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Keegan Swenson followed his victory in Telluride last month, notching another solo victory in his first participation of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Saturday. The 2021 U.S. national champ left both Howard Grotts and Lachlan Morton in his wake.
Swenson chose his attacking move early on, on the climb up Columbine, where he gained close to a 15-second lead ahead of Grotts and the race began to thin out. At the foot of the final climb, Swenson had over 2 minutes on Morton who had surpassed Grotts on Powerline. From that point on, it was Swenson’s race to lose, finishing close to 8 minutes ahead of his competitors. Morton bested his third place in 2019 to finish second, with defending champion Grotts in third.
Swenson shifted his focus for the second part of the season to long endurance events after missing out on the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games last month. He spent the last several weeks previewing the course, marking his strategic points of attack ahead of Saturday’s race.
“Columbine was my favorite part of the course,” he said. “I wanted to be in the front on the single track sections. I rode the course the last few weeks so I knew when those were coming. I would see a couple of the roadies get stuck behind and there was a separation there. I definitely didn’t try to stick my nose in the wind too much. With that said, the last two hours I went lights out and was in survival mode into the finish line.”
Leadville 100 had been forced to cancel in 2020, like many other events around the country, due to Covid-19. Riders were anxious to return, as they lined up at the start for a cold, chilly morning facing the 103-mile trek ahead of them.
Happy with finishing runner-up, Morton had made headlines in July riding his own solo Alt Tour de France. Despite his trek across France, it had been several months since he had raced. The WorldTour rider was impressed by Swenson, having never raced against him before.
“Keegan was just flying,” Morton said. “I was very happy with the way I rode. Keegan was just a level above. My only hope was that he had done too much, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
“At Columbine he was first at the top, Howie was second, and I was third, but then I came back to them on the downhill,” he said. “When we hit Columbine, it thinned out really quickly which I think showed just how hard the race really was up until that point. The last 20-30km, I think everyone is just on their hands and knees. The last time in the spot on Powerline, Howie rode away from me. No joke, within 5 minutes of the exact same spot, Keegan rode away from me this time. There was nothing I could do about it.”
After sticking with Swenson initially on Columbine, Grotts did not have the legs to challenge for the win. He had stepped away from full-time racing in 2019 to focus on his studies, but soon returned to training to line up once again in defense of his title in Leadville. Though he missed out on the win, the multi-time US national champ came away satisfied with his performance in earning a podium finish.
“Keegan was clearly riding stronger today,” Grotts said. “He really danced away on Columbine, of course that’s not the time to go alone. My legs were really heavy the whole day, I hit Powerline and knew I had to ride my own pace. I am happy with how I rode. It’s not a win but compared to these other years, I think it’s the toughest competition that has raced here.”
Swenson has several races ahead, looking to apply the experience he gained with these past few wins at Telluride and Saturday’s Leadville 100 MTB.
For about 100 riders doing the LeadBoat Challenge, there was no time to celebrate, as they headed to Steamboat Springs for the SBT GRVL 140-mile gravel race Sunday.
Stay tuned for a women’s Leadville report.
1. Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz), 06:11:26
2. Lachlan Morton (EF Education-Nippo), 06:19:22
3. Howard Grotts (Specialized), 06:21:47
4. Peter Stetina (Privateer), 06:24:11
5. Payson McElveen (Orange Seal Cycling), 06:24:13
6. Russell Finsterwald (Clif Pro Team), 06:27:11
7. Eddie Anderson (Alpecin-Fenix), 06:35:16
8. Jamey Yanik, 06:38:47
9. Alexey Vermeulen (Canyon-Shimano), 06:41:26
10. Alex Wild (Orange Seal Cycling), 06:41:27