Keegan Swirbul enters the 2019 season chasing cycling dreams with new team
Not long after Keegan Swirbul wrapped up what was arguably the best performance of his professional career, taking seventh in the general classification at the 2018 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah in August, he had a bombshell dropped on him.
His team of the past two seasons, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, wasn’t going to exist in 2019. And a cyclist without a team is more or less a cyclist without a job.
“That night after the race was over they broke the news to us that the team wasn’t going to be around. There were all sorts of other teams folding at that same time,” Swirbul said from his Basalt home on Thursday. “I was pretty nervous, but I was lucky that I had my breakthrough result at that time to help me get on the radar of teams. But definitely scary.”
The Jelly Belly Candy Company had sponsored its U.S. Continental team for 19 years, run by manager and Olympian Danny Van Haute, until it decided to step away from the sport this past fall. A 2014 Aspen High School graduate, Swirbul was left searching for a new home and it came via one of the most infamous names in the sport’s history: Floyd Landis.
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Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France before seeing that title and so much more taken from him after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, is largely known as being the whistleblower in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.
Last spring, when Armstrong and the federal government agreed to a $5 million settlement, Landis found himself on the receiving end of $1.1 million as part of the deal. With that cash, Landis created his own cycling team for 2019, one that now includes Swirbul.
That team, being called “Floyd’s Pro Cycling,” is sponsored by Landis’ legal cannabis business in Leadville, “Floyd’s of Leadville.”
“It was a super fun ride on there, but I definitely think that a change will be good. It always seems like I grow when I move teams,” Swirbul said of leaving Jelly Belly for Floyd’s Pro Cycling. “There are some good riders they have signed on that team, so it will definitely elevate my game as well to be with some of their big hitters. So I’m looking forward to it.”
The team, which formed from the now defunct Canadian Continental team Silber Pro Cycling, also will include American Travis McCabe, Romanian rider Serghei Tvetcov and Australian Jonathan Clarke, among others. They will start competing in March.
“This project that Floyd’s team presented to me was pretty interesting, because we are going to be doing some gravel races and mountain biking, and then the traditional road series, as well,” Swirbul said. “It’s great. He’s doing American cycling a real deed. A lot of those teams were folding and he’s giving our 10 guys that are signed to this team or whatever another chance. That’s fantastic. He’s using his money and giving it back to the sport.”
Swirbul was struggling with injuries and illness when Jelly Belly took a chance on him two years ago, and he admitted 2017 was a struggle because of a poor training routine. After a slow start, he bounced back in 2018 and finished the season as strong as he ever has in his young career. The 23-year-old is still striving to take that step up to the UCI World Tour.
For now, he’ll continue to tackle many of the same Continental races he’s been competing in, such as the Tour of Utah.
“My goal is to get to the top echelon of the sport, like Tejay van Garderen is on the World Tour teams. I’m definitely getting closer, I feel,” Swirbul said, making note of Van Garderen, a familiar name in Aspen. “I just need to put a couple more big results together and hopefully show a bit more consistency next year. Hopefully that would get me on the radar of some of these bigger teams, and that’s where you can make an actual living and live like a real pro athlete. Right now I’m still relying on my parents quite a lot and not making that much money. But we are working toward it.”
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Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.