Keegan Swenson: If the right WorldTour opportunity arose I wouldn’t turn it down

American off-roader talks worlds, the road bike he'll race, and the types of team he'd sign for in 2023.

Photo: Life Time

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He’s the dominant rider in men’s gravel and has won everything in sight in 2022, but Keegan Swenson has his attention focused on the UCI Road World Championships and a possible contract in the WorldTour next year.

Swenson, 28, has been unstoppable this season winning Sea Otter, Crusher in the Tushar, the Leadville Trail 100, and SBT GRVL, as well as the US national championships. He has a commanding lead in the Life Time Grand Prix series, but on September 25 he will switch his Santa Cruz Stigmata for a Cervelo S5 as he takes to the men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Australia.

Also read: Pro bike gallery: Keegan Swenson’s Santa Cruz Stigmata

Twelve months ago the notion of Swenson throwing his leg over a road bike for such a prestigious one-day race as the worlds would have raised eyebrows, but the American’s pathway towards elite road has been forged through a combination of incredible off-road performances and opportunity, and he heads to Australia as one of the most exciting prospects and riders to watch.

“It just kinda happened,” he tells VeloNews in such a casual fashion that suggests that selection for the US road team is something he’s taking in his stride.

“I’m not sure how it all came through but USA Cycling saw power files and saw that gravel racing isn’t too far off road racing. I wanted to take the opportunity because it’s something that I thought would be cool to do, but it definitely wasn’t on my radar a year ago.”

Also read: Keegan Swenson is crushing the American off-road scene. Would he jump ship for the WorldTour?

The idea of jetting across the world for a one-day race came with a degree of caution at first. As well as being a huge opportunity to dip his toes in international road racing and rub shoulders with the likes of Tadej Pogaçar and Wout van Aert, the adventure was also a significant operation with travel, time away from home, and a new schedule all to consider.

“I was a little bit hesitant at first,” he admits.

“I went and trained and did a big five hour ride to think about it but I came to the conclusion that it was an exciting opportunity and that I’d be stupid to turn it down. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m pretty confident that I can figure it out when it comes to the racing. I know that road racing is different but I think I can do it. It’s in Australia too, so I think the roads will be a touch wider than they are in Europe, and with less road furniture. Also I think the field might be slightly smaller than some big European races. It’s still a world championship, so it’s a huge event but maybe it will be slightly easier to adapt and learn with the circuits on the road race.”

WorldTour calling

Competing in the Australian world championships is all part of a bigger picture that could see Swenson move into the WorldTour next season. There’s still a number of factors and considerations for the rider to work through, not least if he can balance road and gravel in the same calendar year, but there is certainly intent on his part to at least explore his options.

Swenson would not go into details about the teams he has talked to, but there certainly have been conversations with WorldTour squads for next season. The world championships is a chance for the American rider to experience something akin to WorldTour racing, while at the same time it’s also a shop window for squads to see him up close and determine whether he has the credentials and attitude to transform himself into a roadie.

Also read: Keegan Swenson, Lauren Stephens among six riders added to revamped US worlds squad

“I do have some interest in racing on the road, so this could be a good chance for me to see if I like it, or if I’m good at it. There’s not that much in terms of expectations but at the same time I do feel as though I have what it takes to have a decent ride,” he says.

“It’s hard to say [ed. what’s next] but there’s definitely a bit of interest on both sides. For me, I do love racing off-road so it would have to be the right team and the right offer to make it worth leaving the off-road scene. I do like what I’m doing right now, so it would be a bit of a gamble and it would take a couple of years to really dial it in and reach my full potential. Teams see that I’m already 28 and that I’ll be 29 next year, so that’s pretty old by the road standards. So it would be a gamble on their end too but it could pay off both ways.”

Swenson believes that any potential move to a WorldTour team would only come about if he felt comfortable with the culture and ethos of those around him. The American would want to have the right environment in which to both challenge himself and flourish. At 28 he does not have the luxury of riding himself into European road racing for a two-year period like most neo-pros, so it’s also a case of now or never.

“If the opportunity arose I wouldn’t turn it down. It just depends. There are some variables with pay, how much I would need to live in Europe, and there are a lot of factors. I’d have to see if it was worth it. And obviously there’s whether I would enjoy it or not, and worlds will be a good taster. I’m excited about racing at the highest level and the challenge.”

Also read: Sepp Kuss on the US off-road racing scene, living in Europe, experience vs age — and Keegan Swenson

Swenson does have ties to some teams already. He’s known Sepp Kuss and Neilson Powless for years, and he’s on the radar for most of the American riders currently racing in Europe right now. A move to Girona, for example, where a number of US riders are currently based, would make a lot of sense during the road season.

“It would be really cool to have an American teammate and most teams have that,” he said.

“It would be great because it gives you someone to learn and relate to in a way that Europeans maybe can’t. Sepp Kuss and Neilson Powless have raced mountain bikes, Quinn Simmons as well, so they’d know if I needed more help and they’d see where I was coming from. That, in my mind, would be a big piece, for a team to help me learn but there’s nothing set in my mind in terms of wanting to ‘ride for this team.’”

One thing is certain, if Swenson does make the leap across the Atlantic he would give it his complete commitment.

“For a while I think I’d have to go 100 per cent into it and then maybe I could come back and do Unbound or Leadville but I think I’d have to go fully into it in order to get the best out of myself,” he adds.

“It’s a different discipline and it would take some time to get used to the different racing style but I think the fitness is there, I train a load, and I have a similar volume to the guys who are racing at WorldTour. It would be more about getting used to racing in the tighter bunches and the more aggressive nature of road racing.”

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