There's not much on a bike that Christopher Blevins can't do. The 20-year-old from Durango, Colorado, spent the past two seasons on the road with Hagens Berman Axeon and won stage 2 at the Tour of the Gila in April. He's also the reigning US under-23 cyclo-cross champion and elite short-track mountain bike champion, most recently winning a silver medal in the under-23 cross-country race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Switzerland.
He's been busy on the bike but not too busy to continue his post-secondary education at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, California, where he studies business administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. He also volunteers teaching creative writing at a local juvenile hall. As with his bike skills, Blevins excels at language, diving into the world of rap music and spoken-word poetry and producing a compilation of his own work.
"I had always written rap just for fun, and then in freshman year of high school I had a poetry study in English and I just loved it," Blevins told Cyclingnews earlier this year. "I had a poetry slam that fall, and I've just gotten into that a lot.
"Now that I'm in college, I volunteer with the spoken-word poetry club on campus. I also volunteer at the local juvenile hall just teaching kids writing there, so I'm just trying to expand it. It's such a great outlet, especially with cycling. It's very different, and that's important to me."
"Life's a game and I have tried controlling every dice's roll
I only have a single hand of cards that I can show
Detective on the microphone
'cause when I write a poem
It's like I pick apart a piece of life under a microscope ..."
- Christopher Blevins, 'Ink in My Pen'
Blevins' love of spoken-word poetry drove him to create his own compilation of nine tracks set to music. Completed more than a year ago, he worked on some of the recordings with just a microphone in his room, while the majority were cut in a studio in San Luis Obispo, with someone else coming in to produce and master all of the tracks.
'Mile Markers' includes the title track, along with other contemplative works titled 'If I could', 'Canvas/Leaves', 'Poetry Dances', 'Anchor (featuring Ruby Blu)', 'Ice Statues', 'Battlefield', 'Infinite Pt. 1' and 'Infinite Pt. 2'.
Although many of Blevins' inspirations come while he's riding his bike, rarely do the worlds of a pro bike racer and aspiring artist intertwine. Earlier this year at the San Dimas Stage Race, however, Blevins got the chance to make that happen when two of his favourite poets were in the same town as the race. Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye were performing nearby, and Blevins got a pass from Hagens Berman Axeon director Jeff Louder to briefly take his leave from the team and check out the show.
At the Tour of the Gila, where he took his first UCI road win, Blevins was reading Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib's 'This Crown Ain't Worth Much' – a collection of poems analysing race, gender, family and "the love that holds us together even as it threatens to break us", according to Amazon.com.
Asked about other favourite authors, Blevins quickly named poets Rudy Francisco and Neil Hilborn.
Christopher Blevins with the U23 silver medal at the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds
Light to give
"Before we saw the world through our last chances
Before we outgrew believing that little was wrong with the planet
Before it was laughter and dreams
and that never seemed to make our hearts panic
We used to believe in the beauty much more than we do
It's not lost; dammit there's life left to live
I'll stop walking around like I don't see that I've got this light to give ..."
- Christopher Blevins, 'Infinite Pt. 1'
Blevins' father, Field Blevins, is an orthopaedic surgeon in Durango, with a special expertise in sports medicine. He told Cyclingnews he's not sure where his son's poetic pursuits got their start.
"I have no idea where that came from," he said. "My wife is a pretty talented athlete. I don't know what he gets from Dad. It's such a nice secondary interest, of course, with school. He's very well-rounded. When he was eight, if somebody had asked what else do you think he'd do besides cycle – because he was BMXing then – I would have never said spoken-word poetry. I didn't even know what it was."
Field Blevins said his son got some basic recording equipment two years ago so he could disappear into his room and work on his art.
"He shuts the door and says, 'Don't bother me.' It's nothing fancy, but it's stuff I'd never seen before."
The inspiration for the younger Blevins' poetry remains a mystery to his dad, who says he hears the stories about how the tracks are worked out after they're finished. The many hours on the bike definitely play a part.
The long training rides are a valuable place to brainstorm his ideas and work out his prose, but they're also an opportunity to ponder the big decisions that will help set the direction of his life. Last week Blevins announced he won't return to his road team next year, choosing instead to focus on the mountain bike as a path to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
It's an Olympic dream that should inspire plenty of training rides and more poetry along the way.