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Monuments of Gravel

Keegan Swenson does it again with a win at SBT GRVL

Swenson and a small chasing group bridged to breakaway Freddy Ovett, John Borstelmann, and Nathan Spratt at mile 100. Ovett and Payson McElveen join Swenson on the podium.

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — Keegan Swenson is proving to be unstoppable.

After a commanding win at the Leadville Trail 100 on Saturday, the 28-year-old won SBT GRVL on Sunday, making him the champion of the LeadBoat Challenge.

Swenson sprinted ahead of  Freddy Ovett and Payson McElveen to finish the 142-mile race in 6:16:57.

Also read: Repeat victory for Lauren De Crescenzo at SBT GRVL

According to racers at the finish, there were two main storylines in the pro race on Sunday.

An early break by Ovett, who races for L39ION of Los Angeles, along with John Borstelmann and Nathan Spratt, both of ABUS Pro Gravel, was the first move of the day. The trio went clear from a big group just after the Fly Gulch section and into Fetcher Ranch.

Freddy Ovett, John Borstelmann and Nathan Spratt attacked early in the race, a move that would almost make it to the finish. (Photo: William Tracy)

Ovett said that confidence in his climbing abilities inspired the early break, although he struggled to keep up with breakaway companions Borstelmann and Spratt on the flatter sections.

“I just followed someone on the climb,” he said. “I looked behind and we were away. Look, I thought I was probably the best climber in the field so I probably shouldn’t have gone up the road like that because the two guys I was with are big, like 85-kilo strongmen so they were killing me on the flats, to be honest.”

The trio stayed ahead for nearly 90 miles, with a lead that stretched to over eight minutes around mile 100.

Borstelmann was dropped at the base of the climb leading out of Oak Creek around mile 110. He sent his teammate Spratt up the road with Ovett, but an unfortunate crash near the Oak Creek feed zone meant that Spratt had to chase back to the Australian.

Bloodied from a crash at a feed zone, Spratt managed to chase back on. (Photo: William Tracy)

Spratt was ebullient at his performance on the day.

“I was so happy to be with my teammate John,” he said. “We hit that riser with like 20 [miles] to go, and John was like, ‘just go man.’  Then I lit up and then I was an idiot. There were bikes lying all around that feed zone and I tried to dodge them. I went down, chain dropped, and I then hauled ass trying to catch Freddy. I finally caught him before the Corkscrew and we just worked together until Keegan and Payson caught us, and god I was dead, I was cramping so bad, I was out of water. That hurt so bad but I couldn’t ask for two better days to have been in the break.”

Meanwhile, another storyline was unfolding in a large chase group that, around 100 miles, was nearly eight minutes back.

Keegan Swenson on the front of the chase group. (Photo: William Tracy)

According to Swenson, some negative talk in the large chasing group fired him up enough to make the move to try and bridge the gap

“I had to,” he said. “Pete [Stetina] said the race was over, that they’d given up so I just attacked. With like 40 miles to go the group ahead had like six or eight minutes. Pete and some other guys said ‘the race is over, why are you chasing?’ 

“I said, ‘well alright I’m out of here. Ethan [Villaneda] and Brennan [Wertz] came and Payson and a few others bridged up. Then we brought it back.”

Swenson said he never doubted that the break could be brought back, he just wished there had been more consensus. 

“Luckily there were enough of us that had the vision that we could bring it back. It was down to four minutes, three minutes, then we heard two minutes, then it was like ‘we got ‘em.” 

By mile 125, a chasing group consisting of Swenson, Wertz, McElveen, Villaneda, and Niki Terpstra had taken back nearly four minutes. 

Keegan Swenson leading Payson McElveen late in the race. (Photo: William Tracy)

McElveen, who was breathing a major sigh of relief — as well as coughing up dust — at the finish after having a rough day at Leadville on Saturday, also expressed frustration at the negative racing on Sunday. 

“It’s tough because everyone knows who the five to seven strongest guys are,” he said. “And when a break goes up the road with someone strong like Freddy and everyone is looking at five of us to do all the work, it doesn’t work. It was so negative. Honestly it got a little ugly out there.”

WorldTour pro Niki Terpstra added some fire power to the chase group, helping them catch the leaders. (Photo: William Tracy)

McElveen, like Swenson, was carrying extra water this year in an effort to avoid the chaos of refilling at the aid stations. He said that even that seemed to cause drama among some in the peloton. 

Nevertheless, for the top three men on the day, there was a third storyline, one that included Swenson’s commanding win of the LeadBoat Challenge, Ovett’s outstanding run to second, and McElveen’s redemption during an unlucky season. 

Freddy Ovett congratulates winner Keegan Swenson after the finish. (Photo: William Tracy)

“I’m proud of myself,” Ovett said. “I really worked my ass off this last two months. I was fifth here last year, knew that I could do well. I’ve been training with Greg Van Avermaet for about a month and he’s been kicking my ass. He actually was someone that told me, ‘you’ve got talent and you need to believe in yourself,’ and I did and second was the result.”

Results

  1. Keegan Swenson, 6:16:57
  2. Freddy Ovett, 6:16:58
  3. Payson McElveen, 6:16:59
  4. Brennan Wertz, 6:18:12
  5. Alex Hoehn, same time
  6. Niki Terpstra, 6:18:13
  7. Nathan Spratt, 6:20:27
  8. Ethan Villaneda, 6:20:46
  9. Dennis van Winden, 6:22:10
  10. Nathan Haas, s.t.

Full results here