Haley Smith and Keegan Swenson took home top honors in the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix — but neither one topped the podium at the series’ final event.
Big Sugar Gravel wrapped up in the Midwest this weekend, bringing Life Time’s first-ever gravel Grand Prix to a close.
The race series’ six courses required riders to master a mix of terrain and cross-discipline skills to come out on top. This year’s events included the 2022 Sea Otter Classic Fuego XC, Garmin UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Chequamegon MTB Festival, and Big Sugar Gravel.
Life Time released the results of Big Sugar‘s winners on Saturday in Bentonville, Ark., as well as the pros who scored enough points throughout the year’s series to become the inaugural winners of the Grand Prix.
“We are thrilled by the success of this weekend’s events, which were the culmination of a huge undertaking by our team, brand partners, athletes, and the city of Bentonville,” said Kimo Seymour, President of Events and Media at Life Time.
“Big Sugar Gravel was the perfect end cap to a successful season and finale of the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix.”
Big Sugar Gravel Results
Gravel-lovers raced through the hinterland roads of Northwest Arkansas and Southern Missouri on Saturday for Big Sugar. More than 1,500 riders participated, ranging in age from 14 to 78. They came from 44 states and eight countries.
The race offers two choices for riders. There’s the flagship Big Sugar course, a 104-mile course with 7,000 feet of Ozark climbing. But riders could also opt for the less-intimidating — but still picturesque — Lil Sugar, at 52 miles.
Big Sugar’s winners include Paige Onweller of Grand Rapids, Mich. The 33-year-old captured first place among women, delivering a time of 5:33:05. For men, 31-year-old Russell Finsterwald of Colorado Springs, Colo., came in first with a time of 4:57:59.
Onweller charged hard through the last half of the race to secure the victory. She buried runner-up Emily Newsom by 6 minutes while also crossing 12 minutes ahead of Alexis Skarda in third place.
Onweller emerged from relative anonymity to win. She soundly beat 2022 Life Time Grand Prix women’s champion Haley Smith, who finished 13th.
“I was around mile 50, and I had finally caught Ruth [Winder]knowing how good I felt,” she told Cyclingnews.
“I was working with a group of men, and everyone was rotating through. I just felt strong. I knew that even if I was alone, I could keep the same pace. And that’s when I started to think, ‘Maybe I can do this.’ I never wanted my mind to go there because so much can happen in the last miles. I just focused stayed and tried to be smart.”
Bonnie Branson took home the top prize in the nonbinary category. Coming from nearby Edmond, Okla., Branson crossed the finish line with a time of 7:46:49.
2022 Women’s Big Sugar Podium
- Paige Onweller, 33, Grand Rapids, Mich., 5:33:05
- Emily Newsom, 39, Fort Worth, Texas, 5:39:44
- Alexis Skarda, 33, Grand Junction, Colo., 5:45:43
2022 Men’s Big Sugar Podium
- Russell Finsterwald, 31, Colorado Springs, Colo., 4:57:59
- Keegan Swenson, 28, Heber City, Utah, 4:58:24
- Adam Roberge, 25, Prevost, Quebec, Canada, 4:58:30
2022 Nonbinary Big Sugar Podium
- Bonnie Branson, 46, Edmond, Okla., with a time of 7:46:49
- Lily Friend, 35, Austin, Texas, with a time of 7:59:09
- Kat Steele, 52, Austin, Texas, with a time of 8:57:23
2022 Life Time Grand Prix Results
Big Sugar represented the final event in the six-race Life Time Grand Prix.
Smith and Keegan Swenson won the women’s and men’s overall series in their inaugural years, each taking home $25,000. The other top nine men and women finishers received portions of the $250,000 in prizes. Big Sugar men’s winner Russell Finsterwald took third overall.
Among women, the Grand Prix stayed competitive through the season. early on, Moriah Wilson took the lead with a win at Sea Otter. But her tragic murder elicited a tribute from cyclists at Unbound Gravel, where Sofia Gomez Villafane pulled into the Grand Prix lead.
With just a few points’ difference between top contenders, Smith secured her victory with her respectable Big Sugar finish.
“It’s always cool to win when it’s the first time,” Smith said. “It’s been a while since I won anything. I just raced my bike as hard as I could and I enjoyed it; it’s sweet when it works out to yield a result.”
She continued: “You can’t think about the leaderboard or where you’re standing, you just have to think, ‘what can I do right now, what can my legs do, what can my brain do’.” Every mile that you continue to perform on that, that you continue to deliver what you’re capable of, you build confidence. It’s kind of like an ongoing process.”
Things looked different in the men’s field, where Keegan Swenson dominated. The cyclist won Sea Otter, Crusher in the Tushar, and Leadville Trail MTB. He mathematically secured his victory at Chequamegon, using Big Sugar as a victory lap, organizers said.
Finsterwald and Swenson trained together throughout the tour. At Big Sugar, Finsterwald crossed the line just 25 seconds ahead of his training partner.
“It was an awesome time this year,” Swenson said. “I was stoked to do something different, and it was cool to have the best racers in North America all together at these six rounds for a good mix of mountain biking, gravel, and just different terrain. Cool to wrap it up here in Arkansas with Big Sugar.”
2022 Life Time Grand Prix Women’s Top 10
- Haley Smith, 29, Uxbridge, Ontario, 138 points
- Sofia Gomez Villafane, 28, Heber City, Utah, 134 points
- Sarah Sturm, 33, Durango, Colo., 134 points
- Rose Grant, 40, Columbia Falls, Mont., 131 points
- Emily Newsom, 39, Fort Worth, Texas, 122 points
- Alexis Skarda, 33, Grand Junction, Colo., 122 points
- Hannah Otto, 27, Salt Lake City, Utah, 120 points
- Evelyn Dong, 37, Park City, Utah, 112 points
- Paige Onweller, 33, Grand Rapids, Mich., 108 points
- Melisa Rollins, 27, Salt Lake City, Utah, 107 points
2022 Life Time Grand Prix Men’s Top 10
- Keegan Swenson, 28, Heber City, Utah, 149 points
- Alexey Vermeulen, 28, Boulder, Colo. 136 points
- Russell Finsterwald, 31, Colorado Springs, Colo., 131 points
- Cole Paton, 25, Cashmere, Wash., 129 points
- Peter Stetina, 35, Santa Rosa, Calif., 128 points
- Andrew L’Esperance, 31, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 111 points
- Rob Britton, 38, Victoria, British Columbia, 109 points
- Adam Roberge, 25, Prevost, Quebec, 109 points
- Alex Howes, 34, Nederland, Colo., 108 points
- Lance Haidet, 25, San Luis Obispo, Calif., 103 points
Life Time will release information about the 2023 Life Time Grand Prix race series in the coming weeks. For more information, visit BigSugarGravel.com or LifeTime.life.