level and be even faster and be at the very top of the podium in the coming years, but I surprised myself with where I am right now. It gives me hope for being able to be better in the near future.”
Amos said the man-made course should attract future international races, including World Cup events because of the varying terrain and technical ability required of the athletes. He looks forward to returning.
“What really struck me was how many people were out on the course cheering and screaming at us,” Amos said. “That adds an element of why we do it and why we race. It makes you push and go so much harder. It was also cool to see how many pros lined up. Having 80 pro men is a huge field in a U.S. race except for nationals. That is an elite World Cup field, size wise. The level in the U.S. is going up. With Blevins and Swenson pushing each other, they’re also pushing up the level here across the board. It’s going to be cool the next couple of years to see how the U.S. creeps into those top spots.”
Amos figures to be one of those athletes making that push.
Right behind Amos on Sunday was Durango’s Cole Paton, who turned in his second consecutive fifth-place result to cap off a strong week of racing in Arkansas. He crossed the line in 1:19:52.
“At the end of 2020, I wasn’t sure if I’d even be lining up again,” Paton, a Fort Lewis College alum, said in a post to Instagram. “So thankful for all who continue to believe in me and my career. Gave it all for a top-five in all four (U.S. Cup) events. Big progress for me and motivated for more.”
Durango’s Cobe Freeburn, 20, was 18th in the pro men’s race in 1:22:27, and William Dowling placed 40th in 1:31:10.
Durango’s Ivan Sippy landed on the podium in the junior men’s race, as he placed fourth in 1:11:03. The win went to California’s Ethan Villaneda in 1:10:09, while Arkansas’ Cayden Parker was second in 1:10:28.
Sippy’s result drew the praise of his fellow Durango riders and Segment 28 teammates, as they were ecstatic to see his years of hard work and training result in podium finishes in Arkansas.
“Super happy to grab podiums in both short-track and XC after some crashes and a broken dropped post in XC,” Sippy said on Instagram.
In the elite women’s race, Fort Lewis College alumna Sofia Gomez Villafane, an Argentinian who now calls Utah home, finished second in 1:18:18 behind Boulder’s Erin Huck, who posted the winning time of 1:17:45. Grand Junction’s Alexis Skarda was third in 1:18:51.
Durango’s Savilia Blunk, still recovering from a tough crash a week earlier, placed eighth in 1:21:20 in the loaded women’s field.
Next for many racers will be the Soldier Hollow Bike Festival April 30 through May 1. World Cup events also await Amos and Holcomb in Europe in the next month.