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Christopher Blevins just wrote his name into mountain bike racing’s history books.
The Durango, Colorado native became the first man ever to claim the elite world championship title in short-track cross-country racing, which made its debut on Thursday in the UCI world mountain bike championships in Val di Sole, Italy.
Blevins made a last-lap acceleration to bolt around German rider Maximilian Brandl, and then held off Brazilian star Henrique Avancini in the final sprint to claim the rainbow stripes.
“This is the sweetest race ever,” Blevins said at the finish line. “I grew up in my hometown with the weekly short track [races] on Wednesday nights, and it was a special way to grow up. It’s a special kind of race — you’re just out there with all of your friends on a dirt track. It’s the same thing that’s been brought to the World Cups and now the world championships, and it’s incredible to win this.”
Indeed, short-track cross-country racing has been popular in the United States for the last two decades, and it just recently became a mainstay on the UCI World Cup circuit. The format sends riders on a short 1km or so dirt course that often incorporates climbs, descents, and sometimes even BMX-style jumps and berms. Short-track cross country races now precede the traditional cross-country races at World Cup races.
And for 2021, the UCI decided to add the discipline to the world championships.
With his win, Blevins becomes the first American man to win an elite world championship title in a cross-country race since John Tomac claimed the cross-country title at the 1991 world championships in Barga, Italy. In his post-race speech, Blevins acknowledged the long drought that the U.S. has endured in men’s cross-country racing.
“We’ve wanted rainbow stripes for the men for a long time,” he said. “It’s been a long time since the USA was in the rainbow stripes.”
Blevins punched his chest and celebrated as he crossed the line. He stopped the clock in 19:30, with Avancini claiming silver ahead of Brandl, two seconds in arrears.
The thrilling finish came after Blevins rode a cool and calculated race. The twisting and turning route took in segments of the four-cross course, and it included two punchy climbs, and two descents, followed by a long grass straightaway to the finish. Blevins soared into the lead group alongside Avancini, Brandl, Lndrej Cink of the Czech Republic, and Alan Hatherly of South Africa.
Avancini made multiple accelerations in the group, but the major move came on the penultimate lap when Brandl attacked from the group and appeared to open the winning margin. Behind, Cink and Avancini powered the pace, but the German held a six-second gap heading into the final lap.
An increased pace from behind eventually brought Brandl back, and Avancini then attacked on the last clip in an effort to get the best position for the sprint.
But Blevins, who owns a U.S. national title in cyclocross racing, and was a professional road cyclist before taking on mountain biking full-time, kicked out of the saddle and passed Brandl and Avancini as the trio navigated some twists and turns before the final right-hand turn into the straightaway. The move was the decisive strategic moment of the race, and Blevins came into the final straightaway with a clear shot at the line.
He kicked again and again, and blasted to the win.
Blevins added told to his haul of medals — on Wednesday he won a silver as part of the U.S. mixed relay team. He said the racing helped him get focused for his big objective — the short track.
“I came into this week wanting to make it a bit unique and fun,” Blevins said. “Five days of racing in a row is a lot but it got my legs under me for this one. This was the focus of the whole week, and to pull it off is amazing.”
UCI World MTB Championships: Elite men’s short-track cross country
- Christopher Blevins, USA, 19:30
- Henrique Avancini, Brazil, at 0:02
- Maximilian Brandl, German, at s.t.
- Ondrej Cink, Czech Republic, at 0:04
- Alan Hatherly, South Africa, at 0:05
- Marins Blums, Latvia, at 0:17
- Jens Schuermans, at 0:21
- Filippo Colombo, Switzerland, at 0:21
- Gioele Bertolini, Italy, at 0:023
- Daniele Braidot, at 0:24
Sina Frei out sprints Evie Richards to take women’s crown
Swiss phenom Sina Frei captured the women’s Short Track XC world title, but it took several minutes to confirm the victory.
Frei, who just weeks ago won the silver medal at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, came into the final meters in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint with British rider Evie Richards. The dramatic sprint finish came after Frei attacked on the final lap, was caught, and then accelerated again on the final straightaway.
The final acceleration helped her hold off Richards — one of the top cyclocross racers on the planet. But the margin was only a few inches.
“I had a good feeling but it was really tight, and in the end you cannot rely only on your feelings, so it was such a nice moment when I heard I won,” Frei said. “I’m so happy, and it wasn’t until the finish. It was super tight, but I’m super happy to make history and become the first ever short track world champion.”
The sprint kick came after a race of attrition that saw a front group established early, as Richards set a punishing early tempo. The British rider rarely left the front for the first half of the race, and her pace brought out Frei and Swiss teammate Linda Indergand, as well as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, and Australian Rebecca McConnell.
The group was eventually joined by Olympic champion Jolanda Neff on the penultimate lap.
Late moves by Ferrand-Prévot and Richards stretched the group out, but on the final lap it was Frei who finally took the front, bolting away from the other riders on the long climb. The acceleration stretched out the group, and although a chase by Richards eventually brought Frei back, the Swiss rider was in the perfect position to accelerate through the last turn into the final straightaway.
In the final push to the line Richards came around Frei on the left, but the Swiss rider’s gap was still enough to take the win.
“It’s just like the really hard work pays off,” Frei said. “It’s really amazing and I cannot believe what I did today.”
UCI World MTB Championships: Elite women’s short-track cross country
- Sina Frei, Switzerland, 20:11
- Evie Richards, GB, at s.t.
- Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, France, at 0:01
- Linda Indergand, Switzerland, at 0:02
- Jolanda Neff, Switzerland, at 0:11
- Rebecca McConnell, Australia, at 0:17
- Iryna Popova, Ukraine, at 0:26
- Jenny Rissveds, Sweden, at 0:37
- Greta Seiwald, Italy, at 0:41
- Alessandra Keller, Switzerland, at 0:42