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Power Analysis: Keegan Swenson dominates LeadBoat Challenge

In this column, we look at the power numbers of Keegan Swenson at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB and SBT GRVL.

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Keegan Swenson is nearly undefeated so far in the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix. He has won three of the four races and took second at Unbound Gravel. While his entire season has been exhilarating to watch, his performance at last weekend’s LeadBoat Challenge might be one of the performances of the season.

LeadBoat is one of the most grueling challenges in all of North American cycling.

First, there is the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race on Saturday which covers over 11,000 feet of climbing in just over 100 miles. Then, less than 24 hours later, the same riders line up at SBT GRVL, one of the premier gravel races in the country with 8,500 feet of climbing in 140 miles.

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Each race is about six hours long, but only if your name is Keegan Swenson – otherwise, they will take you a lot longer.

The real kicker is that both the Leadville Trail 100 MTB and SBT GRVL take place at high altitudes in Colorado. Leadville is based at over 9,800 ft, and the highest climb of the day – Columbine – tops out at a ludicrously 12,450 ft.

Steamboat Springs is a little tamer, with the start being at 6,500 ft, and the highest point of the race climbing up to 8,500 ft.

As you might have guessed, Swenson is a high-altitude specialist. Hailing from Park City, Utah, Swenson has spent most of his life at high altitude, so the effects are not as detrimental to his performance as they might be to other riders. However, that’s not to say that Swenson’s power numbers don’t take a hit at high altitude.

Don’t be surprised if Swenson’s numbers from Leadville and SBT seem lower than what you might expect from a professional cyclist. They are lower, and that’s because of the high altitude.

At sea level, I’m confident that Swenson can put out 20w, 30w, or 40w more than the power he was doing at over 10,000 feet. That’s the dropoff we would expect from a rider acclimatized to high altitude. Whereas Swenson loses a few percent off of his threshold power, unacclimatized riders could lose as much as 20-30 percent of their power or the equivalent of nearly 100w.

All that matters is that Swenson dominated each day, winning in more ways than one. And first up was the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.

In the opening hours of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, Swenson was part of a large lead group that suffered some minor splits in the first singletrack sections. About one-third of the way through the race, Cole Paton and Todd Wells broke off the front, while Swenson stayed in a chase group containing seven other riders including Alexey Vermeulen, Alex Howes, and Howard Grotts.

Here’s what the pace looked like on the way to the base of Columbine, the biggest climb of the day as well as the race’s halfway point.

Swenson – Start to the base of Columbine
Time: 2:22:48
Average Power: 252w (3.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 293w (4.5w/kg)

First major climb:
Time: 8:51
Average Power: 363w (5.5w/kg)

Second major climb:
Time: 18:18
Average Power: 322w (4.9w/kg)

What happened on Columbine is one of the best performances I’ve seen in cycling. Attacking less than a third of the way up the climb, Swenson put more than three minutes into the next-best rider and nearly five minutes into the riders fighting for the podium. And he did it all in one, sub-hour effort up Columbine – Swenson now has the Strava KOM on Columbine by nearly two minutes.

Swenson – Columbine
Time: 54:37
Average Power: 319w (4.8w/kg)
Peak 10min Power: 347w (5.3w/kg)

Final 2km, from 3600m to 3800m (11,800 to 12,470 ft)
Time: 11:24
Average Power: 309w (4.7w/kg)

Swenson was nearly six minutes ahead of the chasers after the Columbine descent, and his lead grew to eight minutes with 40km to go. But Swenson wasn’t slowing down – he was going for the course record of 5:58:25.

Despite the win being completely wrapped up, Swenson kept pushing all the way to the finish. He crossed the line with a time of 6:00:01, just 96 seconds off the record, but more than 14 minutes ahead of second place. Yes, you read that right: 14 minutes ahead of second place.

This is what it took for Keegan Swenson to not only win the Leadville Trail 100 MTB but to almost take the course record after spending the last 90km of the race alone.

Swenson – Leadville Trail 100 MTB
Time: 6:00:01
Average Power: 266w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 299w (4.5w/kg)
Average Elevation: 3,082m (10,100 ft)
Final 75km solo: 278w (4.2w/kg) for two and a half hours

After a quick night of sleep, the LeadBoat peloton was up early for SBT GRVL which started at 6:30 in the morning. SBT GRVL has only been around for a few years, but the 140-mile gravel race has become one of the biggest in the US.

Unlike the Leadville Trail MTB 100, SBT GRVL does not have a defining climb on the course. Instead, there are a few short climbs throughout the rolling course, whose defining features are dust and distance.

In the early miles, Freddy Ovett broke away with Nathan Spratt and John Borstelmann, and they would form the breakaway of the day. The peloton slowly whittled down behind until it was just the major players left in contention, including Swenson, Peter Stetina, and Payson McElveen.

Growing impatient with the chase (or lack thereof), Swenson attacked with around 40 miles to go. At that point, the breakaway held more than a six-minute lead, but Swenson wasn’t going to give up yet. For the first 150 km, it had been a relatively easy ride for Swenson, especially compared to the previous day’s effort.

Swenson – First 150km of SBT GRVL
Time: 4:24:09
Average Power: 226w (3.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 267w (4w/kg)

Swenson’s attack drew a group of four clear, and a few more riders eventually bridged across. The gap to the break began plummeting – the race was well and truly on.

In the chase group, Swenson was pulling at 350-400w for one or two minutes at a time, which is a ridiculous effort after five hours of racing at high altitude (and having won Leadville the day before). Swenson’s chase group took many Strava KOMs in the final third of the SBT GRVL course, averaging nearly 40kph on gravel for the final 65km of the race.

Swenson – Final 65km of SBT GRVL
Time: 1:46:07
Average Power: 264w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 292w (4.4w/kg)
Peak 15min Power after attacking: 319w (4.9w/kg)

Oak Creek Climb:
Time: 7:13
Average Power: 347w (5.3w/kg)

Final Climb to Wolverine:
Time: 3:12
Average Power: 374w (5.7w/kg)

After more than six hours of hard-fought racing, only three riders remained at the head of the race: Swenson, Ovett, and McElveen. It would all come down to a sprint, and Swenson would deliver. Hitting nearly 1300w in the final, Swenson won the sprint ahead of Ovett and McElveen, completing his domination of LeadBoat and cementing his lead atop the Lifetime Grand Prix standings.

Swenson’s SBT GRVL is a tale of two races: first, he was stuck in the bickering chase group, and then he was racing for the win at more than 40kph.

Swenson – SBT GRVL
Time: 6:15:48
Average Power: 237w (3.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 275w (4.2w/kg)
Final sprint: 1,008w (15.3w/kg) for 10 seconds
Max Power: 1,285w (19.5w/kg)

Average Power in the First Half: 215w (3.3w/kg)
Average Power in the Second Half: 248w (3.8w/kg)

Swenson holds a commanding lead in the overall Life Time Grand Prix series with two races to go.

Up next is the Chequamegon MTB Festival in Cable, Wisconsin on September 17th, followed by the series finale at Big Sugar Gravel on October 22nd.

***

Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava

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Riders: Keegan Swenson