Keegan Swenson duelled with Alejandro Valverde in the final kilometres of the UCI Gravel World Championships, before the 43-year-old Spanish ‘veterano’ beat the 29-year-old US national gravel champion in a close sprint finish.
Valverde’s sprint ensured four European professional road racers filled the top placing but Swenson showed he can compete with the best of the WorldTour and fly the flag for the northern American Gravel scene.
“I’m really happy with my ride. Apart from a couple of crashes that I had, it went well. I don’t crash often but when I do I lay myself out pretty good,” Swenson told Cyclingnews and the other media on the ground at the Gravel World Championships.
He revealed the risks he took with his tyre choice.
“I gambled today on the tyres a bit with the slick ones and overall it was decent but a couple of times I forgot I was on the slicks and I pushed a bit too hard and ended up on the ground,” he said, explaining how it impacted his race.
“That’s when I lost the first group and it took about 20 minutes to chase back to the second group. I thought we’d make contact with the first group but the guys in our group were hurting and losing motivation to chase. For a while, the gap was sitting at around 20 or 30 seconds but all of a sudden it was one minute, then two, three, and then four. That’s when everyone started racing for the positions that we had.”
Live television coverage of the men’s race started late after the key selection and shake-out had already happened on the flatter gravel roads.
Matej Mohorič (Slovenia), Florian Vermeersch (Belgium) and Connor Swift (Great Britain) got away after the Nogarolo climb after an intense 75 km of racing and Wout Van Aert (Belgium) suffered a front wheel puncture that took him out of contention.
Swenson and Valverde were in the chase group and hoping to close the gap but the hillier final lap in the Prosecco vineyards only extended the time gaps.
“The start wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t too bad to get up to the front but it took a fair bit of work and I had to take a few dicey lines but I made it up there,” Swenson explained.
“Sometimes I felt like I would rather ride at the front so I could ride at my pace. Sometimes it’s easier to be at the front and set a false tempo. Then you’re not fighting for wheels and in certain sections that really worked well for me.”
“Then Valverde did a fair bit of work and made a few digs before we got to the climbs in the end. Our group split on the climb before the creeks and that’s where the group went in half.”
“We lost one more guy on the next climb and it was Valverde, Quinten Hermans and one other guy. Valverde gapped me on that climb but I caught him on the descent.”
Valverde used his years of road racing experience to win the sprint to the line in Pieve di Soligo, edging out Swenson by taking the final inside line.
Valverde is almost twice the age of many of the best riders in the elite men’s race but prefers to race against the best.
“I’m perhaps the best ‘veterano’ but I’m also fourth in the elite race. I think that’s pretty special and I’m happy with that,” Valverde told Cyclingnews and other media beyond the finish line.
“It was a really hard race. We went really fast on the climbs and key sectors and the terrain and racing really made the selection. We finished as we all deserved.”
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