Keegan Swenson is crushing the American off-road scene. Would he jump ship for the WorldTour?
The top US domestic off-road pro keeps getting asked about a move to Europe, and says he's open to the possibility.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — I am trying to interview Keegan Swenson, but Payson McElveen keeps interrupting.
Me: Keegan, are you getting tired of people asking you if you’re going to race the WorldTour?
McElveen: We’re just tired of seeing how good he is! I like racing with Keegan, but the rest of the world deserves to see what he can do. When he’s riding Niki Terpstra off his wheel, c’mon, gimme a break.
Read also: Keegan Swenson does it again with a win at SBT GRVL
I’m hanging out with the two riders — and their partners Sofia and Nichole, respectively — in the finishing chute at SBT GRVL, where Swenson is slowly coming back to life. The 28-year-old just out-sprinted both McElveen and Freddy Ovett to win the 142-mile gravel race, the day after nearly breaking the course record at the Leadville Trail 100.
He is looking more destroyed after the gravel race than I’ve ever seen him before, a cramp stiffening his right leg, and a string of drool hanging stubbornly off his blackened lips.
After McElveen stops ranting about how good his friend is, Swenson looks directly at me.
“I mean, yes and no,” he says. “I’d love to, but I don’t want to go do it just to do it, you know? It would take the right team and a good offer and them willing to gamble on me and not me gambling on them in a way.”
The gamble, obviously, would not be on Swenson’s talent but rather his lack of European road racing experience. At 28, Swenson has been racing since he was a junior, so this is not the case of a “breakout” or an out-of-nowhere star.
It’s just that in 2022 he was just given a juicy carrot to chase — the six-race Life Time Grand Prix series. Not only does the series suit him, but it’s also getting a lot of media attention (not to mention a $250,000 purse with $25,000 to the overall winner).
Four races in and Swenson has nearly swept the series, only narrowly missing victory in a sprint at Unbound Gravel. In between endurance events, he also defended the USA Cycling National Championship XC title, beating short track world champ Christopher Blevins in a completely different effort.
The thing about Swenson right now is that he’s winning with astounding physical performances.
Read also: Power Analysis: Keegan Swenson dominates LeadBoat Challenge
So, is the domination a reason to stay in the gravel and dirt lane, or an incentive to move on to the next challenge?
“What I’m doing is a fulltime job, it’s a lot of work, and I’m having a really good time doing it,” he says.
Swenson rides for Santa Cruz Bikes, who he says are his biggest financial support. He lives with his girlfriend, pro Sofia Gomez Villafañe, in Tucson in the winter and Park City, Utah in the summer. In addition to riding endurance gravel and MTB, he jumps into XC-style events and international stage races like the Cape Epic when he feels like it.
Among those few details, a transition to a pro road team would involve some major life changes.
When I tell Swenson that the current minimum salary for a WorldTour rider is around €40,000, he shrugs and says, “I guess I’d say that isn’t enough.”
While the usual direction between gravel and the WorldTour usually goes the other way, it isn’t totally unheard of for an off-road star to get a call from a team boss in Europe.
In 2020, Colin Strickland was offered a pro contract from EF Education-EasyPost, but the Unbound Gravel champ turned it down for a myriad of reasons, the biggest one being that he might potentially sacrifice a years long effort of building up a portfolio of sponsors for an experiment that might not pan out and have him back at square one.
Money aside, I ask Swenson, is the thought of racing on the road in Europe a new thing, or had he considered it before?
“I enjoy mountain biking and found the right path,” he says. “But I think it’s always been on my mind. Racing a grand tour would be really cool.”