Aagard, Konecny, Munro, and Johnson win the Junior and Under-23 categories.
MACUNGIE, Pennsylvania (July 8, 2023) — Today was the biggest day of racing at the 2023 USA Cycling Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships with the Junior, Under-23, and Elite Cross-Country races.
The Elite Women’s field was star-studded with riders like Kate Courtney (Kentfield, Calif.; SCOTT-SRAM Factory Racing), Gwendalyn Gibson (Ramona, Calif.; Trek Factory Racing), and defending champion Savilia Blunk (Inverness, Calif.; Rockrider Racing Team) toeing the start line. The group raced four laps of the three-and-a-half-mile course. At the start, it was a mad dash up the hill in the heat and humidity to be the first rider into the singletrack. Courtney proved her climbing skills, entering the tree line first. Blunk and Gibson were both close at hand, trying to ensure Courtney didn’t motor away. Kelsey Urban (Kentfield, Calif.; Team 31) was behind in fourth. Courtney and Blunk pulled away together through the first lap and maintained a healthy lead through the remainder of the race.
Courtney was on the attack for the majority of the race in a bid for the national title. Blunk had quite the challenge to overcome Courtney. “I was just trying to stay calm, and really this course, I knew it wasn’t over until it was over. It’s technically descending until the last 200 meters so that anything can happen, and I was just trying to remember that. She was putting the pressure on me for sure. I didn’t really have the confidence to go on the attack laps earlier on technical climbing, where I knew I could get a gap. I knew that if I kept it between 15-20 seconds by the top of the descent, I knew that I could close that. So I just tried to stay calm and really ride my own race.”
Her strategy worked, and Blunk was able to outsprint Courtney in the last 50 meters of the race, successfully defending her title, and Courtney and earning the silver. “It came down to a sprint, and I looked at the sprint the day before just to check it. You want to have a plan for the sprint if it comes down to that, so luckily, I kind of had an idea and went for it!” Gibson rounded out the podium after a particularly challenging day in the saddle.
In the Elite Men’s race, all eyes were on Christopher Blevins (Durango, Colo.; Specialized Factory Racing) and Riley Amos (Durango, Colo.; Trek Factory Racing), who was racing up into the elite category. It was an exciting first lap where Blevins and Amos were back-to-back. Later in the lap, Amos had some mechanicals and a front flat. From there, it was all Blevins. Amos kept trying to chase him down and closed the gap to about 10 seconds but could not make contact.
Blevins said, “It was a solo endeavor out there. Riley had some issues and dropped back in maybe 10-20 seconds. I kind of wish he didn’t have that issue so we could have battled it out up there. It was not solo when we went to the heckle pit. We had plenty of friends cheering us on. It’s pretty cool to be back in the States racing. I don’t really get that many opportunities in the States these days. I’ve been gunning for the National Championships for a while, and it’s just never really worked out. I’m happy to bring this one home, and more than anything, just for all of us to have the stars and stripes in the World Cups is a really cool thing.”
It was all Madigan Munro (Boulder, Colo.; Trek Factory Racing) today taking the back-to-back National Title for the U23 Women. Munro won the race by 16 seconds. She completed the first of three laps with Michaela Thompson (Durango, Colo.; Team Durango Segment 28) on her wheel but was able to get away.
Thompson, one of the most combative riders of the day, had Munro re-evaluating her strategy during the race. “The biggest thing was to stay calm. It was a bit of a gamble. In my head, I thought if [Thompson] goes too hard and blows up and I try to stay with her, I might blow myself up. I felt really strong on all of the technical stuff. I thought if she gaps me on the climb, I could come back on the descents. I wanted to save as much as I could for the end so I could turn on the gas.”
Thompson rode an incredible race taking silver, bettering her bronze medal performance over last year in the same category. Madison Maloney (Hudson, N.C.; Defeet) was bronze.
Munro, who entered the race as the favorite to win, didn’t want to focus on other racers’ riding. “I think the biggest thing was just to stay super composed and confident in this race. The track was super different from the Nationals at Winter Park,” said Munro. “It’s really technical and super hot out there. It was super important to have my own plan out there and do the best I could to execute on it. I couldn’t really think about who the other riders were and what their plans were. I had to focus on my own race.”
The U23 Men’s field was stacked with several notable riders. Brayden Johnson (Littleton, Colo.; Bear National Team) took the silver medal behind Bjorn Riley (Boulder, Colo.; Trek Future Racing) last year at this event and had his eyes on the stars and stripes. Riley ended his National Championship run not long after it started with a crash at the beginning of the race. Johnson was on the attack, continuously growing his gap on Carson Beard (Middlesex, Vt.; Team Segment 28).
Going into the race, Johnson’s strategy was to initially gauge the field, saying, “I wanted to test everyone’s legs right off the start. I was able to get a gap with one other rider.” Not one to waste an opportunity, Johnson pushed his lead. “I took advantage of it and kept the pressure on. On the second climb, I was able to get some separation from Carson [Beard]. From then on it was heat management and keeping up the tempo.”
Johnson went on to win his first U23 National Title by 41 seconds, with Beard riding to silver. After an hour and 16 minutes of racing, it came down to a sprint finish for the bronze medal between Carson Hampton (Boise, Idaho; Bear National Team) and Dane Grey (Durango, Colo.; Team Durango Segment 28), where Hampton would round out the podium.
Talking about winning the U23 Men’s title, Johnson said, “It’s incredible. I’m really excited to rocking the stars-and-stripes all of next year. Hopefully, over in Europe a bit.” And it’ll help him prepare for the remainder of the 2023 season, “This gives some confidence [going into the second half of the season] and some fresh UCI points. This will help with my call-up to the next race, which is the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships four weeks from now. Now it’s time to go home and reset for the rest of the season.”
The Junior Women were the first to take off for the day with 62 riders in the field in the Pennsylvania heat. Andie Aagard (Highland, Utah; Bear National Team) and Vida Lopez de San Roman (Sebastopol, Calif.; Bear National Team) crossed the line together after the first lap. The teammates had a sizeable gap on the rest of the field. Aagard was able to pull away on the second lap and eventually take the win by 1 minute and 14 seconds. Lopez de San Roman stayed consistent and rode in for the silver medal. The Bear National Team swept the rest of the podium, with Kellie Harrington (Pittsfield, Mass.; Bear National Team) taking the bronze medal.
One hundred twenty riders started the Junior Men’s race after the qualifying round yesterday. After the first lap, there was a lead group of four with Nicholas Konecny (Breckenridge, Colo.; Bear National Team), Magnus White (Boulder, Colo.; Boulder Junior Cycling), Daniel English (San Ramon, Calif.; Bear National Team), and Owen Deale (Charlotte, Va.; Bicycle Express Racing). Konecny and White pulled away on the second lap, creating a 17-second gap over English. On the last lap, White attacked before the final technical section of the course, and Konecny thought the title was out of sight. He was able to reel White back in as they came out of the woods into the feed zone. Right at the start of the finishing straight, Konecny attacked, and White was not able to go with him. In his first year racing the Junior 17-18 category, Konecny took the National Championship title.
White attacked in the last technical part of the course and was able to get a slight gap. Konecny was able to pull it back together in the final feed zone. Konecny gave it his all and took the win in the sprint finish. English was third, just 43 seconds behind the leaders.