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Keegan Swenson knows how to race a mountain bike, but he’s never done it for 24 hours.
Next weekend, the US national champ will line up for his first 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (24HOP), one of the nation’s longest-running 24-hour mountain bike races.
The race celebrates its 22nd birthday this year and has been running continuously aside from last year’s COVID hiatus. Riders have myriad options to ride as many laps as possible of a 16-mile loop from 12PM Saturday until 12PM Sunday. From teams of four or five to duos to solo to singlespeed, there are many ways to get down in 24 Hour Town.
This year, Swenson and Taylor Lideen, two of endurance off-road cycling’s brightest stars, will be duking it out in the men’s solo category.
Lideen returns to the race after finishing second in 202o and winning the 2018 edition with a total of 20 laps. His big result in 2021 was winning Unbound XL, the 350-mile race in Emporia, finishing in just under 23 hours. He also has a second place finish at 24 hour worlds.
Compared to Swenson, Lideen is a much more experienced night rider.
Nevertheless, although it will be Swenson’s time at 24HOP and racing solo for 24 hours, he will show up with an important ball in his court — the expertise of endurance mountain bike legend Josh Tostado.
Normally, Tostado would be at 24HOP trying to set his own record in the solo race division, but he’s laid up with a hand injury this year, so he’s pitting for Swenson.
The battle at the front of the men’s solo race is expected to go down between Swenson and Lideen. Both are fresh off big training blocks in warm weather — Lideen has been in southern California riding with the new Floyd’s of Leadville Racing off-road squad, while Swenson, who winters in Tucson, just finished nine days of intense efforts with Russell Finsterwald.
While the current course record at 24HOP is 20 laps (set by Lideen in 2018 and matched by Tostado in 2020), this year, Swenson is aiming for 21.
“The main goal is to get through it, but if I can set the record — with good conditions I think it’s obtainable,” Swenson told VeloNews. “I know how to race a bike but 24 is a different beast so I’m giving it a fair bit of respect. Having Josh there and knowing how to have everything planned will help. So I think it’s possible.”
Lideen, on the other hand, is taking a more measured approach.
Both riders are targeting the Life Time Grand Prix this year. The six-race series consists of three XC mountain bike races and three gravel races. Swenson sees 24HOP as a good opportunity to fine-tune some of the aspects of ultra-distance races, which in the Grand Prix, basically refers to Unbound Gravel.
“It’ll be a good test of pacing, nutrition,” Swenson said. “That’s another reason I’m doing it, I haven’t raced past 6.5 hours before. I think it will reset what’s hard. To push through what I’ve done and see what’s possible.”
Another possibility? That he might like it.
“I am super excited for Keegan,” Lideen said. “I think he is going to have an amazing experience at this event in particular, but I’ve always warned him to be careful because these things can be a bit addicting.”