American mountain biking goes home: Blevins and Blunk talk Snowshoe, seasons and Olympics

We caught up with both US national champions ahead of their home stop on the World Cup

Clock15:00, Friday 29th September 2023
Savilia Blunk in action on the Snowshoe World Cup course

© UCI Mountain Bike World Series

Savilia Blunk in action on the Snowshoe World Cup course

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is something that, traditionally, has been dominated by Europe. Not only do most of the winners come from the continent, but most of the races on the series are in Alpine countries with the deepest roots in mountain bike racing.

Yet, even with that domination over the past two decades, North America is undoubtedly where the sport was founded and remains key to the discipline’s legacy and industry. Recently, it has also been the home to riders who have become some of the key players in international racing, as well as having two perennial stops on the World Cup in Snowshoe, West Virginia, and Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec.

With the North American swing starting on Friday, we called up the two US national champions – Savilia Blunk and Christopher Blevins – to discuss their seasons so far, the races in Snowshoe and looking ahead to next year's all important Olympics.

Savilia Blunk - US national champion

GCN: First off, are you excited for Snowshoe? Home World Cups don’t come around all the time…

Savilia Blunk: Yeah I am, I’m stoked. I didn't realise how much I missed racing in the US until I got here, but I am super excited to be here and have the crowd with so many familiar faces. There's nothing like the feeling of racing on home soil and Snowshoe is always special because it's a World Cup but familiar. All of us Americans are so used to racing in Europe where it's so unfamiliar for us, because, well, we're Americans, so when we get to race with a home crowd it's just… different.

GCN: Does it feel good to have an established venue in the States now that appears at big events regularly? In Europe you have Nové Město and Leogang and those iconic European tracks, but in the US it's on a rotating basis where it hasn't been on the calendar consistently.

SB: I think Snowshoe is so unique to all of the Europeans. It is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It's four hours from any major airport and for everyone to travel to get here is a mission. It has its own unique feeling out here in the mountains, it’s different to any other World Cup, and it’s really nice to come back year after year.

Everyone looks forward to it. For the Europeans, it’s a different feel and for us it’s special because we have all the fans who are so excited to be here and have the opportunity of seeing a World Cup in person, which we don't get to do much.

GCN: It must be extra special this year for you because it's a perfect time for the trajectory of your form and to return to racing in the US with the stars and stripes jersey. What has this year been like and how has it led to where you are now as one of the best Americans on the scene?

SB: It's been a big learning year for me. I had lots of major changes at the beginning of the season, with a new team and new structure. It was all really good but really new, so throughout the year I have been learning the ropes. At the beginning of the year I had small setbacks, which left the start of the World Cup season a little bit tough, but we had a break in the middle of the season, which was unique, and I was able to come home, reset, and get good training in.

For us Americans, 90% of our season is in Europe so we are travelling back and forth a lot or we’re based in Europe almost all the year. So for me it was about balancing the two things and it definitely takes a toll on the body, so it’s nice to have a block of time in the middle of the season to just reset. I have been feeling super strong in the second half of the year.

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GCN: With next year as a big goal for most mountain bikers with the Olympics, how are you balancing the ambition of this year with getting things in order for next season? You seem poised to be on the short list for the US team and it seems like everything is moving in that direction, but I am sure it will still be a difficult selection process.

SB: The goal was always building momentum throughout this year and into next year. The main qualification for us is the first World Cups of next season so it makes the end of this season important to carry the momentum into the beginning of next year. So I am just focused on keeping that momentum.

It's so easy to think about the added pressure of qualification at certain races and peaking for them, but I see myself coming into good form and I am just trying to carry my momentum and walk that fine line of not being burnt out but having energy and still being excited and motivated for the last races of this year and next year because it’s going to ramp up pretty early.

It's important to really listen to your body and have a good balance in your racing and in life to be fresh and in a good space before next year.

Chris Blevins - former short track world champion

Chris Blevins, while only 25 years old, has become a stalwart on the World Cup scene. His big breakthrough on the World Cup came two years ago at Snowshoe, where he took America’s first men’s World Cup win in 27 years. Like Blunk, Blevins is the national champion in both cross-country mountain bike disciplines. Here is what he said about his career trajectory, finding his feet in the pro ranks, and his eye towards the Olympics.

GCN: You're back at Snowshoe, you’re back at the World Cup where you had your big breakthrough success. Reflecting on where you are now, how have the last two years gone and how has it been settling into the World Cup?

Chris Blevins: Well, it has its ups and downs and there have been moments where I am really far from that day in Snowshoe, when I am fighting midpack in the World Cup, and that's just a reminder that nothing comes easy in a sport like this. That's what makes those special days so worth it. I just keep remembering that all I can do is create the causes and conditions that make those special moments come out. There will be more days like Snowshoe, hopefully – all I can do is prepare myself for it.

I think having the success in that first year allows me to say ‘alright, I did it, I achieved this major goal in my career – won a World Championship, won a World Cup – that now I have all the freedom in the world to be my best and see where that is. I still have the hunger to get back there, but that freedom to not have that one expectation to do everything I can to chip away for that one goal.

But it's still hard. You kinda settle into a plateau sometimes and you keep working for what that next rise is and I think this year, particularly, it's been a plateau and that's just how athletes’ careers are. You have big moments of development and these plateaus and you just have to remember that's how it is.

GCN: With mountain biking being something that is a little bit more individual and a little bit more variable – where if you're a couple of percent off you might not even be on the television screen – how does that affect your mentality as a racer finding your own definition of success?

CB: On the road you can still play a part in the race if you're one percent off your best. You can still even win. But on the mountain bike it's so brutally honest, because there is no hiding. It’s a sport where if you're in the top eight, I’d say, you're getting coverage, fighting for the podium and everything feels great. But there is such a tiny tiny jump between the top 20 – any of those riders can win on a given day.

Sometimes, when you're fighting for that 20-30th position – and I think this is why so many Americans have reached that point and not higher – it's easy to forget that being top 20 in the world is amazing. It’s a sport where really only the best who have that spotlight and have that moment. There's a purity to that. I love the road because of all the tactics, but mountain biking is that brutally honest sport.

Like I said, it's a plateau. It's part of gathering the confidence and experience to be a true pro in my third year now. And then taking that next leap when it comes.

GCN: How are you balancing looking at long term goals versus the opportunities you have in front of you in the short term, even if things in the World Cup haven't gone the way you've wanted them to?

CB: Every weekend is a new chance and all you can do is put yourself in the position where something special can happen. I think that's how my good races have come before. They were somewhat down to having done the work, but at the same time they were so unexpected because it was just the right time for it.

I’ve learned a lot about the attitude that all you can do is all you can do. Like, here you are and it's the end of the season and it hasn't gone the way I wanted it to, but I am going to do my damn best and focus on everything I can do to be my best. It's simple and I think we can make it more complicated than that, but I want to draw that straight line in my process.

At the same time, next year is a huge year. I have chosen this career because of the Olympics and because of the magnitude of that and I told myself after Tokyo I didn't want to just go to Paris; I wanted to go to fight for a medal. I still really believe I can do that and I have more clarity on the work I need to do to get there.

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Watch the Snowshoe World Cup live on GCN+ this weekend, kicking off with the short track on Friday followed by the XCO on Sunday. Territory restrictions apply, check availability here.

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