By Jared Eborn
The future is now for the next wave of elite cyclists calling Utah home.
Following in the well-worn slipstream of Utah’s legacy of top-tier cyclists, youngsters like Keegan Swenson and TJ Eisenhart are staking claim as the next big things in the cycling world to hail from the Beehive State.
Swenson, a high schooler from Park City, has been on fire racing his Cannondale mountain bike around the world. Taking a break from school, Swenson hit up the 7,400 feet of elevation trails of Mexico for the Pan American Championships and didn’t disappoint in the junior race.
“After the first corner I had made my way up to third place and road there for a bit. I then attacked on the climb. I had a pretty sizable gap, and then I sort of blew up,” Swenson wrote on a blog post. “I think that the heat got to me, it was hot. I just felt like I was dead. I came back around and worked my way back up to second but couldn’t quite close the gap to the Colombian.”
After the silver medal finish for the U.S. in cross country at the Pan Ams, Swenson followed that up with a flight across the Atlantic where he competed against one of the top junior fields in the world.
Racing in the World Cup event at Houffalize, Belgium, Swenson powered his way to an impressive bronze medal finish against the world’s best juniors.
Holding a lead going into the last lap, Swenson had his sites set on the victory, but slipped a bit before holding off the field to take a spot on the podium – the only American to do so in that weekend’s World Cup races.
“I wasn’t sure what exactly my strategy was going to be, I just wanted to get up there and break it up a bit and just set the pace,” Swenson said in an interview with USA Cycling after the race. “The long climbs suit me and there were those two long climbs, so I think overall it was a pretty good course for me.”
The course in Houffalize was a new design and didn’t allow for a lot of familiarity for any of the riders. That was welcome news for Swenson as he was able to match skills with the best European juniors.
“I liked it. It was fun. It was challenging,” Swenson said. “It had some pretty technical descents which were challenging which were fun and took some work.”
Surging into the lead early, Swenson didn’t fade to third until his tire forced him to on the final lap.
“I lost some air out of my tire, so it was really soft. I was just trying to do all I could on the climbs and be very careful on the descents,” Swenson said. “My goal was just to do the best I could. I’m glad to get on the podium and pretty stoked on it.”
He didn’t take much of a break before finding his way to another podium.
Racing at the Sea Otter Classic in California just a week after his race in Belgium, Swenson dominated the junior cross country race for his third podium in three countries in three weeks.
Another Utah high schooler also turned some heads racing in Belgium was Lehi’s Eisenhart.
Racing with the U.S. development squad for a few weeks in Europe, Eisenhart found himself out of GC contention at the Grand Prix Batti Metallo.
Eager to show his stuff, the youngster launched himself in an attack during the first of nine climbs in the race. He managed to break away from the field and stay in the break until the final few kilometers when the peloton finally tracked the break down – but not before Eisenhart managed to capture all nine KOM wins during the race.
“It was brutal,” Eisenhart said after the race. “It was fun, but super hard. … My goal today was to go out and get the KOMs because I can’t sprint. If it was going to come down to a sprint there was no way I was going to win,.”
The experience of racing in Europe is something Eisenhart cherishes as he aims to earn a pro contract in the next year or two.
“It was a good race for the legs to get stronger,” he said. “It was really fun. I loved it.”
The opportunity to race with the U.S. development team, Eisenhart said, is invaluable.
“It’s been amazing. You can’t complain coming to Belgium, waking up, riding your bike everyday and not have to worry about anything except for just racing. … It’s been quite the experience.”