USA Pro Challenge: Keegan Swirbul rides again |

USA Pro Challenge: Keegan Swirbul rides again

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Keegan Swirbul, far left, stands at the start line in Aspen at the start of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. He's standing next to Jens Voigt, who was racing in his final stage race. Winner Tejay van Garderen is on the right side in his BMC kit.
Aspen Times file photo |

The team rosters for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Colorado include an Aspen native son — Keegan Swirbul.

An Aspen High School graduate and midvalley resident, Swirbul will be riding in the Colorado pro stage race for the second consecutive year.

Official team rosters were announced Friday, with Swirbul and his Axeon teammates in the 16-team field set to start the 2015 race Monday at the Steamboat Springs Circuit Race.

The USA Pro Challenge will visit Aspen on Wednesday with the finish of Stage 3. Aspen also will host the start of Stage 4 on Thursday. The cycling festival, part of the USA Pro’s annual visit to Aspen, will continue Wednesday and Thursday.

Axeon, a U.S.-based team of younger pro riders owned and directed by Axel Merckx, will feature Greg Daniel of Golden, a 20-year-old rising star in the peloton. He won the king of the mountains jersey in the recent Tour of Utah.

Swirbul and Daniel were teammates last year on the Bissell development team when they rode in the USA Pro Challenge.

The full Axeon roster includes Daniel Eaton of Mesa, Arizona, Tao Georghegan Hart of Great Britain, Ruben Guerreiro of Portugal, James Oram of New Zealand, Logan Owen of Bremerton, Washington, and Chris Putt of Breckenridge.

Teams in the USA Pro Challenge are allowed eight team riders.

“We’re all looking forward to the (USA) Pro Challenge,” Swirbul said in an interview with The Aspen Times. He said the return of Independence Pass to the route adds a special element to the 2015 race.

“I think it will be really cool on the third stage where we go up the back side of the pass and finish in Aspen,” Swirbul said. “I think that will be a pretty decisive day.”

Stage 3 will start at Copper Mountain Resort and head up Fremont Pass before coursing through Leadville and down to Twin Lakes for the climb up Independence Pass.

“I think it will be a reduced group at the top of the climb,” Swirbul said. “The last 10K or so are pretty steep … right when you hit the first switchback it goes steep.”

That is likely to reduce the field at the front for the descent from 12,095 feet at the summit of the pass to the 7,900 feet in downtown Aspen.

“I don’t think anyone will be able to get away on the descent; it’s not technical enough,” Swirbul said the 20-mile run down into Aspen.

A big crowd up on the pass will be inspiring, he said, recalling the first year of the USA Pro Challenge and the dramatic descent into Aspen — in the rain. George Hincapie of BMC won that 2011 stage in downtown Aspen.

On Thursday Swirbul said, Independence Pass will be an even bigger test.

“The next day, of course, we go right back over it and that will be hard because the start of the race is always really fast. And there is nowhere to hide on that climb,” he said. “The first stretch (Difficult Campground) and the last (top cut) are the hardest.”

“It’ll be interesting up that climb. Up until a break gets away,” Swirbul said, “it’ll be nuts.”

And he can’t wait.

His excitement for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge is matched by that of Boulder’s Taylor Phinney, the BMC rider who is making a comeback from a broken leg. He missed the USA Pro Challenge last year but is on the BMC roster for the Colorado stage race.

Phinney, as part of his training program, did a five-day ride from Boulder to Moab with training pals early in the summer, including a stopover in Aspen.

“The USA Pro Challenge has a big place in my heart, being in the state of Colorado, which is my home state,” Phinney said. “I had a really good time here in 2012 when Tejay van Garderen narrowly missed out on the victory, and it was George Hincapie’s last race, and there was a stage through Boulder.”

Van Garderen, the two-time overall USA Pro champion from Aspen, will not race this year. Instead, he’s racing with BMC in the Vuelta a Espana after falling ill during the Tour de France.

“I am just going to keep the train rolling from Utah,” said Phinney, the son of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney.

Phinney’s BMC teammate Rohan Dennis of Australia is one of the major headliners for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge.

He won the opening time trial at the recent Tour de France.

“Professional cycling is seeing a changing of the guards at the elite level, and we are at its doorstep,” said USA Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter. “Rohan Dennis and Taylor Phinney are just two of several young, rising stars of the sport we will see this year.”

Damiano Caruso of BMC, coming off a strong Giro d’Italy (top 10), will add to the BMC horsepower in Colorado.

Tour of Utah third-place finisher Brent Bookwalter also is on the BMC team with Michael Schar, a Tour de France stage winner this year.

Roman Kreuziger, twice a top-10 finisher in the Tour de France, will lead the Tinkoff-Saxo team.

Italian rising star Davide Formolo, 22, will headline the Colorado-based Cannondale-Garmin team. Formolo won a stage at the Giro this year.

He will be backed by Janier Acevedo, a veteran who was third overall in the Tour of California two years ago.

Other notables in the 2015 race include Kiel Reijnen of UnitedHealthcare, who won the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race to kick off the 2014 USA Pro Challenge.