The Leadville 100 has come and gone, but I have yet to write about my experience. Have no fear; the long awaited race report is here. (a rhyme, yep). It’s hard to believe that the race was almost 2 months ago. I think I am still recovering from this monstrous effort on the bike. Anyways, from my last few posts just before the race you are probably well aware of the bike issues I had just a week before the start. I am fortunate enough to be a member of the GT Dirt Coalition and GT was amazing in shipping me a bike immediately so that I would not be out of luck on race day. Thank you GT!
On Thursday before the race I headed up with my family to Silverthorne, Colorado which is about 40
minutes from Leadville. We checked into our rental house and I suited up and went for my first ride on the new GT. The bike felt awesome and I spent a good hour after the ride tweaking everything to my liking for the race. All the stress from earlier in the week seemed to vanish after this short hour long ride on the shores of Lake Dillon. I slept better than expected 2 days out from the race and thankfully I did. Friday morning came quick and after some breakfast my dad and I took a drive up to Leadville for race check-in and the pre race meeting. After hearing stories that check-in could take hours we got up there right when the gymnasium opened and I was in and out within 5 minutes, not too shabby.
After spending a couple hours checking out the downtown area of Leadville and chatting it up with shop owners, it was time for the pre-race meeting, which was more of a pep rally than anything else. The race director, Ken, got up in front of everyone and in his thick Arkansas accent brought life to a packed gymnasium. He explained the respect that his race required and all of the somewhat catastrophic things that could happen to a rider. I think it was at this point that my Dad got a feeling that this was more than just another mountain bike race. He kept asking me if I was really prepared and understood all the things Ken was going over, and I pretty much just smiled after each question asked. But, I won’t lie, this really put it in perspective what I was getting myself into the following morning…
Once the pep rally finished we drove around to different points on the course where I’d be having my crew out in full force the next morning. Not to mention at this point the rain began falling and it looked like some of the upper peaks were getting a small coating of snow. Perfect! After touring the course we drove back down to Silverthorne to meet up with all my friends that were coming up for the race. We had a great pasta dinner and it was off to bed for me and the hot tub for everyone else. I’m not really sure if I slept at all that night. I definitely couldn’t stop my nerves from keeping me awake, but I think I did catch a few ZZZ’s in the early morning hours.
Race Morning / The Start:
Welcome to summer in Colorado! It was 41 degrees and raining when we hopped into the rental minivan and started the drive up to Leadville. The short 40-minute drive up to Leadville felt like an eternity. I was ready to race and I think everyone else was ready to go back to bed. The scene driving into downtown Leadville was what I had expected, bikes everywhere and extreme chaos. I suited up at the van and had only 45 minutes before the start. Luckily I was able to find an open bathroom before hand and I was off to the start line. My Dad held a spot probably 25 rows back from the front. I caught a quick glimpse of Dave Wiens and Lance Armstrong. Cheers rang out from the crowd when Dave pulled up “Dave, Dave, Dave, Dave” and absolutely no cheering for Mr. Armstrong. This was and always will be Dave’s race. It was at this point, a mere 3 minutes from the sound of the shotgun start, that I, for the first time, became emotional before a race. Yeah, since when do I feel emotional before a race? Luckily it was only a short while before the start gun went off and when it did, good lord what a crazy start to a race.
1,400 riders began pedaling at what seemed like the exact same moment. It was game time! I sprinted to get into a good position on the first downhill out of town and spent most of my time riding down the left side of the main pack. My goal was to be in the top 100 before hitting the first climb called St. Kevin. This first climb was by no means a challenging climb, but where it gets challenging is when hundreds of riders are all trying to go up it at once. I knew that if I got to the climb quickly I would have great positioning for the rest of the race. My sprint effort at the beginning of the race paid off and I was sitting in a pack of strong riders that made for great wind blockers.
We finished St. Kevin and it was onto the long pavement section around Turquoise Lake. I found
another great pack of riders that proved to be amazing pace setters and a great way to conserve energy hiding in their drafts. From here it was on to Pipeline. The long gradual climb up to the top of pipeline seemed to go on forever and it was at this point that the rain started to come down in sheets. I only brought arm warmers and a vest as backup for the cold and it was at this point that I knew I needed to ride harder to keep my body temperature up. This was probably the best choice I made all day and many riders didn’t make it past the downhill on Pipeline due to hypothermia. Tinker Juarez, a former pro mountain bike racer, abandoned the race at Pipeline and thankfully I didn’t follow his lead. The downhill on Pipeline was amazing and insanely fast especially with slick mud in all the corners. I passed a lot of people on the downhill section in an effort to get to the bottom as fast as possible since not much pedaling, i.e. warmth, was involved.
Once at the bottom of Pipeline it was time for some serious pacelining all the way out to the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 40. I was feeling awesome after coming down Pipeline and my legs felt recharged. Heading out to Twin Lakes consisted of a lot of dirt and paved county roads and a short climb that brought us to the top of the new singletrack section on the course. The trail weaved through fields of sagebrush and again I was passing more riders on the downhill through this section. I’m not really sure how safe that was, but the trail was so perfectly manicured that I saw no fault in laying off the brakes.
Twin Lakes and the Columbine Climb:
Shortly after this section I made it to what would be the largest cheering section on course, the Twin Lakes dam aid station. It felt like I was riding my bike through a stage of the Tour de France with the amount of people packed in. My family and friends were all there waiting for me to ride through and there was added motivation in my legs after seeing everyone. I think I forgot about what was next to come on the course after riding my bike through the mob that was Twin Lakes. The biggest climb called the Columbine was next on the agenda. This climb took me 3,500 feet up to the high point on the course of 12,600 feet above most beaches.
My legs were still feeling awesome at this point and I was sitting in about 35th position going up the climb. This climb was certainly character building and it luckily starts out rather gradual before going what feels almost vertical. At about mile 48 or 2 miles from the top of the climb I got my first glimpse of Lance Armstrong who was the race leader at this point. He flew by a group of about 5 of us and was all business, not even a nod of his head. Oh well, it was time to keep riding and see Dave Wiens ride by. When Dave appeared in his bright green Ergon jersey it was a sight to see and Dave even said hello as he passed us….awesome!
At the turnaround the skies opened up once again and this time it was a combo of rain and sleet. Nothing quite like getting pelted in the face at 12,000 feet by ice crystals! The aid station at the turn around was well stocked and I chowed down on boiled potatoes, Gatorade, cookies, and I think I even had some chicken noodle soup. Thank god I ate all of that and warmed my core with the soup. The ride down the Columbine was rather treacherous with the combination of riders coming up and wet conditions. I definitely backed off my speed going down this one. The Twin Lakes aid station came back into sight quickly and I got another burst of energy seeing all my supporters.
Heading back out onto the county roads that connect Twin Lakes to the Pipeline climb I started to feel some fatigue setting in. I tried my best to drink and eat as much as possible, but I never seemed to be able to drink enough. My legs were still feeling stronger than I ever expected and it was motivation enough to know that family and friends would be waiting for me at the base of the Pipeline Climb. I began the climb feeling almost as strong as I felt going up Columbine, but about 4 miles into the climb I hit the wall. My legs were definitely still attached, but they just were not working for me. I had heard about Pipeline being the hardest part on the ride back to Leadville, but this was a lot more than I expected. Cresting that final hill on Pipeline felt great and the downhill after felt even better. I thought at this point that the course would be a piece of cake and only a slight uphill back to the finish line. Well, it was a slight uphill but it was almost 15 miles of it! I probably could have held 18 mph with fresh legs, but with over 80 miles in my legs I was barely able to hold 10mph.
From here on out the race became a mental game and all I wanted to do was finish. I looked down at
my GPS and I was still on pace to break 9 hours, which was comforting. I put as much power to the pedals as I could and I hit exactly 9 hours going across the 100-mile mark on the course, the only problem was that the 100-mile mark was not the finish line! I had about 3.5 more miles to go before the end. I took as many feeds of water and fuel from spectators to get myself to the finish line. As I crested the LAST hill on the course near Leadville high school, the finish line banner was in sight! Could it be, the end of the insanity, yes it was. I came across the line putting down as much power as I could as to finish looking somewhat strong. My time was 9:19, a mere 19 minutes short of the big belt buckle, but I did get the smaller belt buckle!
Overall, the Leadville 100 was by far the hardest bike race I have ever competed in. I definitely had some serious ups and downs mentally and physically throughout the race, but it was all worth it. Will I race this one again? Not quite sure, but given the opportunity again, I probably wouldn’t say no.
Special thanks to my family and friends for being out there all day during the race. I couldn’t have finished this race without all your support.