America’s 27-Year Losing Streak in Men’s Mountain-Bike Racing Just Ended
Christopher Blevins became the first U.S. man since 1994 to win a round of the cross-country Mountain Bike World Cup
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I reported on pro mountain-bike racing for VeloNews from 2004 until 2009, and during that time the glut of my coverage focused on one overarching if depressing storyline. Cross-country mountain bikers from the United States of America—the country that invented the mountain bike (and yes, mountain-bike racing, too)—had fallen abysmally far behind riders from Europe.
While the U.S. women occasionally held their own against riders from Switzerland and France, America’s top men felt like a junior varsity football team playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the big international races. Cross-country mountain-bike racing is an endurance sport that requires stamina to ride up steep grades, and fearlessness to drop down rocky descents. It seemed like the U.S. men didn’t have the legs, lungs, or confidence to win.
There were multiple reasons for this, of course. European racing was rampant with doping. And some of the best up-and-coming Americans were lured away by road cycling.
No matter the cause, I became acutely aware of a historic milestone that fans of U.S. mountain-bike racing often repeated. The last American man to win a round of the World Cup—the sport’s annual premier racing series—was David “Tinker” Juarez, and he did so in 1994, when riders wore ping pong ball-like foam helmets and garish neon racing attire.
Well, the losing streak is finally over. On Sunday, 23-year-old American Christopher Blevins won the World Cup race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. In doing so, he ended the 27-year winless streak for American men on the World Cup circuit, which began four years before Blevins was even born.
It was a thrilling victory, and the rebroadcast of the race is available on Red Bull TV. In the early minutes of the one hour, 15-minute race Blevins powered into the front group containing the world’s fastest riders. He paced himself off of the other riders for six of seven laps, until only a few remained, among them current world champion, Swiss rider Nino Schurter, who is mountain biking’s version of Tom Brady.
Then, with the finish line only a few kilometers away, Blevins bolted away from Schurter with an aggressive attack, leaving his rivals in a cloud of dust. He rode down a harrowing rocky descent, then climbed to the finish line to take the biggest win of his career.
“I didn’t think it would be this year, but the streak is over and we’ll make it a winning streak from now on—we will have more,” Blevins said. “The U.S. women are well on their way and us men are finally catching up.”
American cross-country racing is a few years into a renaissance, with Kate Courtney’s world championship in 2018 erasing a 17-year drought for the U.S. women. Blevins is the latest U.S. star to rise to that level.
If anyone was going to break the men’s losing streak it was Blevins. For years, top riders and coaches have tapped him as the most versatile U.S. cyclist in generations. He grew up in the mountain-bike mecca of Durango, Colorado, home to mountain biking’s first two world champions, John Tomac and Ned Overend. He won medal after medal in BMX racing as a child, and as a teenager he blossomed into a top mountain biker and road racer. Blevins won pro races in road cycling, and also in cyclocross—a hybrid of road and mountain biking. And he dominated the junior national championships in mountain-bike racing for an entire generation.
Rather than chase a big contract in road cycling, Blevins chose mountain biking, telling the cycling media he was dedicated to bringing the U.S. back to the top of the sport it created.
Earlier this year Blevins showed signs that he was close to achieving his goal. He qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, where he finished a respectable 14th place. Then, two weeks later, he competed in the inaugural world championships for short-track cross-country—a fast and furious 20-minute lung-busting race on dirt—and scored a surprise victory.
Blevins is likely to garner mainstream headlines in the coming weeks, and it’s easy to see why. He is truly a unicorn in competitive cycling, and not just because of his sporting accolades. Blevins writes poetry and records his own hip-hop music. He taught creative writing to at-risk kids in San Luis Obispo, California. And earlier this year he co-produced a video about what it’s like to simultaneously attend California Polytechnic State University and race professionally.
Keep an eye on Blevins. He’s ended the losing streak and helped bring the U.S. back to the top of the sport it created. He is unquestionably a future star of U.S. pro cycling.