Howard Grotts knew Keegan Swenson was going to be a nearly impossible man to beat at the national championship race this year when he wasn’t selected for the Olympics.
Grotts wasn’t wrong.
The defending USA Cycling cross-country mountain biking elite men’s national champion was back at the front of the race Saturday afternoon at the Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park, the same scene as his 2019 triumph ahead of Grotts, who had won the previous four national titles.
Swenson, a 26-year-old of Heber City, Utah, won the four-lap race Saturday in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 14 seconds to blow away the rest of the field.
“Keegan has for sure earned another year in the national champion’s jersey,” said Grotts, the 28-year-old from Durango. “I’ve had to go through the whole defending the title thing and know it adds an extra level of stress. He did it with class today.
“When I saw Keegan’s form, I knew it was a race for second.”
Second went to Durango’s Stephan Davoust. The Giant Factory Off-Road team rider was 2:22 behind Swenson after turning in a strong performance and holding off teammate Luke Vrouwenvelder of North Carolina for second place by nine seconds.
It was the best elite cross-country finish for Davoust in his career. He previously had finished second at marathon nationals and had been third at an under-23 cross-country nationals to go with short-track podiums in 2015 and 2019.
“This result has definitely taken a second to settle in,” Davoust said. “It’s super special. There were so many incredible Durango people around cheering the entire race. I had my brother right there at the finish line, and he had my mom on the phone. It was so good to have family around and so many friends to share the celebratory tears with.”
Grotts, who stepped away from full-time racing in 2019, had a 41st start position for the race but quickly worked with Durango’s Payson McElveen and Nederland’s Alex Howes to get toward the front. Grotts charged hard with Davoust for several laps and got to see his Durango friend’s elite form that led to the silver medal.
“Stephan, he just has come into a whole new level of consistency,” Grotts said. “He’s always been an excellent descender, but today riding with him, he was really strong on the climbs. Maybe I had a little advantage there, but he was pacing himself so well. I am incredibly happy for him.”
Davoust, who is the two-time defending Iron Horse Bicycle Classic mountain bike race champion, credited his work with coach Rotem Ishay for his success this year, as he also celebrated his first UCI race victory in May in Utah.
“To have these legs again for nationals, it makes me believe in the process of having a coach like Rotem there to guide me through to make sure I am where I need to be each race,” he said. “I want to thank him and the huge contingent of Durango kids out here who inspired me all weekend by their awesome results. Durango kids have more fun than anyone else, and to see everyone here smiling has been great. Going up the main climb today, there were so many people who were so loud cheering that I felt like I was at the Tour de France going up the climbs.”
Grotts would finish fourth after his hard charge. He was 2:36 behind Swenson and saw Vrouwenvelder sneak past him on the last lap.
“I was really happy with how everything went,” Grotts said. “The call-up was not an issue at all. I was in the back with Payson and Howes, and we all wanted to be within 20 seconds. It helped having a small pro field and strong head wind at the start.”
Also from Durango, Cole Paton finished sixth, 2:52 behind Swenson. McElveen took 10th, five minutes down. Cody Cupp rode to 15th, Keiran Eagen was 18th, FLC alum Ryan Standish was 19th, FLC’s Cooper Wiens was 29th and Troy Wells placed 38th in the 45-rider field.
Sunday’s short-track saw plenty more heavy-hitting action. Swenson would win the race 18 seconds in front of Davoust. Paton would earn a podium spot in third in a spring with North Carolina’s Cypress Gorry. They were another 10 seconds behind Davoust. FLC alum Henry Nadell was fifth, Grotts was ninth and Cupp was 10th to help Durango again load the top 10.
Grotts, Swenson and many more will contest the Leadville 100 in August. Grotts is the three-time defending champion of that race.
He plans to bike-pack from Colorado to Montana on a hard-tail mountain bike to prepare his endurance legs before making the trip back to Colorado.
“It’s a harebrained idea and a bucket list kind of thing. Those big days on the hard-tail will help,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see Keegan again in Leadville.”
Davoust said he may now target the world championship race in August in Italy after his silver medal Saturday.
“We will see how the cards play out. It would be a race I am excited for, for sure,” he said.
The pro women’s race was on by 2021 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic champion Erin Huck of Boulder, who will next compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Huck won in 1:11:31 after three laps of racing. She was 2:15 in front of Grand Junction’s Alexis Skarda and 2:39 in front of third-place Rose Grant.
Durango’s Ellen Campbell placed eighth, 9:49 behind Huck.
The other two U.S. women’s Olympians, Kate Courtney and Haley Batten, did not compete.