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Haley Smith and Andrew L’Esperance start sophomore Grand Prix season strong at Fuego XL

Canadians crush top 10s as Life Time starts year two of xc/gravel series

Photo by: Robert DeBerry / Life Tim e

Life Time Grand Prix kicked off its second season at Sea Otter Classic over the weekend and two Canadians pushed into the top 10. Haley Smith started her title defense with a GP podium in the extra-long edition of the Fuego XL. Andrew L’Esperance squeezed into the top 10 as well, after racing with the leaders for a solid portion of the day.

Haley Smith paces for a podium

The Fuego XL cross country race really was XL this year. Life Time Grand Prix extended the race from 80 kilometres in 2022 to a full 108 km (67 miles) in 2023. That pushed Sofia Gomez-Villafane’s (Specialized) winning time in the women’s race up to 4:55:14, just ahead of Alexis Skarda.

The extra racing time gave Haley Smith (Maxxis Factory Racing) time to work through the field and onto the Life Time podium. Smith was sitting 10th after an hour of racing. The Canadian, and defending Life Time Grand Prix series winner, worked her way steadily through the field to finish fourth overall, and third among Grand Prix racers. Vera Looser of Switzerland finished third in the Fuego XL, but is not a Life Time Grand Prix athlete.

The podium is an excellent start to Smith’s Grand Prix title defense. The Maxxis racer was sixth at the same event last year.

L’Esperance leads Canadian men in California

On the men’s side, Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz) picked up right where he left off, winning the men’s Fuego XL. Swenson was dominant in winning last year’s Life Time Grand Prix. At Sea Otter, it was a close finish with Colorado Springs’ Russell Finsterwald (Specialized). Just three seconds separated the two after 4 hours three minutes and 41 seconds of racing. U.S. World Cup racer Christopher Blevins (Specialized) finished third.

Andrew L’Esperance (Maxxis Factory Racing) rode with the leaders for the first 2 hours 45 minutes before dropping slightly off of the leader’s pace for the final hour of racing. L’Esperance held on to cross the line in seventh place overall, and fifth among Life Time Grand Prix athletes.