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Life Time Grand Prix: Three down, three to go

In the same way that half of the year is already behind us, we are also halfway through the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix. In the first two races, there were all types of surprises, disappointments, and other inner stories. Crusher in the Tushar, which took place last Saturday, was no exemption.

Fuego XC, April 9th

The Grand Prix started with a MTB race during the Sea Otter Classic fair in Monterrey, California, which meant that riders with a road cycling background had to get out of their comfort zone already from the very beginning. On April 9th, the 60 cyclists part of the series did two laps around the Fort Ord National Monument’s rolling hills that totaled 80 km. Moriah Wilson and Keegan Swenson won their respective women’s and men’s events and became the first-ever leaders of the Life Time Grand Prix.

Given the points structure of the series, the worst result among the six events is not taken into account. Most riders planned ahead of the start of the season to simply not attend the race that they considered to suit them worst, but a lot of them have been forced to already skip one of the first three due to injuries or other setbacks.

That has added another level of excitement, as riders are trailing in the classification with no margin of error left. For example, Payson McElveen missed the first round due to a crash in a race a few weeks before, which resulted in a couple of broken bones, but his performance in the following two events have put him high in the ranking. Taking into account that he is one of the most complete riders given his MTB skills, he is still a contender for the top places.

Unbound, June 5th

The biggest gravel race in the world, Unbound, was the second stop of the series, and thousands of riders gathered on the startline in Emporia, Kansas, with varied goals. The ones that are part of the selected group of riders that form the Grand Prix wanted to either redeem themselves after a bad performance in the first round or continue showing that they were in shape. All the others wanted to show that they deserve to be part of the group of cyclists that are racing for the lucrative prize at the end of the season.

The 320 km distance was the one that counted for the series, and for both men and women, the top five included athletes part of the Life Time Grand Prix and others that weren’t. It was a true race of attrition, and the rain, compared to the hot conditions of the previous edition, was an additional difficulty for the riders.

Ivar Slik won the race after being the fastest among the group of five that sprinted for the victory. On the other hand, Sofia Gomez won solo and took the lead of the Grand Prix after the sad loss of Moriah Wilson.

Crusher in the Tushar, July 9th

The Crusher in the Tushar welcomed last weekend a field of approximately 800 riders, including the ones that are part of the Grand Prix, to Utah’s Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver. Utah is located at high altitude and is well known for its rough terrain so, although the race was 40% on tarmac, the amount of climbing paid its toll on the riders.

After 3.200 meters of elevation gain over 112 kilometers and a mountain top finish, Haley Smith took victory eight minutes ahead of the second-place finisher Emma Grant. Although at first a couple of riders took an early lead, the toughness of the terrain changed the situation along the course. Sofia Gomez finished sixth but retains her lead in the Grand Prix.

In the men’s race, Keegan Sweenson crossed the finish line first with a margin of more than 11 minutes, setting a new course record. Cole Paton, Griffin Easter, and Peter Stetina were in a sprint to the end for second through fourth place. Cole had to miss Unbound but this result, together with his fifth place in the first round, have put him in 12th position in the overall ranking, and first among the riders that have raced two out of the three events.

Current standings

As of now, Keegan is the leader after getting the maximum number of points available so far. He has won both Fuego XC and Crusher in the Tushar and, although he got second at Unbound behind Ivar Slik, the Dutch cyclist is not part of the Grand Prix so the rider from Utah still got the 30 points.

Keegan is in shape and the event that he feared the most is already past him, so he is more than capable of keeping his lead until the end. Russell Finsterwald is in second position at the moment with 75 points, and Alexey Vermeulen sits third with 73 points.

As mentioned before, Sofia Gomez is the first on the list with 84 out of the possible 90 points, but Haley Smith and Sarah Sturm are close behind.

The next events on the Life Time Grand Prix are the Leadville Trail 100 MTB on August 13th and the Chequamegon MTB Festival in Hayward, Wisconsin, on September 17th. The grand finale will be on October 22nd in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Big Sugar Gravel will decide who are the winners of the year-long race series.

Photos: Life Time