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The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race returns on Saturday with an ever-deepening field and the same relentless 13,000 thousand of feet of climbing.
This year, the 105-mile race is the fourth event in the Life Time Grand Prix series, and has thus brought even more riders to the start line.
In the men’s pro field, riders will be lining up with various goals for the day — from points chasing in the Life Time Grand Prix to winning the LeadBoat challenge to breaking course records.
Defending champ Keegan Swenson is one of the riders who might be able to do all three. The 28-year-old will be back this weekend with repeat victory on his mind and looks hard to beat, but with a close race in the Grand Prix there will be dozens of riders chomping at the bit behind him.
Here are ten men to watch.
Keegan Swenson — Swenson is the reigning champ of Leadville and arguably the best rider in the country right now. He’s dominating the Grand Prix series after winning Sea Otter and Crusher in the Tushar and finishing second at Unbound, and the Santa Cruz HTSQD rider just defended the US national champion title a few weeks ago. Not only is he good at this race, he enjoys it — a winning combination.
“I love Leadville, it’s become one of my favorite races,” he said. “The out and back style makes it really unique and super cool in its own way. Also, I just really like the different tactics of racing over 10,000ft elevation. Have to be really smart with your efforts up there.”
Russell Finsterwald — The Specialized rider has had an incredible 2022 season, finishing second at Sea Otter, winning the Rule of Three, and narrowly missing the podium of the five-day Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. He’s put in countless hours and miles training for the Grand Prix and being home in Colorado Springs for the past two months will have helped him prep for the high altitude showdown in Leadville where he placed sixth last year.
Lachlan Morton — Morton is good at this race. He was second to Swenson in 2021 and third on the podium in 2019. After recently winning the Telluride 100 (arguably much harder than Leadville), Morton posted on social media that “a competitive fire was somehow sparked in me a few weeks ago and I’m running with it.” He’ll no doubt be bringing the flames to Leadville.
Payson McElveen — McElveen has what he calls a “solid history with Leadville,” with two third place finishes in 2017 and 2018 and fourth in 2021. Beset by some bad luck early this season, McElveen has shown a consistent return to racing with excellent results at Unbound and Crusher in the Tushar. He’s frothing with excitement about racing aboard his new Allied BC40 mountain bike, which he has pared down to an incredibly lean race weight of 22 pounds.
Howard Grotts — Only one person on this list has won Leadville three times, and he won those back to back. Former pro Grotts won the 2017-2019 editions of the race before hanging up his full-time racing kit. Last year, he was third. This year, Grotts has returned to a nearly full schedule of racing and is back to posting impressive results.
Cole Paton — Paton is a bit of a wild card for Leadville, as it will be his first go at the race, but he has a few things going for him. One, he lives and trains in Durango with other high altitude legends. Two, at the Mid South, he showed that he has the engine and the tactical know-how to win a 100-mile race. And three, he’s a mountain biker. And, they’re winning.
John Gaston — Gaston may not be a familiar name to cycling fans, but the Colorado athlete is a local legend. Gaston is arguably the country’s best ski mountaineering “skimo” racer and competes on the world stage in the winter. In the summer, he rips up the road and trails near his home in Aspen, where he recently won the Snowmass 50. Gaston has the engine — and the altitude acclimation — for Leadville, no doubt.
Alex Wild — Wild just took the overall and three stage wins at the Leadville Stage Race, so he’s well primed for Saturday. He was 10th at the race last year, and is having a pretty good run in the Grand Prix after finishing third at Sea Otter.
Alexey Vermuelen — Vermuelen has a lot to gain by doing well at Leadville this year; he’s currently sitting just two points behind Finsterwald in the Grand Prix. He opted to sit out MTB nationals in July to focus on long efforts at altitude. The BWR San Diego champ has a good history at Leadville — last year he was ninth in a super stacked field.
Matt Beers — the South African had a wild ride in the US earlier this summer, lining up at BWR San Diego, Gravel Locos, and Rule of Three. He was second at BWR and Rule of Three. Now, he’s back for LeadBoat, and if the altitude isn’t too much of a problem, Leadville should suit his masterful marathon ways.
Four more to watch (because it’s too hard to chose just ten): EF Education’s Alex Howes, Olympian XC skier Simi Hamilton, marathon national champ Stephan Davoust, and new dad Pete Stetina