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With a handful of Mountain Bike Hall of Famers to its name (Ned Overend, Greg Herbold, Missy Giove), Durango has long been a hub of knobby-tire talent. And with the first race of the U.S. Cup in California taking place this month, three young Durango riders—Howard Grotts, Payson McElveen, and Christopher Blevins—look poised to spin that legacy forward.
In 2017, Grotts, 25, McElveen, 25, and Blevins, 20, each scored major victories on the U.S. pro circuit. Grotts, a two-time defending national cross-country champion, won the Leadville Trail 100 in August, just a couple of months after McElveen snagged the U.S. Marathon National Championship. Meanwhile, Blevins captured the U23 (under 23) National Cross-Country Championship.
The Durangoans’ successes aren’t surprising, considering the town’s history. In 1990, Durango hosted the first UCI World Championship. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, based in downtown Durango for more than 40 years, draws thousands of mountain bikers and roadies each year. “Mountain biking is kind of Durango’s soccer or football,” Blevins says. “All your best buddies do it.” Of course, not everyone’s buddy races at an elite level, and that’s partially why these three, all of whom came up through the Durango Devo rider-development program, often train as a group. The pals push one another on Durango’s legendary trails, which range from sandy desert to high-alpine singletrack—making them ideal for perfecting riding techniques needed on courses throughout the country.
In addition to support from within their group, the trifecta also receives guidance from Durango’s former professionals. Grotts, America’s only male racer at the 2016 Olympics, grew up under Overend’s wing. Fellow Durangoan and three-time Olympian Todd Wells, who retired from racing last year, took Blevins on rides when he was a kid. And when McElveen moved from Texas to Durango more than six years ago, Overend helped the young newcomer organize his race schedule.
While Grotts, McElveen, and Blevins continue to win, other Durango wunderkinds are right on their (hard)tails. Fellow rising stars include Katja Freeburn, Stephan Davoust, and Ruth Holcomb, a Durango High School freshman who is, McElveen says, “unfathomably good already.” In a town full of unfathomably good riders, that means she must really be able to fly.