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Christopher Blevins wins inaugural world Short Track XC MTB title

Christopher Blevins became the first ever winner of the UCI men's Short Track XC title, taking the rainbow stripes in Val di Sole, Italy.

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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.”

 

This story originally ran on our sister publication VeloNews.