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Keegan Swenson didn’t even look back.
The Santa Cruz #HTSQD rider opened such a big lead on his rivals that he could slowly roll across the finish line in celebration of winning a second consecutive USA Cycling Cross-Country MTB National Championship title.
Swenson was aggressive from the gun, attacking up the first dirt road climb in Winter Park, Colorado during Saturday evening’s race. He was chased by Howard Grotts and Christopher Blevins with Eric Brunner and Russell Finsterwald settling into fourth and fifth position.
Heading into the second of four laps on the hilly, high-altitude course, Specialized Factory Racing’s Blevins had caught up to Swenson, but on the next climb Swenson put in another dig that Blevins couldn’t follow.
For the majority of the race, Blevins, Grotts, and Brunner traded pulls and attacks, but by the final lap it was clear that Swenson had ridden away with the victory.
Blevins, who recently placed 8th at the Lenzerheide World Cup, got second while current cyclocross national champion Brunner got third.
“I knew I was comfortable riding that pace and figured anyone that was going to go with me was going to be hurting just as bad,” Swenson said. “I was pushing it a little bit but I figured I was still kind of within myself so just gave it all I had.”
The UCI World Cup schedule this year meant that riders like Blevins and Kate Courtney, who placed second in the women’s race, could travel back from Europe to line up in Colorado. Swenson said that his strategy was to make the race as hard as possible for the current short track world champion.
“He’s a really explosive rider and he’s really good tactically so I figured I kind of wanted to make it as hard as possible,” Swenson said. “I knew that’d suit me the best so I figured I’d try and get a little distance those first couple laps and just try and slowly turn the pace up and ride my own race. I feel like for me that works the best. I don’t really like to get into games with Chris because usually that’s a game you’ll lose.”
Swenson previously focused on XCO-style racing and made a bid for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 but was not selected for the race. This year, he has focused on longer-distance racing, setting a solo record at the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo earlier this year and placing second at Unbound Gravel in June.
He currently sits in first place in the Life Time Grand Prix, a six-race off-road series, having won both Sea Otter and Crusher in the Tushar. Next up is the Leadville Trail 100, another title Swenson hopes to defend.
In the meantime, he said he was happy for a brief return to World Cup style racing.
“We’ve been changing it up this year doing some longer marathon stuff, some more gravel,” he said. “It’s fun to come back and race some XCO. I’ve definitely missed it a little bit and I’m stoked to be able to defend my title here.”