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One holds the unofficial course record for the Colorado Trail Race. Another has the FKT on the White Rim Trail. Between them, they have a volume of professional racing on the road, singletrack, and gravel.
On March 19, the decorated duo will toe the line at the 2023 Absa Cape Epic, mountain bike stage racing’s biggest event. For eight days, the pair will race against the world’s best across the rugged sandstone hills, shrubland, and vineyards of South Africa’s Western Cape.
Although they ride for different teams during the year — Swenson for Santa Cruz Bicycles and Morton for EF Education-EasyPost — their focus in South Africa will be on tuning in to each other’s every pedal stroke.
“Racing with Keegan is going to be awesome,” Morton said. “He is probably the strongest and most experienced partner I am ever going to get for this race. When he asked me if I was interested in doing it, I had to think about it, because I was worried I was not going to be on his level.
“Then, I realized that I had a few months to focus and get ready to test myself against the world’s best mountain bikers. It is kind of a daunting prospect, but the fact that I was scared about it, and am nervous about it, means that it is a worthwhile thing to take on.”
Both riders will return to South Africa after one previous go at the stage race. Morton rode with Team Amani’s Kenneth Karaya in 2021 and Swenson paired up with cross-country pro Maxime Marotte for 11th overall last year.
Swenson said there are myriad reasons why this year’s pairing could land the US-based endurance pros on the podium.
“I think we have a chance,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re gonna be the quickest team there, but I think we’ll be the most durable and consistent. Both of us can just go for a long time. We’re both good climbers. Coming from road, he [Morton] has so much experience racing the WorldTour, which can be valuable for this type of racing. Between his road and my XC, we have a big toolbox that others don’t have.”
Both riders have named the Cape Epic as a huge target for the 2023 season. Morton has spent the off-season in the warm weather of New South Wales, while Swenson has been putting in the miles in Tucson, Arizona.
“I have just been doing a lot of very specific and really intense training on my mountain bike with the focus of trying to be as ready physically and technically come the start line,” Morton said. “It has been a fun process. Regardless of what happens at the race, I am glad to have gone through the process of getting ready for it. If I can get out the performances that I have been able to start to produce in training at the race and hit the same performances in the race, I’ll be happy.”
After the Cape Epic, Morton and Swenson will go their separate ways before lining up together again at the season’s next big event: the Life Time Grand Prix. Swenson is the reigning champion of the series; Morton finished 15th after an unfortunate DNF at Unbound Gravel.
Until they’re back stateside, however, all that matters is a keen sense of teamwork and a shared goal — things that both riders are looking forward to.
“You are not just relying on yourself at the Cape Epic,” Swenson said. “You have to take care of your partner and your partner needs to take care of you. You need to strategize for how the days will play out and that adds a whole other dynamic to racing that most other races don’t have, so I am really looking forward to it. Lachlan is probably one of the chillest dudes I know, so I think it is going to be fun racing with him. I am excited. We are ready to get cracking.”