The Leadville 100 is historically the biggest marathon race in North America with past winners such as Alban Lakata, Todd Wells, Dave Wiens and drug cheats Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer. The race starts in the the old mining town of Leadville Colorado up at 10 200 feet and heads 50 miles out to the top of the Columbine climb at 13 000 ft and then turns around and backtracks itself to the finish. Course wise it’s a road race on mountain bikes with just 1 mile of singletrack, about 25 miles of pavement and the rest fire road. What makes this event is the history and the organisation which has done wonders in making it a must do which sells out its 1800 spots within minutes of opening registration.
Getting a chance to race Leadville was a nice opportunity so I tried to acclimatise a little by racing the first 3 days of Breck Epic and then resting before the big show. Arriving in Leadville the day before d-day was an event in itself as the whole town was buzzing with activity. After getting my start number, and attending a portion of the commercialised pre-race meeting it was off to the woods to get a way from the chaos.
The country up here was great with high alpine meadows flowing forever and 13 000- 14 000 ft mountains towering above. There was a nice free camp zone near Turquoise lake which had a perfect rock to camp beside. I had only packed a thermorest and a summer weight sleeping bag for airport sleeping so I went back to town to buy a blanket at the thrift store. $3 later I was set for the night and headed back to camp.
Thunderstorms rolled through the area throughout the afternoon but thankfully the skies cleared in the evening for a good nights rest. It was an early morning at 4:45 am as the night chill had sunk into my bones and I awoke shivering. It was the perfect wake up call as the start gun would be going off bright and early at 6:30am. The pre-race rituals went to routine, except at the start line when I lined up near the front I got escorted away by a race official and told to line up at the back of the gold start corral with nearly 200 riders in there. I was crossing my fingers my National Champions jersey would get me close to the other fast riders but no dice.
When the pistol went off we had 2 miles of road descent, followed with a couple miles of flat before hitting the first climb in which the early race selections would be made. Starting 200th is a lot harder than it sounds and by the time we got rolling I was a long ways back from the Team Topeak Ergon Train setting the pace at the front. Sprinting like it was a World Cup I caught the lead group just before the climb, and according to Strava set a new record for this first part of the course. The problem was the boys charged up the next hill as soon as I joined them and I couldn’t match the pace and thus missed the train with the 6 terminators (Lakata, Hynek, Bishop, Nissen, Sauser and Wells)
I was bummed to miss this as that was the race. Demoralised I settled into a chase group of 20 or so riders for a long day ahead. Then the whole day changed when we passed Todd Wells fixing a flat tyre. One man’s bad luck is another man’s good luck somedays. I knew once he came back through it was a chance to save the day and try to catch his wheel and work with him. He caught us near the top of the power line descent and nearly 10 riders hopped on his wheel. One sketchy guy from Tokyo Joes cut me off into the woods and I lost some time. I would’ve loved to jersey this Latino but there was not time. With adrenaline rushing I got back on and went to my limit passing all 10 of those riders on the rough descent and closed within seconds of Wells before sprinting up the first climb off the hill to catch his wheel. My mom wouldn’t of been proud of the risks I took on this descent but there are times you gotta let it all go.
The next 30 miles would be spent riding with a possessed Todd Wells all decked out with aero gear including road aero bars. He did 75 % of the work, I did what I could and we managed to keep the gap to the lead 5 to around 4 minutes. Going through the feed zone at Twin Lakes was a madhouse. There were a thousand people there all looking for their racers to feed. Luckily my friend Peter Butt and teammates Sneddon and Wicks were feeding me and they did a great job standing out and passing off bottles as we cruised by. Soon after we hit the 10 km Columbine climb where Wells would slowly ride away from me.
Settling into a good tempo things were going alright before my bike started to skip gears. Unable to figure out what the problem was I struggled to keep going to the Columbine turnaround near 13 000 ft. From here it was the sketchiest part of the race as we descend back down the same climb only with 1800 other riders still riding up it. There were blown bikers all over the road but thankfully all crashes were averted. Off the kamikaze descent there were about 8 km to the twin lakes feed zone. I barely made it as my bike was now skipping gears all over the place and nearly unrideable. In the feed zone we swapped wheels, checked the hanger, checked the chain and finally determined the rear shifter cable was frayed and ready to snap. Our friend Damo was there and he put a new cable in my bike in a flash and after a 10 min + pit stop it was back on the road, now in 20th place or so with 40 miles to go.
It was a good test of spirit to keep fighting as the race was all but over so I tried to refocus my energy on beating the Canadian record at Leadville. Life was alright until we hit the power line ascent which was a kick in the head after 5.5 hours of racing as it shot straight up. I was ready to get off and walk but with a cute girl watching I was motivated to keep pushing. Once she was out of sight I was ready to walk again, but then caught glimpse of my friends from New Zealand and Australia a bit farther up the climb and I couldn’t consider walking the only place they were watching so I kept pushing over the cadence at 30 rpm.
Getting over this climb was a bastard, then we had a fast road descent before one final road climb. This was turning into a real humdinger of a ride and very European with its lack of trail. Still having a real shot at the Canadian Record of 6:54 I dropped my riding buddies and neared the top 10 again but on the last descent slashed my rear tyre. Argh, it was a gaping whole I wasn’t sure I could fix. Eating 3 gels so I could use the wrappers as patches, and putting my sunglass case in for good measure I managed to get a tube in there and continued on. Now there was a 30-45 minute time limit on my day as once the gels ran through the system there would be no fuel left to save a massive meltdown. The last bit of race went by with no more bad luck and I got to the finish line, 7 hours after starting and out sprinted a couple guys to claim 15th.
Leadville was a good experience, it’s a big scene but overall a great day out on the bike with the town and its surroundings being the highlight of it all. Without the mechanicals I think sub 6:30 would’ve been doable but that will have to wait for another time.
This night my teammates headed off to Denver to fly home while I headed to Boulder with my old high school friend Jana to stay with her and her husband Kent. It was a nice couple days of relaxing and re supplying before heading off to Costa Rica. It was a last minute decision to head south to race the 100 mile Rincon De La Vieja MTB challenge but I figured I was already half way down there so might as well giver a go!