BENTONVILLE, Arkansas, (October 21, 2023) – Life Time Big Sugar Gravel took place in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri, over two signature distances: the marquee 100-mile course with challenging roads through the Ozarks with approximately 7,000 feet of elevation gain and a 50-mile course, which served up a similarly challenging and equally picturesque ride through remote highs and hollows.
Big Sugar was the final event in the seven-race Life Time Grand Prix. Keegan Swenson and Sofia Gomez Villafañe won the overall series to close out its second year – each taking home $25,000 – with the other top nine men and women finishers awarded portions of the overall Life Time prize purse of $250,000.
“We are always thrilled to end our off-road season in Bentonville,” said Kimo Seymour, President of Life Time Events and Media. “This week has been a blast for our team and the bike community, and I’m very proud of all the athletes who competed and rode hard this season. We are equally grateful for our supportive brand partners, athletes, and the cities of Bentonville and Bella Vista.”
Women’s Race Recap
The women’s race began with overall champion Sofia Gomez Villafañe breaking away from the pack with UCI gravel world champion, Kasia Niewiadoma. However, the duo took a wrong turn, ceding the lead to a pack of women including 2022 Big Sugar Gravel champ Paige Onweller, Jenna Rinehart and Sarah Sturm. Gomez Villafañe and Niewiadoma rejoined the lead group, and Niewiadoma launched a solo attack shortly after, gaining nearly two and a half minutes on the chasers. Ultimately Niewiadoma won solo with more than a 9-minute advantage over Lauren De Crescenzo.
When asked how racing gravel in the United States compares to Europe, Niewiadoma said, “It’s hard to compare. I feel like the atmosphere a little different but yeah, I could definitely feel that I was climbing a lot today. I didn’t expect that. The course was very relentless cause I feel like there was never a time to rest. Like I felt that after the first half I was just climbing and descending so I definitely had a mental breakdown like ‘I just want to stop pedaling for one second,’ you know. But there was always something and anytime we would go down it was quite technical so I felt like I was kind of tense and it was still hard to relax. Definitely very brutal.”
“I feel like hearing about gravel beforehand I was like oh, sweet we’ll just ride for long and then relax and have fun but it’s insanely hard,” she continued. “I feel like every single roadie should know that because I know at some points we were like oh, gravel is for people who don’t want to really race, but it might be the opposite. I think that they are strong [the other competitors]. They just race differently than how we race. No one was really fighting for position before the important sections and I feel like in Europe it’s one big fight before that. I was like oh that’s sweet I can just enter something first without fighting for it. I feel like in Europe we have so many girls so we become feisty. The girls were very strong out there for sure.”
“To be honest, the last 5 kms I was like ‘never again.’” It’s super hard but I feel like yeah, always after winning and after a big suffer fest it feels so satisfying that you want more.”
Men’s Race Recap
The men’s race also began with early breakaway action. Norwegian Jonas Orset made an early move and was joined by John Borstelmann before being caught by the lead group of heavy hitters including overall champion Keegan Swenson. Borstelmann made another solo move with more than 25 miles to go, gaining a minute and a half on Swenson, Lachlan Morton, Cole Paton, and other chasers. A group of about five riders came to the line for the sprint and under-the-radar Torbjørn Røed outkicked Brendan Johnston and Alexey Vermeulen.
After the finish, Røed summarized his race as follows: “We were sitting together like 6, 7 of us. We were kind of just rolling around, not going that hard and then 5, 6 guys came up from the back and we suddenly had 10 people and we just sat around and Howie [Howard Grotts] was doing most of the work.”
“I went for it up the climb and it went down to five guys and just waited for a sprint and had a good wheel and just went for it.”
“It feels pretty awesome,” he continued. “I’ve wanted this for a while and feel like I’ve had the legs to do it and it’s awesome to put it together.”
|Women’s Big Sugar Gravel 100 Results|
|Katarzyna Niewiadoma||Girona, Spain||29||5:35:14|
|Lauren de Cresenzo||Atlanta, Colorado||33||5:44:01|
|Anna Hicks||Placerville, California||23||5:45:08|
|Men’s Big Sugar Gravel 100 Results|
|Torbjørn Andre Røed||Grand Junction, Colorado||26||4:53:38|
|Brendan Johnston||Coombs, Australia||31||4:53:38|
|Alexey Vermeulen||Pinckney, Michigan||28||4:53:39|
|Non-Binary Big Sugar 100 Results|
|Bonnie Branson||Edmond, Oklahoma||46||7:20:53|
|Jode Legacy||Morristown, Vermont||44||9:05:53|
|Para Women Big Sugar 100 Results|
|Meg Fisher||Missoula, Montana||40||8:11:58|
|Women’s Big Sugar 50 Results|
|Morgan Chaffin||Omaha, Nebraska||40||2:57:10|
|Landrie Mclain||Bella Vista, Arkansas||15||3:02:52|
|Emily Flynn||Elk River, Minnesota||42||3:07:33|
|Men’s Big Sugar 50 Results|
|Javier Hidalgo||Miami, Florida||44||2:44:48|
|Joel LaFrance||Plymouth, Minnesota||42||2:44:58|
|Michael Painter||Bentonville, Arkansas||25||2:45:03|
|Para Men Big Sugar 50 Results|
|Michael Hamm||Memphis, Tennessee||42||4:28:07|
|Jacob Schulte||Sherwood, Arizona||43||4:57:17|
A next-day highlights video of the race, including amazing live footage shot from a helicopter combined with on-the-ground footage from Cold Collaborative, the same team behind the Call of a Life Time series, will be posted on the Life Time Grand Prix YouTube channel. The video provides a true, long-form video update with commentators discussing how the race day unfolded with front-of-the-pack race day action. Life Time created a similar recap video after the Stages Cycling Leadville Trail 100 MTB in August.
2023 Life Time Grand Prix Final Results
Sofia Gomez Villafañe began the season strong with a win at the Sea Otter Classic Fuego XL, trailed by Alexis Skarda. Despite finishing second at Unbound Gravel, she was the highest-placing Grand Prix rider, earning maximum points. Subsequent wins at Crusher in the Tushar and the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, and a third at Chequamegon MTB Festival, locked in her overall win ahead of The Rad Dirt Fest and Big Sugar Gravel. The race for the top five remained tight between Skarda, last year’s overall winner, Haley Smith, Sarah Sturm, Lauren de Crescenzo, and Crystal Anthony.
No rider in the men’s field was as dominant as Keegan Swenson. Prior to this weekend’s Big Sugar Classic, he had won the first four races, only faltering at Chequamegon MTB Festival where he placed second in a sprint finish. The results secured his overall victory ahead of The Rad Dirt Fest, which he used as a drop race. The rest of the men’s field was as competitive as ever, with Alexey Vermeulen, Cole Paton, Russell Finsterwald, and Lachlan Morton remaining in the race for the overall podium.
- Sofia Gomez Villafañe, 30, of Heber City, Utah with 173 points
- Alexis Skarda, 34, of Grand Junction, Colo. with 167 points
- Haley Smith, 29, of Waterloo, Canada with 160 points
- Sarah Sturm, 33, of Durango, Colo. with 157 points
- Lauren De Crescenzo, 33, of Atlanta, Ga. with 156 points
- Jenna Rinehart, 39, of Mankato, Minn. with 149 points
- Paige Onweller, 34, of Belleville, Mich. with 148 points
- Crystal Anthony, 42, of Bentonville, Ark. with 142 points
- Hannah Otto, 28, of Salt Lake City, Utah with 136 points
- Deanna Mayles, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo. with 133 points
Men’s Top 10 Finishers
- Keegan Swenson, 29, of Heber City, Utah with 174 points
- Alexey Vermeulen, 28, of Pinckney, Mich. with 165 points
- Cole Paton, 25, of Cashmere, Wash. with 161 points
- Russell Finsterwald, 32, of Colorado Springs, Colo. with 154 points
- Lachlan Morton, 31, of Boulder, Colo. with 153 points
- Peter Stetina, 36, of Santa Rosa, Calif. with 146 points
- Brendan Johnston, 31 of Coombs, Australia with 144 points
- Alex Howes, 35, of Nederland, Colo. with 135 points
- Howard Grotts, 30, of Durango, Colo. with 132 points
- Konny Looser, 34, of Hinwil, Switzerland with 128 points
Throughout the race series, athletes completed a total of over 680 miles and more than 59,000 feet of elevation gain, traversing dynamic and cross-discipline courses at the 2023 Sea Otter Classic Fuego XC, Garmin UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, The Rad Dirt Fest, Chequamegon MTB Festival and Big Sugar Gravel. The 2024 Life Time Grand Prix application is now open through Oct. 25. Selections for the third edition of the Life Time Grand Prix series will be announced on Nov. 7.