A little over a week ago, Christopher Blevins (Axeon Hagens Berman) was beating some of the best mountain bikers in the country at the US Cup Bonelli Park mountain bike races, taking the win in the short track event and extending his lead in the USA Cycling professional series with his sixth win of the season.
Blevins stuck with the lead group when the peloton started splintering on the climb to he finish at Whitewater Mesa with about 5km to go, but he lacked the final punch to contest the win, which was eventually taken by Rally Cycling’s Matteo Dal-Cin.
"People were a bit jittery and nervous until the last climb," Blevins said. "Then it was all out. We did four kilometers from the bottom of the climb to the finish in six minutes. The last two kilometers were flat, so a group of about 20 of us made it over the top of the climb and then it split up from there.
"I felt pretty good,” Blevins said. "Not as good as I would have liked, but not enough to lose the group in front of me today. I did not have legs for the sprint that well, but still had a decent performance."
Tour of the Gila is Blevins' second race on the road for Axeon after signing with Axel Merckx’s development team for 2017. In between mountain bike races he competed at the San Dimas Stage Race last month and finished sixth overall.
Blevins, the reigning junior cross country champ, started his 2017 run on the US professional mountain bike series by sweeping the cross country and short track races at the Fontana Cup. He followed that result with third in the cross country at Bonelli Park and a win in the short track race ahead of Cameron Ivory and multi-time national champion Todd Wells.
"I knew I had the confidence to be up there with those guys, but I did not expect to be able to beat some of them," Blevins said at the time. "It is definitely an honor to be riding with them and competing so well against high competition."
Blevins got his racing start in BMX before moving to mountain biking, where he quickly excelled. He showed his road racing promise last year as a junior when he won the overall at Course de la Paix Juniors.
A week later, he was back on his mountain bike, earning a runner-up finish before winning a World Cup event in Alsace, France. Blevins is obviously a versatile all-rounder with a knack for two-wheels whether in the dirt or on pavement. Just don’t ask him which type of racing he prefers.
"That's a hard question to answer," the reigning U.S. national junior mountain biking champion said. "Nothing beats slowing down a single track. But putting it all together with your teammates on the road is also super special."
For now, at least, Blevins is fully focused on the road and the Tour of the Gila. Despite having two teammates crash during stage 1, Blevins said he expects Axeon to better show its strength during stage 2.
"It is a good stage to try to win for [Michael] Rice or any of us other guys who can sprint," he said. "I don't think defending the best young rider jersey is much of a priority for me. If I lose it, I hope it is to one of my teammates in the time trial [on Friday]. Looking ahead, we want to keep Jhonatan [Naravaez] and Rice protected for the finishes on the climbing and sprint days."
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