English, Aagard, and Beard take Junior 17-18 and U23 National Titles.
MACUNGIE, Pennsylvania (July 9, 2023) — The last day of the 2023 USA Cycling Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships was all about Short Track racing. Every category of the day was set to race on the explosive track through the ski slopes of Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, Pa. In the afternoon, thunderstorms struck the mountain delaying the start of the afternoon events. Further severe weather caused a course change and shortened racing for the Junior 17-18 Men, Elite Women, and Elite Men due to the rideability of the original course.
Elite Short Track
The Elite Women’s race kicked off as the rain began to slow. The twenty-three-rider field was prepared to battle in the elements. In the first lap, a lead group of three formed, containing the top three from the Cross-Country race on Saturday; defending Short Track Champion Kate Courtney (Kentfield, Calif.; SCOTT-SRAM Factory Racing), Gwendalyn Gibson (Ramona, Calif.; Trek Factory Racing), and the Elite Women’s Cross-Country Champion Savilia Blunk (Inverness, Calif.; Rockrider Racing Team). By the second lap, Blunk pulled ahead from the others. Blunk continued to press her advantage to the finish line and earned her second national title of the week. Gibson powered to second, and Courtney third.
Blunk believed the inclement weather played to her favor today, saying, “I personally love it when we get weather conditions like this. It just throws everything off. Nobody really knows what to expect. I just tried to go with my mindset from yesterday and just stay present and flow through the race. I tried to anticipate what was going to come, but it was super hard.” With the changing conditions, Blunk was unable to pre-ride the course before the race, “I hadn’t seen the course before the first lap. I tried to just rail the ruts and stay smooth in the mud. That was the key today.”
The final race of the extended day was the Elite Men’s Short Track. The course, at this point, had become a mud pit. Defending Short Track Champion and yesterday’s Cross-Country winner Christopher Blevins (Durango, Colo.; Specialized Factory Racing), Riley Amos (Durango, Colo.; Trek Factory Racing), and Bjorn Riley (Boulder, Colo.; Trek Future Racing) were the three favorites to take the podium. During the six-lap race, Blevins and Amos battled it out at the front, with Riley just behind the duo. The trio were together for the better part of the race, but in the last lap, Blevins gaped Amos and successfully defended his title. Amos earned the silver and Riley the bronze.
Blevins appreciated the operations crew’s efforts saying, “I don’t envy the USA Cycling crew for having to deal with all the stress, but I really appreciate them sticking with it and giving us a chance to race.” While waiting for the racing to begin, he kept his mind off the stress by engaging in some digital fun with his fellow elite racers, “I was playing mini golf on the phone with a bunch of people. I probably had like six games going. I was playing Kate (Courtney), and I was playing Kelsey (Urban). I was sitting in the minivan playing iPhone games, so it was honestly a fun day embracing the chaos.”
Under-23 Short Track
The U23 Men’s race was fast from the gun. Brayden Johnson (Littleton, Colo.; Bear National Team) and Carson Beard (Middlesex, Vt.; Team Segment 28) controlled the front of the field for most of the race. Several groups vied for control of the race, but it came down to a duel between Johnson and Beard for the win. In the finishing straight, Beard opened up his throttle and took the advantage, pushing himself over the line to take the U23 Men’s National Title. Teammates Johnson and Carson Hampton (Boise, Idaho) were second and third, respectively.
Junior Short Track
The morning started with qualifiers in the Junior Men’s 15-16 and 17-18 races to get 75 riders into the final of each event. The races had 104 and 105 registrants each.
The first championship race of the day was the Junior Women’s 15-16 race. After a massive attack up the first climb, the group spread out quickly. At the front was Elisabeth Knight (Moab, Utah; Spry Cycles DRT), Brynnlie Aagard (Highland, Utah; Bear National Team), Zanna Logar (Davis, W.V.; The Gravity Academy), and Alyssa White (Elkins, W.V.; Bear National Team). Aagard was able to take the win by 16 seconds. Scout Wellmeier (Corta Madera, Calif.; Buffalo Development) finished with the silver and Knight with the bronze.
The Junior Men’s 15-16 race was fast from the gun. Seventy-five riders started with the group strung out for most of the race. On the last lap, Benjamin Bravman (Golden, Colo.; WE Development) launched an attack on the group, with Aran Connelly (Seattle; Team Booger) riding into second with Oliver Welcker (Boise, Idaho; BYRDS).
In the Junior Women’s 17-18, the front of the race looked very similar to the Cross-Country race. Bear National Team seemed to control the pace, with Andie Aagard (Highland, Utah) and Vida Lopez de San Roman (Sebastopol, Calif.), and Kellie Harrington (Pittsfield, Mass.) staying together until the third lap, where Aagard was able to create separation and ride her race. The podium stayed the same, with Aagard winning by 47 seconds, Lopez de San Roman in second, and Harrington in third.
The Junior Men’s 17-18 was delayed due to thunderstorms. The field, which was whittled down from 105 starters in the qualifiers to 75 for the finals, lined up for call-ups with a steady rain coming down. The racers had 15 minutes to do as many laps as possible on the abbreviated course. The front end of the race was a Bear National Team train, with riders Daniel English (San Ramon, Calif.; Bear National Team), Nico Konecny (Breckenridge, Colo.; Bear National Team), and Ian Brown (Bend, Ore.; Bear National Team), all powering through the conditions. By the third of five laps, English had taken the lead with a small gap to the next set of riders. In the final, English picked up the tempo and maintained his gap over his teammates to secure the victory. Konecny was second, 26 seconds behind, and Brown rounded out the podium.