The first race report from this year’s Leadville 100.
Snake, still waiting on yours…
Here’s a race report. I hope it isn’t too long.
The big story was toeing the line with legendary cyclists at Leadville: Dave Wiens, Jake “The Snake” Rubelt, and, of course, Lance Armstrong. Well, I shouldn’t say that I actually toed the line. When they called up Wiens and Lance, I was well behind the corral for the top 100, with my 799 number. After the customary shotgun start, I was able to get to the front in a few blocks, so that most of the other 1000 riders were behind me before we hit dirt. My number plate, which read 799 or “Leadville Rookie” didn’t go unnoticed. Someone asked “What part of ‘Neutral Rollout’ didn’t you understand?” I figured I’d just ignore him, but when we got to the dirt he wanted to elbow me off of Lance’s wheel. But I had a teammate up the road, so I was happy to let him in.
Snake made a blazing attack as soon as we got to the dirt. With over 95 miles left, the pack spotted him a few minutes, which quickly grew on the first climb. Of course, I was happy to let others set the pace, since I was going to need every ounce of energy on the return trip from Columbine. But the pace up St. Kevin’s was far from mellow. Several riders took turns pulling, with all of the heavy hitters up front: Lance, Wiens, Manny Prado, Max Taam, Ethan Passant, etc. I think there was a group of about 10 or 15 that hit the gentle, bottom part of the Powerline climb together. After it steepened, a few switchbacks up, Lance went to the front, and a group of five or six of us pulled away from the rest of the group. But jake was still off the front, reassuring all of the spectators that Lance would be along soon.
The descent off of Powerline was not as bad as I had heard. Manny Prado blazed the descent, bridging up to Snake. And the two of them worked together on the flats briefly, until Snake rode him off of his wheel. Behind them, our group started rotating in pursuit of them. Of course, I was happy to take nice short pulls; a stark contrast to the surges that Lance caused when he went to the front. But with Snake off the front, I was just focused on eating and drinking as much as a could in anticipation of the Columbine climb that loomed. My feedzone crew, solely comprised of my fearless girlfriend kept my pockets and bottles full clif shots and mix. Eating and drinking was the easy part. Racing a 7-time Tour de France winner and the 5-time defending champ from feedzone to feedzone was much more difficult.
Part way up Columbine, we finally caught Snake, and quickly began to shed some of the riders from the second chase group. Well before the tree line, the group had whittled down to the same five or six that had come over the Powerline climb together. Lance looked comfortable at the back of the pack, just spinning the little gears he’s known for. We were reminded of his presence when he coughed a few times: which reverberated through his cavernous lungs. He made his presence felt when he went to the front. It became all too clear why he had won 7 Tours. The group splintered, with only Wiens able to match Lance’s pace. With the thin air at about 12000′, there was no way for mortals to close the gap. We were left to ride, or push, as the case may be, at our own pace. Max Taam passed me as I pushed my bike up one of the steep rocky sections, in pursuit of Passant and Many ahead of us. Not long after that, Wiens and Lance gave me a thumbs up on their way back down. That would be the last time I saw them that day.
The descent down Columbine was fast, dodging the hundreds of riders on their way up. But it became apparent that I had miscalculated how much time and energy it would cost to get up and down the climb, and I was starting to pay for it as I crested the small bump that separates the base of the climb from the next feedzone. Luckily, my girlfriend had fresh bottles for me and a couple of CTS coaches from Tucson filled my pockets full of food.
The journey back to Powerline brought me near bonking, but I managed to keep it steady and grind in and out of the pines. Though I hadn’t seen anyone behind me in a while, and I had only caught a few glimpses of the rider ahead of me, I knew that with all of the miles and the two big climbs on the way back, I had to keep my pace. Aside from another low moment on the Powerline climb with all of its false summits, I managed to keep the spirits high, while I waited for the caffeine from the Starbucks Doubleshot at the 80mi feed to kick in.
I had resigned myself to 6th place, until I spotted a rider fixing a flat by the side of the trail. Although I hate to capitalize on another’s misfortune, I was not about to stop and wait, as he put his wheel back in the frame. After the race, I learned that Max had been running a lightweight tire setup, and must’ve pinched on the rocky descent. Luckily, Bruce and the guys at Fair Wheel set me up with the ideal Leadville bike: a Fisher Superfly with Carbon 29’er wheels. So when we got the the flats, I got those big wheels rolling, and managed to open a sizable gap on Max. Although I was ready to finish, I still had to climb the Boulevard, a formidable climb for riders who have already ridden close to 100 miles.
I managed to pull myself together, zip up the DC jersey, and finish in 7:30. That was good enough for 5th, only 45 minutes behind Wiens and Lance (who trailed 1st by 2 min). But the best part was that I got a bottle of small-batch Denver, Co whiskey for my efforts. It’ will be nice cracking that bottle, wearing the oversized, sub-9 hour WWF belt buckle with the other Drunk Cyclists who helped me put together the bike and fitness for the race (Coach Snake, Jackass, Bruce, Nick). And I must admit that I’m almost glad that I didn’t place higher, or I would’ve gotten a pair of Oakleys or Shimano pedals rather than some sweet booze! But the worst prize was won by my girlfriend in Sunday’s 10k: a copy of the Floyd Landis story, “Positively False.” I think the prizes they awarded the dogs (yes, dogs) who ran in the race were better. Even the plastic poncho that 3rd place got might be better.