Keegan Swirbul’s love for training might have saved his career. Again without a team and a future in the sport, the Aspen pro cyclist kept grinding this summer and his persistence paid off with a new two-year contract to ride for Rally Cycling.
“I lucked out. It finally kind of came together. A lot of guys are losing their jobs this year, a lot of pro guys, so I’m super happy this worked out for me,” Swirbul said Wednesday. “There were a lot of teams folding this year and I was turning 25 in September and kind of was at that point where I need to start making some money for myself. So I’m honestly not sure what I was going to do if I didn’t get this opportunity to go to a real team.”
Swirbul has become somewhat of a journeyman in recent years, as U.S.-based Rally Cycling will be his sixth team since he started his professional cycling journey in 2014. He most recently rode for Floyd’s Pro Cycling, a short-lived team put together by the infamous Floyd Landis, in 2019 before it folded after a single season.
Then, earlier this year, Swirbul latched onto Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a team based out of Slovenia, but never actually rode a mile for them. The coronavirus pandemic made a mess out of the cycling season and crippled many teams financially, so back in August Swirbul was told it just wasn’t going to work out with the Slovenian squad.
“I kind of checked out of the idea of going to do races, so me and my buddy went on an RV trip, had a blast. I was still riding my bike a ton,” Swirbul said. “It kind of caught the attention of the boss of the Rally team. He called me up and said it’s cool to see I was still training throughout all the uncertainties and that he wanted to give me a shot.”
What caught Rally Cycling’s eyes were some Strava King of the Mountain rides Swirbul did near Boulder late in the summer. He’s long established himself as one of the country’s top climbers and proved he still has the goods when Rally brought him over to Europe for a total of 12 days of racing in September and October as part of a trial period with the team.
The highlight was the Volta a Portugal stage race, where Swirbul finished 15th in the general classification. He also finished ninth in the two-day GP Vedras, also held in Portugal.
“I was in good shape. Thankfully I worked hard the whole summer. I love training, so that was no problem for me. And all that work paid off,” Swirbul said. “The race we actually did, the Volta a Portugal, is a renowned race. It’s a very difficult race and I didn’t really know what to expect after over a year without racing. So overall I was definitely pleased. Definitely have some things I would have done differently in hindsight, but super happy to get those race days in the legs.”
Swirbul impressed Rally Cycling enough that earlier this month they signed him to a two-year deal where he’ll join their pro team. It’s a massive step for Swirbul, who’s mostly only competed at the lower Continental level. By joining Rally, he’ll have the opportunity to compete in some of Europe’s bigger races — along with a hopeful return to the Tour of Utah — a bit of a must for any aspiring professional cyclist.
“Now I can say I’m a real pro,” Swirbul said. “It’s pretty big for me. The sport is over there and you can’t really have a career unless you’re in Europe. I’ve wanted to go for years and years, but with all the injuries and stuff, it just didn’t work out.”
A lot of hurdles still remain, most surrounding the pandemic. With Europe again implementing lockdowns as COVID-19 cases rise, what becomes of the 2021 cycling season is anyone’s guess.
With Rally’s 2020 season in the bag, Swirbul is back home working on his visas for next year.
The team hopes to start training as early as December in Spain and Swirbul is obligated to take up residency somewhere in Europe while with Rally, all things that are dependent on getting into countries still in the midst of a pandemic.
But, when the doors do open back up for Swirbul, he’ll step onto the biggest stage of his turbulent career. The first races of 2021 are tentatively slated for late January or early February.
“It feels great to be locked down for two years. Every year it’s a big stress finding a new team,” Swirbul said. “It’s going to be a huge step. Assuming there are bike races and all that next year, we are going to be doing some really big bike races and hopefully I can stay healthy and finally have a chance to show myself on these big climbs in Europe that I’ve been working toward for years. I’m just waiting for something to go wrong, to be honest. But I hope it finally goes right.”