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Photo: Guillermo Rojas/USA Cycling

Woodruff, Swenson win Cross-country titles at U.S. mountain bike championships

Stan's NoTubes-Pivot riders Chloe Woodruff and Keegan Swenson won the 2019 cross-country mountain bike national titles in Winter Park

Pop the champagne for the Stan’s NoTubes-Pivot-Maxxis professional mountain bike team.

The team collected three elite national titles at this weekend’s 2019 USA Cycling mountain-bike national championships in Winter Park, with Chloe Woodruff winning the cross-country and short-track races, and Keegan Swenson taking his first title in the cross-country.

Both races were held on a lung-busting cross-country course that topped out above 9,500 feet of elevation. And in both events, the riders had to navigate the mud and slick rocks after afternoon thunderstorms soaked the mountain.

Woodruff wins her second

The elite women took the start line under darkening skies to race four laps on the 4.6-mile course. Noticeably absent from the starting line was defending champion Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM), who stayed in Europe to prepare for the second half of the World Cup season. Also missing was Erin Huck, the 2016 champion, who is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in the spring.

Woodruff made her move early, riding to the front of the women’s field on the first lap. She was initially challenged by reigning U.S. road champion Ruth Winder of the Trek-Segafredo road team, who dropped in for the national championship race. After the first lap it was Woodruff and Winder riding together, with a sizable gap back to a group of chasers that contained Evelyn Dong, Hannah Finchamp and Haley Batten (Clif Bar Pro Team), and Lea Davison (Sho Air-Twenty20), among others.

As the women headed out onto their second lap the skies opened up, and driving rain soaked the course, making the rocky sections extremely slippery. Woodruff said the rain transformed the course.

“Once the rain came down I started to have a blast because it became a real mountain-bike course,” she said. “It got a little slick. I was 95 percent sure I was going to ride my hardtail and instead I raced my [dual suspension] Mach 4 SL and it was the perfect setup.”

Woodruff had a small gap on Winder when the U.S. road champion lost control and crashed. Winder wrote on social media that her foot came out of her pedal in a wet and slippery corner, and she “sorta flew off the trail.”

Photo: Guillermo Rojas/USA Cycling

Woodruff came through the start/finish on the second lap alone, and Winder never materialized. Eventually, a pickup truck emerged, hauling Winder and her bicycle to the medical tent. The U.S. road champion said she banged her knee, but was otherwise OK after the crash.

Woodruff’s national title is her second-career elite title in cross-country, and it comes at a pivotal moment for the 32-year-old. Woodruff is hoping to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and the U.S. national title will undoubtedly be a confidence builder as she heads overseas to race the World Cups.

“This [title] is special because I grew up in Boulder,” Woodruff said. “Looking at the calendar it was really challenging with the World Cup schedule. I sat out the last few rounds to prepare for this race and I feel really lucky that it all came together today.”

Surging into second place was Dong, with Davison, Batten, and Finchamp rounding out the top-five.

Swenson and Grotts battle on the last lap

While the women’s race exploded on the opening lap, the men’s cross-country championship became a tactical affair, with a front group of six riders battling for the first three of five laps. Present in the group were Swenson, Howard Grotts (Specialized), Russell Finsterwald (Clif Pro Team), Alex Wild, Stephan Davoust (Giant), and Lukas Vrouwenvelder.

Noticeably absent from the group was Under-23 national champion Christopher Blevins (Specialized). Blevins withdrew after he crashed on the opening lap and injured his neck. The injury was not serious, and Blevins rebounded to win the short-track title on Sunday.

Swenson said the group stayed together because nobody wanted to push the pace too hard in the thin air.

“The climbs weren’t super steep and nobody wanted to go super hard because you go too hard at this altitude and you pay for it later,” he said. “I think everybody wanted to keep it within themselves.”

On the fourth lap Swenson upped the pace on the long climb and only Grotts, the four-time defending champion, could follow. The duo rode together through the penultimate lap and then headed onto the final lap together.

Grotts, who stepped away from World Cup racing this year to coach the Durango Devo program, said Swenson made his move on the course’s long descent, and opened a small gap that was simply too big to shut down.

“I dug as deep as I could and I’m really happy,” Grotts said. “Keegan and I have been battling for the last 10 years or so and he’s a super deserving winner.”

Swenson opened the gap further on the long, flat run-in to the finish and had enough time to coast across the line and savor his win.

“This is my first elite title so I’m really stoked,” he said.

2019 USA Cycling National Cross-country Mountain-Bike Championships

Elite Women

  1. Chloe Woodruff, Stans NoTubes-Pivot, 1:47:01
  2. Evelyn Dong, Stans NoTubes, 1:48:17
  3. Lea Davison, Sho Air-Twenty20, 1:48:58
  4. Haley Batten, Clif Pro Team, 1:49:12
  5. Hannah Finchamp, Clif Pro Team, 1:50:51
  6. Rose Grant, Stans NoTubes-Pivot, 1:52:57
  7. Crystal Anthony, Liv Racing, 1:54:02
  8. Kaysee Armstrong, Liv Racing, 1:56:35
  9. Lydia Tanner, 1:58:47
  10. Kelly Catale, 2:01:00

Elite Men

  1. Keegan Swenson, Stans NoTubes-Pivot, 1:50:26
  2. Howard Grotts, Specialized, 1:50:55
  3. Russel Finsterwald, Clif Pro Team, 1:52:08
  4. Alex Wild, Specialized, 1:52:10
  5. Stephan Davoust, Giant, 1:53:07
  6. Lukas Vrouwenvelder, Violich Farms, at 1:54:12
  7. Payson McElveen, Orange Seal, 1:55:07
  8. Ryan Standish, Summit National Team, 1:56:06
  9. Alex Grant, Cannondale, 1:56:37
  10. Nicholas Beechan, Trek, 1:56:44