The 2024 Life Time Grand Prix Series May Be the Ultimate Off-Road Battle

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2024 Life Time Grand Prix | Faves & How to WatchCourtesy Life Time

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As the gravel-racing season kicks off and we finish bingeing the second season of Call of a Life Time, all eyes are looking ahead to season three of the Life Time Grand Prix Series.

The seven-race offroad series runs the gamut from a shorter cross-country style mountain bike race at Chequamegon to the legendary 200-mile epic race that is Unbound. This year, many of the key players are back for the season, but there are a few wildcards who could shake up the standings. Could this be the year that Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Keegan Swenson are unseated from the top steps of the standings?

TBH, that’s going to be tough to pull off. But anything is possible over the course of a long season that spans April to October. With $300,000—the largest prize purse ever—on the line, five races out of seven counting for total points, and 30 women and 30 men contending for the win, who knows how it will shake out?

As the Sea Otter Classic sets off the series with the Fuego XL race on Friday, April 19, it’s tempting to make calls based on early-season results from last month’s Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR) Utah and Arizona, Absa Cape Epic, or the Mid South. But in the end, what only really matters is how the seven-race series plays out. Here is how and who we’re watching.

How to Watch the Life Time Grand Prix

Live coverage of the races is offered by Life Time via their Instagram account @lifetimegrandprix. While it is not exactly television or YouTube, the social media coverage is free and accessible, allowing fans to keep up with the race in real-time.

Life Time Grand Prix Women to Watch

This season may once again be an epic showdown in women’s offroad racing as the Life Time Grand Prix Series unfolds. Leading the charge is reigning champion Sofia Gomez Villafañe, whose early-season victories signal show her peaking form. Alongside her, Olympian Haley Smith and perennial contender Sarah Sturm aim for top podium spots. But keep an eye out for wildcard entrants like Peta Mullens and seasoned riders making a comeback like Lauren De Crescenzo, who just won Levi’s Grand Fondo in Sonoma County, CA.

Sofia Gomez Villafañe (Specialized Off-Road)

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LIfe Time

We lead with last year’s LTGP champ, Sofia Gomez Villafañe, who tied for second in the first iteration of the series. She was dominant in 2023, and so far this year, she has taken wins at the BWR Arizona last month, and more recently at BWR Utah, where she won by a margin of over 13 minutes ahead of Courtney Sherwell. If this is any indication, she’s coming into this season in fighting form.

Last season, Gomez Villafañe used the best-five-of-seven format wisely: She won the first few races (or finished third—her worst result, which happened at Chequamegon). Then, she skipped or chilled during the last two, having wrapped up the overall win. I can’t fault that strategy.

Haley Smith (Trek-Driftless)

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After coming in first and third in the series in 2022 and 2023, respectively, Olympian Haley Smith clearly found her groove in gravel after hanging up the cross-country mountain bike.

This year, a new team for Haley—Trek’s first foray into ultra-endurance gravel—could mean a bit more structure and support that could potentially catapult her the few percent ahead to actually take the overall W. Smith had a stellar BWR Arizona as well, finishing just over a minute behind Gomez Villafane.

Sarah Sturm (Specialized Off-Road)

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Sturm was just off the podium last season by a couple of points, but she tied for second with Gomez Villafane in 2022. She tends not to win the races (similar to Cole Paton in the men’s field), but she’s always right up there in the mix, which is a great spot to be, considering the huge prize purse for the top 10 riders at the end of the season. But with the right circumstances, she could definitely ride into the top spot or at least another second place. Most recently, Sturm finished in third place at Levi’s Grand Fondo behind Lauren Stephens and De Crescenzo.

Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz Bicycles)

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Skarda poses a formidable challenge to Gomez Villafañe, boasting two appearances for the USA at the World Championships and securing a remarkable second-place finish in the previous year’s Grand Prix. Additionally, she holds the Fastest Known Time (FKT) record for the White Rim Trail.

Her impressive 2023 racing season included victories at the Cactus Cup and Moab Rocks, and podium finishes at Sea Otter’s Fuego and Leadville. This year, she is already showing good form, having finished the Absa Cape Epic in third place along with teammate Vera Loose (Efficient Infiniti SCB SRAM).

Wild Cards

  • Peta Mullens (Liv-SRAM): The LTGP favors racers who can handle the rigors of a hard, fast MTB race but also have the endurance for a 200-mile slog. Mullens is a multi-time, multi-discipline National Champion Australian racer who’s taking on the Grand Prix for the first time. She’s been National Champ in MTB, cyclocross, and road (plus a bronze in the enduro), making her uniquely suited for the demands of the LTGP.

  • Lauren De Crescenzo (Factor): A DNF at Unbound definitely hurt De Crescenzo last season since long gravel races are where she thrives. If she races consistently this season and shows improvement in the more technical courses, we may just see her disrupting the overall podium. And with a recent win at Mid South and Levi’s Gran Fondo, she’s clearly on form.

  • Danni Shrosbree (Felt): The Brit just hung up her road racing bike to focus entirely on the LTGP and is spending more of her season stateside on altitude acclimatization. She finished third at Unbound—almost unimaginable, considering it was her first 200-mile ride ever. It was wild, especially considering the course conditions. A sixth at Mid South with many of her LTGP competitors is a good sign for the season ahead.

  • Hannah Otto (Pivot Cycles-DT Swiss): I’ve been watching Otto race since she was a young teenage Xterra racer who needed her mom to drive her to the races (that she was finishing ahead of some of the pros), and I’ve seen her flawlessly transition from that to cyclocross and MTB. Gravel is still a bit of a new venture for her—or at least, it was. Now that she’s had more time in gravel, I think she could do some damage in the rankings.

  • Erin Huck (Scott-OrangeSeal-Shimano): Another longtime racer, Huck seems to be starting the year with comeback potential with a win at the 3-day Cactus Cup MTB race. She’s taken a couple of years to find the balance of new motherhood and a racing career (and has been open about the process), but clearly, she’s figured out something that’s working right now!

Life Time Grand Prix Men to Watch

In men’s gravel racing, the unbeatable Keegan Swenson leads the pack. He is a two-time LTGP champion whose recent triumphs at the Belgian Waffle Ride Arizona and Levi’s Gran Fondo show his good form. Yet contenders like Alexey Vermeulen, Lachlan Morton, and Russell Finsterwald continue knocking on the door, looking to dethrone the Santa Cruz rider.

Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz Bicycles-SRAM)

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LIfe Time

Like Gomez Villafañe in the women’s field, you must lead with two-time LTGP champ Keegan Swenson. He’s been absolutely dominant the last two years, and if his win at Belgian Waffle Ride Arizona last month is any indication, he’s coming into this season in fighting form. The big question is less about if he can win again and more about if anyone can really rise to the challenge of beating him.

Alexey Vermeulen (ENVE -Q+M)

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SKRATCH LABS / Avery Strumm

...And that could look like Alexey Vermeulen. The only rider to beat Swenson in the last two seasons was the dachshund-loving Vermeulen, who took the win at Chequamegon and The Rad Dirt. This year, Vermeulen has added more to his plate with a same-but-different pro version of his From the Ground Up project and is bringing two young riders (one man and one woman) into the pro-life. There’s a chance he finds a great leadout man in the process! Vermeulen was 10th at BWR Arizona, but he often starts the season a little slower and ramps up as it goes on—hence winning races 5 and 6 of the series last year!

Lachlan Morton (EF Education-EasyPost)

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You can never discard Australian former WorldTour rider Lachlan Morton, who, despite being better known for his ultra-distance feats such as the Alt Tour in 2021 and Tour Divide last year, still manages to bring on the heat to riders like Swenson.

His best results in 2023 include 5th overall LTGP, 3rd UNBOUND, 4th Crusher in the Tushar, and 5th SBT GRVL.

Russell Finsterwald (Trek-Driftless)

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Finsterwald and Cole Paton went 3-4 / 4-3 in the first two LTGP overall standings, and just a couple of points have always separated the two. Like Haley Smith, Finsterwald is coming into the season with a renewed sense of purpose thanks to a bigger team behind him with Trek’s Driftless program. While we haven’t seen what level of support the riders will have at these races, given the palmares of Finsterwald and Smith, it’s safe to say that Trek came in with a solid offer they couldn’t refuse. All he needs is one race that’s just an extra spot or two higher than Paton—and the new team may provide that boost.

Wild Cards

  • Cole Paton (Giant): Paton has been a bit of a stealth contender for the last two seasons. He doesn’t tend to get the headlines that Vermeulen and Swenson do, but he’s always right there in the mix. Definitely don’t count him out this season—the young rider is learning more and improving in the longer distances quickly year over year.

  • Payson McElveen (Allied): McElveen has had a bad couple of injury-laden years, and last year, he started off with a double DNF at Sea Otter and Unbound. That meant he used up his two drop races immediately. Finishing 12th despite those DNFs is impressive, and he could land in the top 5 if things start to go his way.

  • Lance Haidet (Specialized/SRAM/Velocio): From a strong cyclocross and road background, Haidet is a force to be reckoned with. He just finished second behind Swenson at BWR Arizona, and should not be counted out for any of the gravel events in the series.

  • Torbjørn Andre Røed (Trek-Driftless): The third member of the new Trek Driftless program, Røed was third at BWR Arizona and clearly coming in hot this year. Or will he be there to help Finsterwald move up in the rankings? He took the win at Mid South ahead of Finsterwald, who finished fourth, so he could also be goaling for the overall himself. It’s always hard to know how team tactics will play out over a season like this!

2024 Life Time Grand Prix - Dates and Locations

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