With the cycling season in doubt, Swirbul continues to train and hope for best
Keegan Swirbul’s season began with a head-on collision with another cyclist and a trip to the hospital. His season was further put on hold only days later when the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down Europe.
The 24-year-old Aspen High School graduate is plenty used to career hurdles, and continues to chase after his professional cycling dreams. But even Swirbul knows the challenges facing both him and the cycling world in 2020 are something altogether different.
“I’ve had a lot of chances, but I haven’t, if that makes sense,” Swirbul said of his roller-coaster career. “I’ve had times where I’ve done numbers on the power meter that are really good and I seriously believe I have the potential to be a big rider, but I just haven’t had the stars align to get to a race that is a big race and have no injuries or no problems going on and then put it together.”
Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia that competes on the UCI Continental Circuit level, which is a step below the premier UCI World Tour and the newly formed UCI ProSeries.
He spent the 2019 season with Floyd’s Pro Cycling, the upstart team backed by former pro cyclist Floyd Landis, one of the primary whistleblowers in the Lance Armstrong doping saga who also faced a short ban from the sport. However, the team folded after only a single season, leaving Swirbul without a home yet again. The year before he had ridden for Jelly Belly-Maxxis, which folded following the 2018 season.
“I really realized I had to go fully to Europe. I would have been in Europe since February until October or November had this corona stuff not happened,” Swirbul said. “I realized I had to go over there full time, so I just kind of emailed as many directors as I could and begged them to give me a shot. And they ended up doing it.”
Ljubljana Gusto Santic became the team to sign Swirbul, but before he could ever get to Slovenia to live in the team house and begin his training, a lot went wrong.
First, there was his crash in late January while training in Arizona that resulted in a fractured spine. It turned out to be a best-case scenario, however, and he healed quickly with no lingering issues and was soon back on a bike.
Then COVID-19 arrived, shutting down the cycling season before it really got going. Not only that, but most of Europe’s borders were and remain closed, and especially to Americans like Swirbul, stranding him at home with no idea of if or when he will actually get to join his Slovenian team.
“That was pretty traumatic and not a great way to start the year,” Swirbul said of his training accident. “It was looking like we were going to have some races in August, September, October, but now, who knows? Now I’ve crossed it off my mental list, unfortunately, with this travel ban. But who knows?”
While Swirbul has taken a rather pessimistic view to the cycling season taking place, he hasn’t backed off his training efforts. If anything, he’s putting in more work than he has before and plans to be ready to race should the opportunity come his way this year.
“Right now I feel amazing, which is another insanely frustrating thing,” Swirbul said. “I’m honestly training harder than I ever have right now, just trying to learn about my body and build my engine. That’s good for me. But a lot of guys are pretty mentally cracked and have no motivation to even put a leg over a bike.”
As of Tuesday, most of the major cycling races were still a go this season, albeit with an adjusted calendar. The Tour de France, which would normally be held primarily through July, is now scheduled to start Aug. 29. The other Grand Tour races, the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta, are scheduled to start Oct. 3 and Oct. 20, respectively.
The Grand Tours, which are well out of Swirbul’s grasp at this point in his career, could very well be the only significant races held this year, if they are held at all. What this means for Swirbul and other Continental Circuit riders is anyone’s guess. Swirbul’s younger sister, Hailey Swirbul, is on the U.S. cross-country ski team and while their season remains many months out, questions continue to go unanswered for all athletes amid the ongoing pandemic.
“It’s going to be really touch and go. I think they’ll get the Tour off, I really think so, but as far as the other races, I got to say I really don’t think so,” Keegan Swirbul said of the cycling season, while maintaining hope of a successful career. “I really am going to try and keep going as long as my parents are supportive — which they are very supportive — and see if I can kind of show myself someday.”