Report & Photos: Youth Movement at US CUP Round 1 in Fontana

The US CUP presented by Ridebiker Alliance got off to a great start this weekend at Fontana City, California with Specialized Factory Racing’s Kate Courney  and Christopher Blevins taking the honors in the cross country races on Saturday. The two young riders (Courtney is 22 while Blevins is just 19) gave a glimpse of a strong future for US cross country racing while beating strong fields of experienced racers.

In the Short Track (STXC) race on Sunday, Courtney finished a close second to Rose Grant (Stan’s NoTubes-Pivot) while Blevins’ late attack gave him the double.

Tie-breaker rules on the women’s results gave the weekend’s leaders jersey to Courtney, while Blevins took a commanding lead in the men’s rankings. The riders are also in the driver’s seat in the race for the two $10,000 winner-take-all prize payouts for the combined US CUP cross country and short track series. This special prize awards the Best All Around Rider in the US CUP series, with points granted equally for cross country and short track.

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Elite Women Cross Country

The Elite women lined up for five laps of the approximately 3.5-mile course that featured 600 feet of climbing per lap. The early start time made for perfect weather conditions. Right from the gun, a group of seven formed on the first lap including four women from the Clif Pro Team (Eva Lechner, Andrea Waldis, Haley Batten and Maghalie Rochette) plus Courtney, Rose Grant and Alexis Skarda (both STANS NOTUBES-Pivot). This group would animate the front of the race from this point forward.

On the second lap, Grant and Courtney showed their strength by separating from the Clif riders, foreshadowing the decisive action in the race. The two built up a 15-second lead at the end of lap two but the teamwork of the Clif Pro Team brought things together at the midway point of the race. On the bell lap, Courtney and Grant were again off the front, with Lechner and Waldis chasing hard.

On the final lap it would be Courtney who proved strongest, attacking Grant to take the win by 13 seconds.

“I’m super excited about this win, as well as being in the chase for that big prize!” said Courtney post-race. “It’s really great when an early season race goes so well. Next weekend at Bonelli will be a bit different, as it’s usually a World Cup quality field. I hope I can continue the good form. I’d like to give special thanks to my Specialized Factory Racing Team for all their great support this weekend as well.”

Elite Men Cross Country

The men lined up for six laps of the challenging course. Similar to the women’s race, the decisive group was formed early, with Blevins joined by Luke Vrouwenvelder (Bear Development), Russel Finsterwald and Todd Wells (both SRAM/TLD Racing) and Evan Guthrie (Team Solo Evan). This group gradually grew an insurmountable lead by working together over the next few laps until lap 5 when Blevins put in a blistering attack that would last until the finish line. The 19-year-old took the win over Vrouwenvelder by over a minute and a half, with Evan Guthrie just behind.

A moment of concern occurred just before the bell lap for Wells, who had been dropped by the lead group on lap five. The former multi-National Champion took a hard fall on the final turn before the line and lay injured across the narrow lane for a few tense moments before restarting and finishing a painful last lap.

Elite Women STXC 

On Sunday, the women’s short track event held greater importance than ever before, with equal points being scored for the chase for the overall $10,000 prize. The 21-strong field got off to a clean start with Courtney charging hard and taking the hole shot into the first turn. The first lap began the selection process and by the second lap of the 15-minutes plus 3 laps race, the definitive lead group of five were formed by Grant, Courtney, Evelyn Dong (Full Cycle/Liv), Alexis Skarda (Stans NoTubes-Pivot) and Shayna Powless (Sho-Air/Twenty20).

With Courtney sitting second wheel for almost the entire race, the eventual winning move seemed a formality until the final lap when Rose Grant forced the winning move and powered home to take the win. Kate Courtney took second while Skarda come in third.

A special mention goes out to Amy Beisel of Gunnison, Colorado who flatted just before staging. After pulling a nail from her tire and a quick change she started the race thirty seconds down on the group. Determined to score points in her specialty, Beisel chased through the pack one by one to finish ninth out of seventeen!

Elite Men STXC

The men’s race saw Blevins take the holeshot and lead through a very quick first lap, stringing the dusty group out. By the third lap a lead group of six formed, including favorites Blevins, Wells and Finsterwald. The group worked well together until they got the three-to-go sign, where Blevins and Wells were able to create a gap. Blevins put in a hard charge on the last lap to get the decisive gap and take the win. The results for second, sixth and ninth all came down photo finishes!

“This weekend went far better than expected,” said Blevins at the podium ceremony. “It’s really motivating to come out of here on such good form and I hope it carries through to next weekend.”

Current US CUP XC Rankings 

Elite Women

1 Kate Courtney (United States) Specialized Factory Racing 115 pts
2 Rose Grant (United States) Stans NoTubes-Pivot 115 pts
3 Evelyn Dong (United States) Full Cycle/Liv 85 pts
4 Alexis Skarda (United States) Stans NoTubes-Pivot 82 pts
5 Shayna Powless (United States) Sho-Air/Twenty20 71 pts

Elite Men

1 Christopher Blevins (United States) Specialized Factory Racing 120 pts
2 Luke Vrouwenvelder (United States) Bear Development 102 pts
3 Russell Finsterwald (United States) SRAM/TLD Racing 91 pts
4 Kyle Trudeau (United States) CZ Racing 85 pts
5 Daniel Johnson (United States) Bear Development 73 pts

Results and Rankings:

Photos – Philip Beckman/PB Creative

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