Swenson, Courtney lead USA Cycling XC Tour with two race to go

Under-23 rider Kate Courtney emerges as a top mountain bike talent. Keegan Swenson comes on strong in Pro XCT just before nationals.

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With the U.S. Mountain Bike National Championships right around the corner (July 18-23) in Snowshoe, West Virginia, the younger generation has asserted its authority in USA Cycling’s Pro Mountain Bike Cross-Country Tour (Pro XCT). Keegan Swenson, 23, Kate Courtney, 22, have amassed multiple wins to surge into the lead in their respective categories. Courtney will also be racing the elite national championship, not the under-23 race at the championships. Despite her young age, she is one of the favorites for the title.

Swenson coming on strong

Keegan Swenson won the Angel Fire cross-country race. Photo: Scott McClain

Swenson’s 2017 season got off to a slow start, but three consecutive wins on the Pro XCT have seen him vault to the top of the standings.

“My goals for the Pro XCT this year were to win a couple races, especially my hometown race here in Midway, Utah, as well as the Missoula Pro XCT,” Swenson said. He did just that, winning both.

“I’ve been second at Missoula the past few years, so it felt great to get up on that top step. I really had no ambitions of being in the running for the overall, but now that I’m leading, I think it’d be pretty cool to win it.”

The overall title is within Swenson’s reach. This is partly because Russell Finsterwald is expected to miss the rest of the Pro XCT season, as he recovers from a broken collarbone.

“Winning the Pro XCT overall was a goal of mine this year and I believe I was positioned well to do so prior to the injury, but now it looks like I will have to miss the rest of the Pro XCT series,” Finsterwald said.

Finsterwald was second to Swenson at both the Tech Dev Pro in Midway, and the Missoula XCT. But a devastating fall while cooling down after the Missoula race resulted in a broken collarbone and two torn ligaments. Finsterwald missed the Chile Challenge in New Mexico, which he won last year.

“I had the surgery a little over three weeks ago and everything has been going as smooth as possible, although slower than I’d like,” Finsterwald said. “I will most likely miss the rest of the season, which is a huge bummer, but I hope to come back stronger in 2018.”

Under-23 rider Christopher Blevins is now second in the standings after winning The Eastern Grind XC MTB in Williston, Vermont. He added that win to the opening round of the Pro XCT, the US Cup race in Fontana, California.

New Zealand’s Anton Cooper, sits fourth in the Pro XCT standings after kicking off his season in the U.S. He won the second stop of the premier four-race U.S. Cup series in Bonelli, which is part of Pro XCT. Soon after, he rode to second at the Sea Otter Classic. Early-season North American racing translated to great results in Europe. He finished third at the second stop on the UCI cross-country World Cup in Albstadt, Germany in May.

Under-23 rider Christopher Blevins is fourth in the standings after winning the opening round of the XCT, the US Cup race in Fontana, California. He too found good legs at the World Cup level, finishing 14th in the under-23 men’s race at the opening round in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Howard Grotts rounds out the top-five.

Elite men’s standings

1. Keegan Swenson (Cannondale-3Rox), 246 pts
2. Christopher Blevins (Specialized), 200 pts
3. Russell Finsterwald (SRAM-Troy Lee Designs), 160 pts
4. Anton Cooper (Trek Factory Racing), 140 pts
5. Howard Grotts (Specialized Factory Racing), 120 pts
(results through July 16, 2017)

Courtney unstoppable

National champion Erin Huck is still in the hunt in the women’s Pro XCT, chasing leader Kate Courtney. Photo: Scott McClain

Courtney is demonstrating that she is a favorite for the under-23 women’s world title in the fall. It all began in April in her home state of California. She opened the season with a win at the Fontana City National.

“It has been a really great season so far with many close battles in the Pro XCT races,” said Courtney, a recent Stanford University graduate from Kentfield. “One of my favorites was at Sea Otter, which is only a few hours from my hometown. My family and friends were all there to watch, which made it even more exciting and surreal when I was able to get away on the last lap to take the win.

“It was also very exciting to go 1-2 with fellow American Erin Huck ahead of some strong international competition. It really shows how high the level of women’s racing is here in the U.S. at the moment, and makes all of the Pro XCT races exciting battles.”

Courtney went on to finish second at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California. She won the Eastern Grind event at Catamount on July 15. She has dominated the racing scene in Europe by winning two of four under-23 women’s World Cup races, in Nove Mesto and Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She finished second in the other two rounds, in Albstadt and Vallnord, Andorra. She is the current overall World Cup leader for her category.

Erin Huck beat Courtney at Bonelli Park after winning the elite women’s Pan Am Continental Cross-Country MTB title the week prior. “That was a great race,” Huck said after Bonelli. “The course was really challenging, but had good flow and Kate was climbing well today, and I just tried to be patient. Once we had separation, I started to go to work on her.”

Huck finished second to Courtney at the Sea Otter Classic, but then took the win at Chile Challenge in New Mexico. Her early season form in the U.S. translated to stellar results at the World Cup level. Through the opening four rounds, Huck has finished in the top 25 on all occasions, including cracking the top 15 in the opening two rounds. She scored 15th at the first round in Nove Mesto, and 11th in Albstadt a week later. With a win at the Chile Challenge, Huck moved to second in the Pro XCT standings.

Rose Grant, who captured the win at the fifth stop in the Pro XCT series in Missoula, sits third in the series. Her teammate, Alexis Skarda, who won the Tech Dev Pro event in Utah and had third-place finishes at Missoula XC and Chile Challenge, is in third place.

Alexis Skarda, who won the Utah race and had third-place finishes at Missoula XC and Chile Challenge, sits third in the series. Rose Grant, the winner at the fifth stop in the Pro XCT series in Missoula, is in fourth. Sofia Gomez Villafane rounds out the top five.

Rose Grant, who won the fifth stop in the Pro XCT series in Missoula, sits second in the series with another winner on the circuit, Alexis Skarda, who is in third. Sofia Gomez Villafane rounds out the top five behind Huck.

The Pro XCT calendar offers cross-country Olympic-style and short-track cross-country racing. All the events this year are UCI-sanctioned, allowing elite riders the opportunity to earn valuable UCI ranking points. The Pro XCT continues on July 15 with the Eastern Grind, which is also the third of four rounds of the U.S. Cup. Coming days before the national championships, the favorites will look to hone their form in hopes of earning Stars-and-Stripes jerseys. Following racing at the Eastern Grind, the final two stops of the Pro XCT are the U.S. Cup Boston Rebellion on July 19 and Windam XCT on Aug. 22-23.

Elite women’s standings

1. Kate Courtney (Specialized Factory Racing), 300 pts
2. Erin Huck (Cannondale-3Rox), 220 pts
3. Rose Grant (Stans NoTubes – Pivot), 205 pts
4. Alexis Skarda (Stans NoTubes – Pivot), 189 pts
5. Sofia Gomez Villafane (Assos-Pivot Cycles), 151 pts
(results through July 16, 2017)

Pro Gravity Tour mid-season standings still tight

Bruce Klein leads the men’s downhill series. Photo: Scott McClain

The USA Cycling Pro Mountain Bike Gravity Tour (Pro GRT) is also at its midway point. Following three days of racing in late June at the Chile Challenge at the Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico, Angelina Palermo leads Caroline Washam by 42 points in the women’s individual standings. For the men, Bruce Klein holds a 25-point lead over Shane Leslie.

The Pro GRT features the best downhill racing in the country. The gated events, such as dual slalom and four-cross, are part of many of the seven stops on the 2017 calendar. The Chile Challenge hosted events for both Pro GRT and Pro XCT.

“The Chile Challenge has been around for 27 years. It was one of the original downhill races in America. Combining a top level downhill and cross-country event gives a venue that over-the-top experience of a world-class venue. It means a lot to our mountain bike community to be able to host racing events at a venue with such racing heritage,” said Hogan Koesis, bike park manager at Angel Fire Resort.

Following Mountain Bike National Championships, the Pro GRT will continue July 27-30 at Beast of the East in Killington, Vermont.

Pro Mountain Bike Gravity Tour (Pro GRT) Standings

Elite men
1. Bruce Klein (KHS Factory Racing), 275 pts
2. Shane Leslie (Graeme Pitts Racing), 250 pts
3. Logan Binggeli (KHS Factory Racing), 219 pts
4. Austin Hackett-Klaube (Specialized/Foxhead/Dirtlabs), 204 pts
5. Kiran MacKinnon (Santa Cruz Bicycles), 137 pts

Elite women
1. Angelina Palermo (Dirt Harry’s/Specialized), 259 pts
2. Caroline Washam (Liv/Spoked), 217 pts
3. Samantha Kingshill (College Cyclery/ Truckerco/ Dvo/ Vittoria), 181 pts
4. Jill Kintner (Redbull/ Norco/ Shimano/ Fox), 125 pts
5. Kialani Hines (Tld/Tigatu/Foox/Deity/Maxxis), 114 pts

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