by Kyle Moore
Chris Blevins looked like he was having a ball on the Reno cyclocross course. What’s not to love about a fast, dry course, bunny-hops and stair steps?
And winning helps, too. Blevins (Axeon Hagens Berman) confirmed as much after taking the title in the U23 men’s race at the USA Cycling Cyclocross Championships in Reno.
The mountain biker used a searing attack at the start of the final lap to distance Eric Brunner (EVOL DevoElite Racing) and Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport), who finished second and third, respectively.
Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co. – Groove Subaru), marked by many as the odds-on-favorite before the race, suffered a rear flat halfway through the day that ended his threat. He finished in fourth place.
While Blevins wasn’t cruising under a comfortable cloak of complete anonymity, there were certainly other names that came up first when race favorites were listed. He has ridden just four cyclocross events this season, but the former BMXer and current mountain bike and road (and cyclocross) star for Axeon Hagens Berman made race number five count.
He is said to be able to kiss his front tire while doing a wheelie – standing still. So while his victory may have been a surprise to some, the flash he showed from the drop of the flag should have surprised no one.
Blevins Makes His Mark Early
Blevins stole the spotlight from Hecht, and he stole the holeshot as well. Then Blevins dropped some jaws when he bunny-hopped the opening stairs at speed. Hecht retook the lead at the barriers, and though Blevins hopped the barriers on the section’s exit, Hecht made a smooth remount and settled into the lead.
Blevins and Brunner rubbed shoulders as they fought for Hecht’s wheel, and Brunner took the lead for the first time as he nabbed the high line of the off-camber that snaked off the Shimano hill. A group of five sprinted out of the final turn to complete the first lap, while a chase group of six that included defending champ Lance Haidet (Donnelly Sports) was not far behind.
A few favorites, including Haidet, Cooper Willsey (Cannondale CyclocrossWorld) and Maxx Chance (EVOL DevoElite Racing) were on the back foot at the opening of lap two. The lead group shed one rider on the back half of the second lap, leaving Hecht, Blevins, Brunner and Grant Elwood. Blevins began the third lap just as he had opened the race, taking the lead and clearing room for another bunny hop on the stairs.
Blevins accelerated out of the 180-degree turns toward the barriers, but his rear wheel spun out and he crashed into the fencing. Hecht took advantage and grabbed the lead. Just as his advantage began to look dangerous, while mashing up the Shimano hill, the Pan-American champ suffered his fateful lap-three misfortune, a rear flat on the rocky descent.
He carried his bike most of the way down before remounting, but the squishy slog to the pits gave Hecht a lot of ground to recover with three laps done.
Blevins and Brunner Do Battle
With Hecht in the rearview mirror, Blevins and Brunner set to work. Blevins bobbled the exit of the sand section on lap four, slowing Brunner behind him and allowing Elwood to nearly close the gap in third place. Behind them Spencer Petrov sat in fourth place, trying to close the gap up to the leaders.
With Blevins, Brunner, and Elwood together over the line as the lap concluded, Petrov toiled alone in fourth with three laps remaining. The leading trio shadowed each other through the sandy section, which Hecht exited a short time later in fifth place, with a noticeable gap behind him for the first time, but still with work to do to catch Petrov.
With two laps to go, the trio crossed the finish line and slowed the pace. Blevins decided to take up the pace-work, and his pace through the sand gapped Ellwood slightly. Behind, Petrov escaped cleanly through the section that had caught him out the previous lap, but Hecht was on the move. The pre-race favorite claimed fourth place on the course leading toward the Shimano climb once more. The chasing duo climbed as the leading trio went down the other side. Ellwood continued to hang in as Brunner accelerated hard off the descent.
Brunner took the bell first but slowed down and called for Blevins to come through. Blevins initially hesitated, but off the first turn as the final lap begin, just as Brunner waggled his elbow once more, Blevins attacked. He bunny-hopped the stairs at speed while Brunner struggled to keep up. Ellwood bridged immediately to him as Blevins continued to pry open a race-winning gap.
Brunner averted disaster, and reopened a gap to Ellwood up the Shimano hill. Brunner then further regained his focus on the descent, momentarily bringing Blevins back to within four seconds. But the EVOL-DevoElite rider ran out of room.
Blevins raised both arms and revealed an imposing figure. The mountain biker who had eluded the radar of many wasn’t hiding anymore. Blevins took the plaudits and the gold medal, adding the U23 cyclocross title to the cache he has earned in other disciplines.
Brunner finished second and Ellwood was happy with third place.
U23 Men's Results: 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals
|1||109||BLEVINS||Christopher||UCI PCT: Axeon Hagens Berman||52:38|
|2||106||BRUNNER||Eric||EVOL DevoElite Racing||52:44||6|
|3||107||ELLWOOD||Grant||Boulder Cycle Sport||53:00||22|
|4||102||HECHT||Gage||Alpha Bicycle Co.- Groove Subar||54:04||1:26|
|6||105||CHANCE||Maxx||EVOL DevoElite Racing||54:35||1:57|
|7||111||FIX||Brannan||Alpha Bicycle Co.- Groove Subar||54:57||2:19|
|8||108||STEPHENSON||Denzel||EVOL DevoElite Racing||55:14||2:36|
|9||101||HAIDET||Lance||UCI CT: Aevolo Cycling Inc.||55:21||2:43|
|10||115||SWARTZ||Caleb||Trek Cyclocross Collective||55:23||2:45|
|12||110||GERCHAR||Garrett||Clif Bar Development Cross Team||56:01||3:23|
|15||117||ELLWOOD||Ross||Boulder Cycle Sport||56:34||3:56|
|16||116||TANNER||Jack||Clif Bar Development Cross Team||56:55||4:17|
|18||119||NYSTROM||Anders||Clif Bar Development Cross Team||57:35||4:57|
|19||118||EARL||Liam||Clif Bar Development Cross Team||58:16||5:38|
|21||135||BORDEN||Andrew||Squadra Flying Tigers||58:18||s.t.|
|23||143||O'CONNOR||Finnegan||Competitve Edge Racing||January 1, 1970||9:08|
|24||144||SOTEBEER||Drew||Alpha Bicycle Co.- Groove Subar||@2Lap|
|26||142||HAMMERQUIST||Erik||Grixsen Brewing p/b West End Bi||@2Lap|
|28||121||FRANZE||Brent||Giant Co-Factory Off-Road Team||@2Lap|
|29||146||WENCZEL||Kale||JAM Fund / NCC||@2Lap|
|32||150||JOHNSTON||Spencer||Mock Orange Racing||@3Lap|
|36||133||JUNGE||Frederick||Base Media Racing Team||@3Lap|
For more from Reno, see our continuing coverage of the 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals on our dedicated Nationals page.
Photos from the races and reports are available to license here, with more to be added throughout the next week.