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Q&A: Blevins starts 2018 with a bang, winning at Pro XCT, Gila

Chris Blevins has stormed into 2018 with wins in the mountain bike Pro XCT and Tour of the Gila. What's next for the young star?

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At just 20 years old, Christopher Blevins is a rising star of American pro cycling. But will he focus on mountain biking? He currently leads the USA Cycling Pro XCT standings. Or will he try to mold himself into a WorldTour road pro after winning a stage at Tour of the Gila? After winning U.S. under-23 national cyclocross championships, he’s really got no shortage of options.

Question: You started the season strong with a win in Fontana and a win in Bonelli. What are your plans for the remainder of the Pro XCT series?

Christopher Blevins: I’ve got a few road races and some MTB World Cups to focus on before the next Pro XCT, but I’ll be looking forward to being back racing on the dirt in the States. Like last year, I won’t be able to make it to all the races, but I’m hoping my results at these first two will help carry over to Vermont and Durango. Those two races should be excellent prep for world champs in September.

Q: You won the U.S. U23 Cyclocross National Championship in January 2018. How hard was it to transition back to mountain biking and be on form for the early Pro XCT races?

CB: My coach and I fit cross nationals into the training plan pretty well, and since I had only done a couple of cross races, the load wasn’t too heavy. After racing in Reno, I went right back to training and building up a base for the season. I had a few races in March and some added intensity in training to help me get ready for XC racing.

Q: How big of a goal is the Mountain Bike National Championships in 2018?

CB: National Championships are always a big goal. With a bunch of World Cups and multiple stage races throughout the season, I have to try to stay in good form throughout it all, so it’s tough to try to peak for nationals. This year it falls right after a trip to Europe, so it’ll be a bit of a quick adjustment before we race. I enjoyed nationals in the mud last year, so I’m looking forward to being back in Snowshoe.

Q: Do you plan on defending your U23 title or contest the elite race?

CB: I plan on racing U23, and will probably save the elite for next year.

Q: What is your ideal mountain bike course?

CB: I like courses with shorter and steeper climbs, with descents that are technical but also with some flow. There are some courses where I can draw on the skills I learned from BMX racing, and those are my favorites. Worlds last year had a jump line down one of the descents, and if every course had that, I’d be happy for sure.

Q: Will you be racing any mountain bike World Cups this year?

CB: I’ll be going over for Albstadt and Nove Mesto in a little under a month, and then also do Val di Sol and Andorra in July. My big goal for the season is to podium at a world cup, so I’m excited for those.

Christopher Blevins
A proven talent in road racing and on the mountain bike, Christopher Blevins was an unexpected entry in the U23 men’s championship race. Despite a second-row start, he was on the front of the race in the first few hundred yards and controlled the event from there. Photo: @pinnedgrit

Q: At the 2018 Tour of the Gila you won stage 2. What was the team’s, and your, strategy for getting in the breakaway that day?

CB: I didn’t have the ride I was hoping for on the first stage, but since I was a bit down in GC going into the Inner Loop day, I had some freedom to try to go for the move. Our director, Jeff Louder, has done this race a lot and knows the conditions and roads as well as anyone. Usually, there’s a block headwind for the last 25k of this stage, and that’s where the peloton tends to catch the break. This year the wind was reversed so we knew that the break would have a good chance of staying away if it made it over the climb with a big enough gap. I found the right move between the first two KOMs and we built up a pretty big gap quickly.

Q: Take us through the closing kilometers and final sprint of stage 2, Tour of the Gila.

CB: The break worked well together all day, then at 5k out or so, I let [Janier] Acevedo do the majority of the work since he was the one who would benefit most in the general classification. I was second wheel after the turn to Fort Bayard with about 2k left. I was hoping to be a bit further back since the finish straight is deceivingly long and into a headwind. At about 200 meters out, Daniel Jamarillo jumped from behind, and I was able to close to his wheel and then come around at the end.

Q: Does the win at Gila affect your schedule for upcoming races? Will you race the Amgen Tour of California?

CB: No, it won’t change my schedule. I’ll be racing the mountain bike World Cups during Tour of California, and we have a super strong team that’s set to go. After Redlands next week and the two World Cups later in May, I’ll take a bit of a break before maybe doing Tour de Beauce [Canada] and U.S. Pro Road Nationals [in Knoxville, Tennessee]. I think I will likely do Utah and Colorado this year, which will be the big goals on the road bike.

Q: How does road racing help on the mountain bike and vice versa?

CB: The most significant way mountain biking has helped my road racing is with the technical skills I’ve learned throughout the years. The short explosive power from MTB races also translates to being able to have some punch on the road. Road racing has helped give me more depth for mountain bike races. Because road stages are much longer than XC events, I’m able to go hard multiple times over a more extended period.

Q: How do you balance such demanding road and mountain bike schedules?

Balancing the schedule can be hard. There are often race conflicts, and I’ll have to miss ones that I would like to do. Thankfully, both Hagens Berman Axeon and Specialized have been flexible and have allowed me to bounce between the two. The travel and logistics can be tiring, but since I’ve been doing both for a long time now, I’m somewhat accustomed to adjusting to whatever kind of bike I’m racing that week.

Q: Do you feel any pressure to focus on a single discipline?

CB: Thankfully, I’ve been able to race multiple disciplines without a lot of direct pressure to have to choose. I think the pressure I do face comes more from the goals I set for myself. I want to be able to race for the win at the MTB World Cups and world championships. At the same time, I want to help my team get results at the big road races. I know that it may be easier to go after those goals if I decide on a single discipline. Over the next two years, I will likely narrow my focus to target the MTB Olympics or making it to the WorldTour.