OK, the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race is in the books and Jonny has been asking me to write a little report on the event. It is always interesting to read other people’s perspectives on things like this. Things like this are hard for everyone, it’s just a long day on the bike no matter how you slice it. Lance may have finished in a new record time, but it’s not as if it was easy for him and the guys/gals who roll in on either side of 12 hours certainly busted their asses to do that as well. That is the beauty of this event, it is a challenge no matter how you look at it and that’s what makes it so appealing to such a wide variety of people.
For those of you who don’t know, your day in Leadville really starts on Friday morning with the medical check and race briefing by Ken. It’s a little inconvenient to have to come a day early for the race, but I really don’t think there is any other way to get 1,400ish people registered and ready to go for the 6:30 a.m. start on Saturday. In reality it is more like a 4:30 a.m. start if you want to get your bike lined up any where near the front of the field. Really, people are out there laying their bikes down in the street at that hour so they can hold their position for the start. Luckily for me, I was able to roll to the start pretty early because of my finish from last year. Lined up right next to Snake, Tinker, Lance and Wiens…pretty good company, eh?
The weather was pretty iffy on Friday night and a pretty heavy rain woke me up at 4:00 a.m. and that definitely did not help my morale. After last year, I vowed that I would never do the event again, but I was persuaded to do it again this year so there I was standing in the dark at 6:15, waiting to get the party started. The rain had stopped, but it was still pretty chilly (overnight low of 38 degrees) and there was still some moisture in the air. As you looked west, you could see a dusting of snow on the peaks in the distance, so I was wondering what we might see up on Columbine. I thought about starting in a long-sleeve jersey, but at the last minute decided to opt for arm warmers, a vest and knee warmers. Last year I used the same set up, minus the knee warmers.
Finally the start arrived and we rolled down the pavement on Sixth. The chaos within the race was pretty mellow, at least at the front of the field. Afterwards, I heard stories of some people hitting the ground in the first 200 meters of the race, but I guess that is to be expected when you put that many people on the line together. The major chaos was occurring in front of the race as photographers, amateur and professional, tried to digitally capture the day so generations yet unborn could experience a piece of Leadville history. About 400 meters after the start, the usual neutral start came to an abrupt end as the pace vehicle just pulled away from us. I guess Lance really is going to go for the course record…Instead of the typical slow start to the long day, we started like we were doing a 60-minute criterium. At first people were joking about the quick start, “Whoa, this is pretty fast, huh?” “We’re clipping along”. Then the joking stopped after we went over the first little hump on Sixth, now it was starting to line out a little and the guys on 26-inch wheels were starting to run out of gear. Looking to the west, I noticed a beautiful rainbow in front of us. That’s really nice. Problem is, you have to have rain and sunshine to make a rainbow. We were riding in sunshine, so that meant we must be heading towards rain…uh oh.
This was faster than I wanted to start, but in the end it was better because it kept the field in check and guys were unable to move forward from the back. With a neutral start, pretty much anyone can roll up the outside and squeeze in near the front, but at these speeds you had to be pretty serious about your commitment to pull off a move like that. Fine by me, I was sitting in the top-20 as we took the right turn onto the dirt. Now we were single file as we take the right turn onto St. Kevins and I am starting to wonder about my commitment to this pace. 30 seconds later, I swung off and found a new commitment, my pace. I took a quick glance behind to make sure that I wasn’t going to gap anyone off and there wasn’t anyone in there! 20 minutes into an eight-plus hour day and the field was torn to shreds. Survival mode.
I found my rhythm and a small group on St. Kevins and settled in for a long summer’s day. And it was going to start as a long, wet summer day as the rain started about two minutes later. In case you’re wondering, 38 degrees and rain is not a great combination for bike riding, especially when you’re clad only in lycra. Oh well, what’s a guy to do at this point, the only choice was to keep pushing on and hope for brighter skies over the next hill.
The rain let up as we went around Turquoise Lake and up Sugarloaf. Unfortunately it started again as we were descending Powerline. This was great for traction, but not so great for staying warm. I was starting to shiver and my feet were fully soaked as we rolled past the fish hatchery and headed towards the Pipeline feed zone. I was thinking about calling it a day there, but nobody likes a quitter so I told myself that I had to at least keep going until Twin Lakes, if it was still raining when I made it there then I would call it a day. Luckily I had stashed some dry gloves in my Pipeline bag so I swung in to grab them. At this point, I needed someone to help pull off the wet gloves and help me put on the dry ones. I hated to let my group ride away from me, but if I hadn’t stopped for the gloves I don’t think I would have lasted much longer.
Two miles later the weather took a turn for the better and I started to warm up. I nearly made it back on group before Columbine, but couldn’t quite reach them. The climb up Columbine was slow, but steady. I had some trouble on the top section, but kept moving forward and timed it perfectly: heavy winds and freezing rain at 12,600 feet! The good thing about freezing rain…it’s dry! I was cold, but at least I wasn’t cold and soaking wet. The descent was a little sketchy at time because it had been raining at the lower elevations, so there were some slick spots on the way down. Survived it and took my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Twin Lakes.
Now I was on the home stretch and the sun was starting the come out. The warm temps and dry riding helped lift my spirits. I found a little group and organized them into a cohesive bunch. We stayed together until the bottom of Powerline and then it was every man for himself, just do what you can to keep the bike moving forward. I spent the rest of the day by myself and that was just fine. I wasn’t working that hard because when I pushed on the pedals there just wasn’t anything there. I had one speed at that point, so I just put it on autopilot and pointed the ship towards Leadville.
Had a fun descent down Sugarloaf, a steady climb up the road around the lake and then kept it on two wheels down St. Kevins. The tailwind on the boulevard was just what I needed to help keep me motivated for those last few miles. Just around the next corner I’ll see the pavement…eventually I did and then the red carpet comes into view and what a lovely sight that is. Fitness and motivation were a little lower than last year, but I still managed to roll across the line in 8:06. Glad to have that one behind me.by