Aspen grad Keegan Swirbul to ride in inaugural Colorado Classic cycling race
After two injury-plagued seasons, Keegan Swirbul is simply glad to be riding again.
The professional cyclist is a 2014 Aspen High School graduate, and also went pro that same year. He missed most of 2015 and all of 2016 after a promising 2014 debut, but is healthy this year, his first on the Jelly Belly Cycling Team.
“I’m really grateful they gave me a chance. No other teams were even looking at me at all because of the injury,” said Swirbul, who will represent his home state this weekend in the inaugural Colorado Classic. “I’m really lacking that strength you get from a whole year of racing. I haven’t really had any sparkling results this year, but I’ve had some good rides and I’ve done more racing this year than I have in my entire career.”
The four-day Colorado Classic starts Thursday in Colorado Springs and effectively replaces the USA Pro Challenge, which collapsed after its fifth and final race in 2015 because of financial struggles. The Colorado Classic is embracing a smaller, more cost-effective format, and at least for the first year is sticking closer to the Front Range as opposed to a tour through the mountain towns.
All four stages will be circuits, going away from cycling’s standard point-to-point courses. Stage 2 on Friday in Breckenridge will be the only true mountain course.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be curious to see how it compares to the Pro Challenge. I’m assuming it will be pretty similar,” said Swirbul, who competed in the 2014 Pro Challenge with the Bissell Development Team, taking 73rd. He missed the 2015 race because of injury. “The circuits are perfect. The racing is always a lot harder on a circuit race, and for the spectators it is 20 times better.”
Swirbul is fresh off competing in last week’s Tour of Utah, the country’s premier cycling event, where he finished 31st in the general classification. The highlight of his race was finishing 10th in the Stage 3 time trial, which is not a strong suit for the climber.
After this weekend, Swirbul plans to compete in the Tour of Alberta at the end of the month before finishing the season with races in Japan and China.
First, it’s about the race happening in his backyard.
Stage 1 of the Colorado Classic in Colorado Springs is a 93.5-mile route over six laps that takes riders through the city’s iconic Garden of the Gods.
Stage 2 on Friday looks to be the most challenging: a 64-mile, 10-lap route with more than 7,000 feet of climbing that starts and ends in downtown Breckenridge. It’s a stage that could suit Swirbul’s riding style.
“The second day is a pretty tough one, and same with the third. Go up into the mountains,” Swirbul said. “All the courses are actually pretty neat. The last day will be pretty cool with the big crowds in the city.”
Stage 3 on Saturday takes riders back to the Front Range with an 81-mile, out-and-back trek from downtown Denver and through the Golden Gate Canyon State Park west of town. The final stage Sunday will be a 74.6-mile, 10-lap circuit through Denver and City Park.
All four stages will be televised on NBC sports network.
“It’s big time,” Swirbul said of the importance of Colorado again hosting a pro cycling race. “Obviously cycling is huge in Colorado, so I think there are plenty of amazing routes they can send the race on and it’s great for inspiring these younger kids. I think it’s for sure really important that we have some sort of big pro event.”
Swirbul, whose sister Hailey is a 2016 Basalt High School graduate and standout Nordic skier at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, rose to cycling fame at 16 when he edged Lance Armstrong to win the 2012 Power of Four mountain bike race in Aspen.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.