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Blevins leaves road behind to focus on Olympic MTB dream

Christopher Blevins chooses to focus on mountain bike racing, leaving behind a successful run on the road with Axeon.

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Christopher Blevins is putting his road racing ambitions aside to focus on “the dirt side” of his pro cycling career.

The multi-talented 20-year-old announced via Instagram on Thursday that he would no longer race with the Hagens Berman Axeon program in the coming season. On the mountain bike, he will step up from being a Specialized-sponsored athlete to joining the Specialized factory team in 2019.

With the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as his central goal, Blevins will pour his efforts into his mountain bike calendar next year in pursuit of qualifying points and the form to compete against the world’s best.

“Looking at what it took to make it to the Olympics on the mountain bike, as far as chasing points, as far as doing all the World Cups, that made me realize that this might be it for road, at least for now,” he told VeloNews in a phone interview on Thursday.

“A huge part of it is I didn’t want to give Axeon the short end of the stick if I was going to race for them. I wanted to give them as much of my availability as possible. I know how many kids would kill for a spot on the team.”

In 2018, Blevins raced with Axeon at Tour of the Gila, where he won stage 2, USA Cycling Pro Road Nationals, and the Colorado Classic.

Blevins is the reigning under-23 American champion in cyclocross and the elite national champion in short-track cross-country on the mountain bike. He has also raced for the Axeon squad on the road since 2017.

In September, he rode to runner-up honors in the under-23 category at mountain bike worlds. He says he was already leaning toward going all-in on the mountain bike, but worlds helped convince him of his potential there. It also helped facilitate the additional support from the Specialized.

“It got me super fired-up for what I can do in the sport, and what the U.S. can do in the sport. It also made other people realize what I can do in the sport,” he said.

Blevins has made the Olympics were his central goal for some time now. The past few months made it clearer to him that the road and mountain bike seasons overlapped too much to keep giving both sides an equal share of his attention.

He took that knowledge into a conversation with Axeon director Axel Merckx, who has been open to Blevins’s split calendar since his arrival on the team. Both came to the conclusion that if Blevins’s priority is the Olympics on the mountain bike, it would be best if he directed his efforts toward the dirt full-time next season.

“It didn’t make sense for either party to race next year with Axeon,” Blevins said. “The only thing [Merckx] said was that, ‘If you decide to come back to road at some point, and at that time I have a team that is beyond U23, talk to me first.’

“It’s not that hard for me honestly to step away from road at all, but it is tough to leave Axeon because it’s such a good program.”

Blevins remains open to a return to the road in the future but says that for now, he sees himself continuing on the mountain bike and possibly in cyclocross — which has less of a scheduling overlap with mountain biking — even beyond the Tokyo Olympics.

“I don’t know what will happen after 2020,” he said, “but right now I can say with a bit of confidence that I’ll probably want to stay on the mountain bike.”

View this post on Instagram

Its been an incredible 2 years with @hbaxeon, but I will not be returning to the team in 2019. • Like many junior road cyclists in America, I dreamed of riding for this program for a long time, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so the past couple years. • The team’s exceptionalism echoes throughout the whole staff. Everyone involved creates an atmosphere to help us grow as cyclists and as people. I wouldn’t have been able to balance two full seasons of multiple disciplines without this environment and @axelmerckx ‘s receptiveness to my goals. • I never forget how cool it is to come together with teammates from all over the world, and I’ll never take for granted the bonds that are built throughout this sport. It’s something that extends beyond just bike racing. The Axeon family faced a lot of tragedies and triumphs in the last two years, and I’m thankful to have had some amazing teammates by my side through it all. • I’ve arrived at a point in my cycling career where my goals have come into clear focus, and my heart knows which direction to point in – and that’s towards the mountain bike. I’m excited to dedicate my full time and energy to the dirt side moving forward in 2019. To all of @hbaxeon, thank you. #Proveit #alwaysbeyoung

A post shared by Christopher Blevins (@christopherblevs) on