Swenson makes history at Leadville Trail 100 MTB, wins his third straight title

Ryan Sederquist
Vail Daily
Keegan Swenson is congratulated by Leadville 100 race series founders Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin after breaking the Leadville Trail 100 MTB course record by 15 minutes on Saturday. It was Swenson's third-straight Leadville Trail 100 MTB win.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

LEADVILLE — Simply mind-boggling.

There’s the two-word summary of Keegan Swenson’s performance at Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Swenson, now a perfect four-for-four in Life Time Grand Prix events, achieved a Leadville Trail 100 MTB three-peat in astonishing fashion, completing the 104.8-mile course in 5 hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds — 15 minutes faster than the standard set in 2015 by three-time World Champion Austrian Alban Lakata.

“That’s amazing, especially since he rode, I would imagine, from the bottom of Columbine and back, by himself,” said fellow three-time winner Todd Wells. The 47-year-old Durango legend finished 13th in 6:23:18 and his suspicions of how things played out in front were correct indeed.

The lead peloton dwindled from about 15 to 10 as the pros flew down Powerline and traversed to the 40-mile mark at Twin Lakes. Swenson bided his time, content to see the group hitting the sub-5:50 splits he taped to his top tube. The multi-time U.S. national champion jacked up the pace at the base of the infamous 3,000-foot Columbine ascent (which tops out at 12,516 feet).

“I tried to go with him on Columbine and made it probably 2.5-3 miles,” said Alexey Vermeulen (6:08:01), who would out-sprint Aspen’s John Gaston (6:08:05) for second place.

“I mean Keegan is on a different level right now. Just a different league,” the 28-year-old former road racer continued.

“We were riding all together with that group and (the gap) went four to five to nine minutes and you’re just like, ‘OK, well, I guess we’re racing for second.'”

“Last year I came up just short of the record and this year I just went all in, and you know if I blew up in the end, I blew up,” Swenson said at the finish line. “I was going to send it. I didn’t want to just get the record by a few seconds. I wanted to make it mine.”

After nearly breaking six hours last year, Swenson told the Vail Daily “I think 5:50 is possible if you have a team working for you. That’s how the record was set before. In order to go much faster, I think you need a teammate or a really, really talented field.”

When asked about those thoughts on Saturday, he replied, “I mean, I talked to my coach a lot before and we’d came up with a plan to ride 5:50.”

Feeling good upon his return to Powerline — a 3-mile, 1,400-foot climb containing several 15% pitches unwelcome to riders three-fourths of the way through a race totaling 12,000 feet of ascent — he upped the ante.

Todd Wells (left) talks with Keegan Swenson (right) at the finish line of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“I was like, I’m just going to start emptying the tank and see what we can do and see if we can go under 5:50,” the 29-year-old from Heber City, Utah, continued.

“You know, if you’re going to do it, might as well do it as best as you can and make it that much harder for someone else to get.”

Overcast skies, cooler weather and a slight drizzle made for tacky, speedy conditions. Nevertheless, Swenson’s time impressively obliterated previous course record-holding icons like Dave Wiens (6:45:45), Lance Armstrong (6:28:51), Levi Leipheimer (6:16:37), as well as legends like Floyd Landis, Howard Grotts (6:15:00 personal best) and Wells (6:16:27 personal best).

“Yeah I mean I grew up watching this race and seeing those guys ride and race this thing, and it’s always been a goal of mine to come here and win and I’ve done that the last few years,” Swenson acknowledged.

“And then last year, getting so close to the record – I wanted that really bad and I thought it would be awesome to bring the record back to the United States as well.”

“Incredible. It’s unbelievable,” said race co-founder Ken Chlouber.

“That guy – not only does he got great legs, great head, but he’s got Leadville in his heart. Because that’s what Leadville is all about — digging deep and doing what everybody thinks you can’t do … that’s Leadville. He did it.”

Sofia Gomez Villafane wins women’s race

Sofia Gomez Villafane used a similar tactic as Swenson in the women’s race, pulling away from Alexis Skarda on the Columbine ascent.

“I would look back and see her head down and that’s my tell-tale sign that Alexis is hurting. I just would do these little surges to mess her rhythm, and I got a little gap,” the Argentinian Olympian said.

Sofia Gomez Villafane processes her win at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Gomez Villafane, who hasn’t lost any of the four Life Time Grand Prix events wasn’t all that pleased, however, about riding solo for the majority of the second half.

“It was a bit of a bummer because I ended up being by myself,” she said. “That was very lonely and not fast.”

Behind her, Nederland’s Ruth Winder had closed the gap and passed Skarda, who would finish in third. When Gomez Villafane looked behind her at the base of the ‘Boulevard’ road, about 4 miles from the finish, she could see Winder right there.

“I was like, ‘oh no,'” the leader admitted. “That’s where you’re training pays off. Like, how hard can you go at the end of 105 miles at 10,000 feet?”

Gomez Villafane grit her teeth for 10 more minutes of hard pedaling, pulling away to a comfortable win. She crossed the line in 7:09:48 to Winder’s 7:11:12. Skarda (7:19:03) held off Hannah Otto (7:19:10) to secure the final podium spot.

“Yeah, I took risks. I think in the past few years, the person who leads into Columbine doesn’t win the race, and I had the opportunity to change that script,” Gomez Villafane concluded after finishing her first career Leadville 100 with a win.

“I’m excited to check this race off my list.”


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