“I love waking up and just riding my bike all day.” - Keegan Swenson
"I don’t know if everyone loves to wake up and train. For me, racing or not, it’s really all I’d want to do so I’m stoked to be able to do it.” It’s a good thing Keegan Swenson loves to ride his bike because he’s about to do just that for almost ten hours in the Arizona desert-- and he’s already logged 40 hours of saddle time this week. The 2022 Life Time Grand Prix Champion is deep into his final training block before Unbound Gravel, a 204-mile race where he finished second last year. “Coming up short in a race like that, you definitely think about it in training. Losing it by a bike length is just a bit of a bummer, so I’m coming back with an extra bit of motivation.”
Keegan grew up racing mountain bikes, racking up a slew of national titles and spending the first part of his career focusing on the short and sharp demands of the XCO events. The last few years have seen a change in his focus, with gravel and endurance MTB coming to the fore. On his way to the Life Time Grand Prix overall, Keegan managed to win two of the world’s most prestigious off-road races, Leadville 100 and SBT GRVL. One on Saturday and the other on Sunday -- of the same weekend. Obviously, these kind of challenges requires a different kind of training.
“The [Unbound] finishing time is probably nine and a half / ten hours, so I think doing races like this requires a little bit different training, you know you can’t just do what you were doing before racing XCO. I think we have to change a little bit, add some more volume, switch up the intervals. And also just get used to spending a lot of time in the saddle. Your feet start to wear on you, your hands, neck, back, all that stuff especially when you’re wearing the pack carrying a little extra weight. So I think you can’t overlook all these things going into these long races. It’s just not the same.”
Honestly, surviving one of Keegan’s training rides requires a strategy unto itself. We followed him for 170 miles, which included 15 miles on Interstate Highway 10, 70 miles of dirt roads, and a stop at a Circle K for “roller dogs,” before finishing with all-out VO2max hill repeats. With us for the day, like most of Keegan’s big training days, was friend and rival pro Russell Finsterwald. “Doing these massive rides, it’s nice to have company. I mean, especially day after day, keeping each other honest. Sometimes you end up racing each other, but it’s also just nice to have someone there knowing we’re both suffering as much.”
That may be the case, but come race day, or even just when those intervals start, Keegan is out to win. He and Russell are side-by-side on the first interval. On the second, Keegan is ahead by two bike lengths. On the last two intervals, once he drops the hammer, he is the only rider in the frame, laser-focused on putting in the work so he can finish on the top step at Unbound.