WHEN A CYCLIST beats Lance Armstrong, he doesn’t usually get invited to dinner and called the future of cycling by the sport’s disgraced but still competitive alpha male. But that’s what happened last August when 17-year-old Swirbul won the Power of Four mountain-bike race in Aspen, Colorado. Swirbul kept pace with Armstrong over 36 miles and 9,000 feet of vertical gain, then dropped him on a grueling final climb. At a time when cycling is in desperate need of a clean break from its past, Swirbul’s win put him at the front of a new crop of young riders and gave the sport a fresh face to celebrate.
PEDIGREE: Swirbul’s talent for endurance racing became clear when he competed in a regional mountain-bike series as a kid. He didn’t win, but he was regularly beating adult riders—and he was seven years old. Around nine, Swirbul became interested in freestyle skiing and parkour (check out his videos on YouTube), then added nordic skiing to his regimen in high school. He credits those skills for reducing the “fear factor on descents.”
ASCENSION: After focusing on cross-country mountain biking, Swirbul scored an impressive win in last year’s Mountain States Cup series, a five-race regional event in Colorado.
NEXT UP: This April, Swirbul heads into his first year as a member of a pro mountain-biking team, Denver-based Orbea–Tuff Shed, a small squad that Swirbul signed on with last November. His ultimate goal: competing in the Tour de France. “I’m hoping that I can make the switch from mountain biking to road racing like Cadel Evans and Floyd Landis,” he says. One thing remains certain: look for him to continue doing backflips off whatever podium he finds himself on. “It’s my thing!” he says—at least until his sponsors beg him to stop.