RENO, Nevada (VN) — Like a mysterious drifter in an old western movie, Christopher Blevins strode into Sunday’s U23 National Cyclocross Championships as a dark horse, a wildcard, an unknown threat.
Blevins left the weekend, national title in hand, having stunned the crowd with his raw power and otherworldly bike-handling skills. For years to come, the Reno weekend will be remembered for the video clips of Blevins bunny-hopping every feature along the course, before attacking on the final lap to win.
“The one big straightaway is where I could really lay it down,” Blevins said after the race. “It was going into the stairs, which I was bunny hopping every time, and that’s where I had a big advantage.”
Blevins grabbed cyclocross’s biggest American prize having competed in a paltry few races this year. He raced a handful of events in Southern California’s SoCalCross league this winter but spent most of his time training.
An athlete with Blevins’s skillet, it seems, only needs a few races to win. Blevins is perhaps the most talented all-around bicycle racer of his generation, possibly the most talented in decades. He has won national titles in BMX racing, mountain bike, and now cyclocross, and scored head-turning victories in international road races. He has already built an impressive list of palmares, prior to his 20th birthday. His impressive skills across cycling’s various disciplines are reminiscent of American cycling greats of yesteryear: John Tomac, Tinker Juarez, Julie Furtado.
Whenever Blevins is on a bike, he has the ability to blow people’s minds. Last season a photo emerged of Blevins performing a mind-bending stunt on his road bike; while balancing on his rear wheel, Blevins pulls the bicycle into a vertical position, and then leans over and kisses the front tire.
“Chris is talented and he wants to do a bit of everything,” says Axel Merckx, director of the Hagens Berman Axeon team, which employs Blevins on the road. “There will come a day when he has to make a choice.”
At the moment, one choice is pulling the strongest. When asked whether he would rather win a stage of the Tour de France or win a UCI mountain bike World Cup, Blevins said he’d rather win a mountain bike World Cup.
So far, mountain biking seems to be tugging at Blevins the hardest.
“A big goal of mine is Tokyo [2020 Olympics] on the mountain bike,” he says.
But Blevins knows he has options in cycling — he’s had them his entire life. A native of Durango, Colorado, Blevins grew up in the shadows of mountain bike’s greatest athletes. The small mountain town has been the home of generations of off-road greats, from Ned Overend and Tomac, to Missy Giove and Myles Rockwell. When Blevins was a kid, Durango’s resident stars included Todd Wells, Shonny Vanlandingham, and Tad Elliott, among others.
Starting at age five, Blevins raced BMX, winning nine age-group national titles along the way. As a teenager, he hooked up with the Durango Devo development program and began riding and racing mountain bikes. The national titles came quickly. He grabbed his first junior mountain bike title in 2012, then won cross-country national titles in every consecutive year.
This past summer, Blevins stepped into the U23 ranks. To no one’s surprise, he dominated the national championships cross-country race by nearly one minute.
Wells, who retired in 2017, said Blevins has turned heads in the Durango cycling community for years. Wells believes Blevins’s unique blend of BMX background and endurance give him untapped potential.
“You have this incredible skill set, and mountain biking is becoming more technical, manmade, more BMX, more an obstacle course,” Wells said.
Blevins also has incredible talents on the road. He started racing on the road as a junior and grabbed major results at international races. In 2015, he sprinted to a stage win at Canada’s Tour l’Abitibi, a major stage race for identifying the stars of tomorrow. The next year, Blevins won the overall at the Junior Peace Race in the Czech Republic — previous winners of the development race include Fabian Cancellara and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky).
Wells says that Blevins has a once-in-a-generation combination of technical skills and physiological talent.
“Chris, I foresee him being on that level as a Nino [Schurter], a [Julian] Absalon — top-10, top-five guy in the world,” Wells said.
At the moment, Blevins believes he can continue to balance both the road and mountain bike. He also has several other commitments on his place — he is attending California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. He’s also a talented hip-hop artist and has an album of rap songs uploaded to his Soundcloud page. He has also filmed a music video for one of his songs, titled “Battlefield.”
“I’m fortunate to be able to do both [road and mountain], and I think through the U23s it’s sustainable, but obviously I’ll have to focus on the schedule and the training,” Blevins says. “I think I’ll kind of narrow my focus in the coming years.
Wells views Blevins as a rider who could revive excitement for cross-country racing among Americans.
“For me, it’s exciting because I look back at the guys I looked up to when I was racing, guys like [John] Tomac had all this style and made it look cool,” Wells says. “It inspired my generation of riders to get into the sport.”
It remains to be seen if Blevins can live up to the hype at the elite level. In the near term, however, he probably inspired a lot of junior cyclocrossers to try hopping stairs and barriers in their backyards — much to the chagrin of the parents who will have to replace those tacoed wheels and flat tires.