Swenson uses second place at Unbound Gravel to prove the point for mountain bikers
Off-road specialist Keegan Swenson entered the Unbound Gravel 200 as the first men’s series leader in the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda. The reigning U.S. National Short Track and Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion won the opening round in his specialty at Sea Otter Classic in the Fuego XC 80K. He came to Emporia, Kansas for the new Life Time Series Longest Off-Road Race Challenge.
A combination of inclement weather, a crash and fast pace in the decisive five-rider breakaway culminated in second place, a bike length behind winner Ivar Slik. The podium gave him a slim margin of five points over Russell Finsterwald and eight points over Alexey Vermeulen in the Life Time series, but he was there in the Flint Hills of Kansas for the first time to prove a point.
“There has been talk about mountain bikers not being able to perform at Unbound. I feel like I put a stop to that,” Swenson said. Cycling news after his ride of just over 9 hours, 22 minutes left him with a second of victory. “It was full of gas all day and I felt really good. Honestly, I thought I had the legs for the sprint. But I made some tactical mistakes and ruined everything. But I’m happy where was my physical condition.
Similar to last year, Unbound Gravel 200 was a race of attrition and avoiding big mistakes, but this year heavy rain in the days leading up to the competition turned dusty trails into muddy bogs. Indeed, recent storms have flooded some roads selected for the southern route, the organizers modifying the route two days before the start.
With 40 miles to go, Swenson had been in the lead group selected along with Slik, Vermeulen and defending champion Ian Boswell and Vermeulen. They were joined a few miles later by Laurens ten Dam, who finished second last year in a photo finish against Boswell.
“The last two hours have been choppy in the mud. There was probably a three mile stretch of pretty greasy, sloppy stuff and luckily it wasn’t too thick yet so it didn’t pile up on the bikes which was nice. I was pushing the pace there trying to pop those guys.
Swenson crashed pushing the pace through a mud section and damaged his shifter. Boswell rounded Swenson then quickly crashed.
“I showed up pretty well, broke my gear lever. I just had to tag a rock when I crashed. It still worked but I had to keep it on the rest of the day,” Swenson said, and added that his Santa Cruz Stigmata was “flawless” otherwise.
“When Ten Dam recovered, I knew there was going to be Dutch ‘mafia’ action and there was,” Keegan said of the two Dutchmen, Ten Dam and Slik, looking to line up for the top spots as the leading group charged. on the sidewalk across Emporia State University, a few miles from the finish. “Ten Dam walked into campus, no one was going with him and I shut him down. It was definitely a tactic to try and wear myself out for the sprint. I think I timed my sprint a bit wrong but I gave what I had.
“With the 100 miles finishing it was tough trying not to hit them and trying to sprint with a line. It wasn’t perfect, I made a few tactical mistakes in the last few miles but you know , it’s like that.
Swenson scored the best points in the first two of six LifeTime Grand Prix Series events, as Slik is not on the invitation-only roster. The third event in the series is July 9 at the 70-mile Crusher in the Tushar in Beaver, Utah, which is a home race for the Park City native. The defending Crusher in the Tushar champions are both part of the Life Time Series, men’s champion Peter Stetina, now ninth overall, and women’s winner Sofia Gomez Villafane, now leading the women’s division with 59 points.
Swenson last raced the Crusher, named for the brutal climb in southern Utah’s Tushar Mountains, in 2017 when he was third overall.
“The rest of the events should be good. Unbound is the longest and arguably the hardest. The rest is not quiet sailing but less unknown. I ran every other race except Big Sugar,” Swenson added.
|1||Sofia Gomez Villafane||59|