Gravel Worlds: Keegan Swenson brushes off crashes and goes toe-to-toe with WorldTour pros

American flyer takes fifth after close finish with Alejandro Valverde in Veneto

ClockUpdated 19:16, Sunday 8th October 2023. Published 17:30, Sunday 8th October 2023
Keegan Swenson (United States of America) at the finish of the UCI Gravel Worlds

© Daniel Benson

Keegan Swenson (United States of America) at the finish of the UCI Gravel Worlds

Keegan Swenson (USA) came into the UCI Gravel World Championships as his county’s best hope for success in the men’s race, and by the time the off-roader crossed the line in Veneto he had certainly left everything out on the course.

The US rider crashed twice during the race, once heavily on his left hand side, to leave him bloodied and his jersey torn, but he battled back to claim fifth at the finish, just behind former WorldTour giant Alejandro Valverde after a close-fought sprint.

Read more: Keegan Swenson: ‘I’m at Gravel Worlds to race for the win or the podium'

Swenson arrived at the Worlds in Italy as the dominant force within US domestic gravel, having conquered almost everything before him on home shores. Veneto would see him go up against some of the very best WorldTour riders in the world but he held his own for much of the race before untimely crashes and a long chase saw his chances of a rainbow jersey disappear up the road.

“I’m really happy with my ride. Apart from a couple of crashes that I had, it went well. I don’t crash often but when I do I lay myself out pretty good but I gambled today on the tyres a bit with the slick ones and overall it was decent, but a couple of times I forgot I was on the slicks and I pushed a bit too hard and ended up on the ground,” Swenson told GCN and other media at the finish.

Read more: Keegan Swenson's Santa Cruz Stigmata: UCI Gravel World Championships bike

“That’s when I lost the first group and it took about 20 minutes to chase back to the second group. I thought we’d make contact with the first group but the guys in our group were hurting and losing motivation to chase.”

Until that point Swenson had remained in contention for the podium. When the main group crossed the finish line for the first time after about two hours of racing Swenson was in the lead group containing eventual winner Matej Mohorič (Slovenia). By the time the leaders passed through the finish for a second time the American was at just over a minute behind a trio of riders that included Mohorič, Florian Vermeersch (Belgium), and Connor Swift (Great Britain).

Read more: UCI Gravel World Championships: Matej Mohorič uses climbing strength to win rainbow jersey

“For a while the gap was sitting at around 20 or 30 seconds but all of a sudden it was one minute, then two, three, and then four. That’s when everyone started racing for the positions that we had,” added Swenson.

From that point Swenson found himself chasing in a group that slowly began to dwindle in numbers until it was just him and Valverde in contention for fourth.

“I think we did an even amount of work. Sometimes I felt like I would rather ride at the front so I could ride at  my pace. That’s what I did before my crash. Sometimes it’s easier to be at the front and set a false tempo. Then you’re not fighting for wheels and in certain sections that really worked well for me. Then in the end Valverde did a fair bit of work and he made a few digs before we got to the climbs in the end.

"Our group split on the climb before the creeks and that’s where the group went in half. Then we lost one more guy on the next climb and it was Valverde, Quinten Hermans and one other. Then Valverde gapped me on that climb and I caught him on the descent.”

Fifth for Swenson represented a highly respectable result on a day in which he was the only rider inside the top 10 - other than Valverde - without a WorldTour licence. The American gracefully made sure to tip his hat to his teammates, and especially Luke Lamperti, who supported him through the first few hours of action.

“Luke got up to the front quite quickly as well and he was able to get me into  position a few times, especially going into the first key section. He was a big help there. He’s really good in the bunch and sometimes I felt that I had the edge with the mountain bike skills and sometimes I felt that he had the edge with his road skills,” Swenson said.

“He was really helpful there to get me into position. After that I was on my own and it got pretty hectic. I just tried to keep my position before the first big climb at around 55km."

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