I’m so excited that I got to get back to Leadville again this year. It’s such a cool town and amazing vibe watching a city come to life around a bike race. I don’t even know where to begin…
I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to come back after the multi-flat debacle and race abandonment of last year but after qualifying in Tahoe and Dave deciding to go and having a lodging offer at Floyd’s I just couldn’t resist.
The past two years this race has been close to a one week ordeal. The thinking being that if I get in Sunday or Monday then I’d be acclimated and better off for the following Saturday, however, I don’t think that’s the case. Seems like it’s about a month to acclimate and the longer you’re at 10k feet the more your body breaks down. A Thursday arrival was perfect and I had no side effects this year other than a little trouble sleeping. Maybe it was the 4 races over 7k feet in July that got me prepped (Crusher, Mammoth, Tahoe, and Big Bear) or maybe it was just all the water I kept pounding. Either way I think Thursday is the best arrival day.
Dave and I got in on Thursday afternoon and after taking a shuttle to the wrong Enterprise car rental location we had to cram DZ’s bike in the back of an Uber Black and find the hotel where the car was waiting. After that it was more waiting as we had to stalk the UPS truck in Aurora for the shipment of Floyd’s of Leadville Castelli kits that we had to pick up and deliver to Leadville. Totally worth it. They look amazing. By the time we rolled into Leadville it was close to 8 and we hit La Resistance for dinner and trivia night with Landis and the Floyd’s of Leadville entourage.
Friday brought the usual routine of registration and pre-ride. We headed out toward Turquoise lake and did the Sugarloaf climb and power line descent to check on the conditions. Really it’s the only part of the course that needs a preview just so you can gauge the line down power line and not lose time getting stuck in the ruts on race day. The rest of the day went fast. Too fast. There was a nap, bottle prep, food prep, and some logistics and then it was time for bed.
4:50 am came quickly. The best part of the gold corral is not needing to line up at 4am to get a good spot. It’s freezing, dark, and the race is long enough that you don’t want to spend hours standing around beforehand. We hit the line about 6:10 for the 6:30 start and stripped our outer layers and waited for the gun….I peed my pants a little. Could’t help it.
The gun went off and Wells, Bishop and Dombrowski and Morton took off from the start. By the time we hit the descent at mile 2 they were disappearing up the road. The peloton charged along covering the first 3 miles in just over 6 minutes. We were moving. I love the first climb up St Kevins but you’ve got to start to position right before. Riders start to blow up here and you don’t want to get stuck behind someone. I hit the gas and found myself with Ted King, Alex Howes, Ben Sonntag and a few other guys. It’s important to get over the top and hit the pavement with a group or you’ll find yourself going backwards on the pavement. We hit the pavement and pace lined to the bottom of Sugarloaf getting caught by DZ and a few other guys and Mortan came charging along after fixing a flat. Someone’s wheel blew up. Bummer.
Sugarloaf felt great. We cruised up and hit the power line descent. It was hilarious. I’m not a descender but being behind the GC road guys made me feel pretty quick and it was probably the first time I haven’t gotten dropped on a fast descent, which meant we were all together hitting the pavement on the way to pipeline. The pace was relaxed, too relaxed. DZ, Whitman and a few other guys caught back on and we rolled along the road. “Those guys up there will pop, we can get them” Howes said. I shook my head. They were gone. Wells and Bishop don’t pop at Leadville. They were gone. Bryan Dillon of Topeak/Ergon did most the work at the front not seeming to mind everyone hitching a free ride. I was sitting behind his wheel in 5th when we rolled through pipeline. It was an incredible feeling. We kept charging and things got a little strung out on the single track but regrouped on the dirt roads to Twin Lakes. Morton threw in a big attack and we chased but in a horrible twist of fate someone was having an open house and had put up red arrows right before the turn to Twin Lakes. Morton and two other guys followed the wrong signs and ended up a few hundred yards in the wrong direction before we were able to shout them back on track.
Columbine was a blur. It’s an hour of gravel switchbacks in the aspens that is a dead ringer for the first climb in the Crusher that then turn into a narrow, rocky, riverbed of kickers at the top. Guys were falling off quickly. Whitman popped, then King. We kept climbing. I lost touch with Howes’ group at the top, right about the time the three leaders came screaming down back at us. They were about 10 minutes ahead. The descent is one of the scariest moments of the race as you travel at 40mph on loose rocks only inches from a thousand riders climbing at you in the opposite direction. It’s amazing anyone survives. T
The nutrition was dialed. Hydration was spot on. Legs felt great. Ryan Petri and I worked together a bit but he started to pull away before pipeline. Timmothy Beardall came charging by and linked us back together for the road, taking long pulls at front and yelling encouragement in a crazed Australian accent. He popped on power line but Ryan took off and I lost touch of him down Sugarloaf. By that point I was 8th and only 17 miles to the finish. On top of the world. Nate Whitman came sailing by on the pavement climb back to St Kevins and disappeared as we hit the forest. 9th. Still top 10.
I made it through the checkpoint and though the flats and hit the descent on the backside of Kevins. Mile 90. Pshhhhhhh. The rear tire went flat immediately. I pulled over. After last year I’ve been running Specialized Controls for a year without a single flat. The Renegade just couldn’t keep the knife point of the rock at bay and it punched right through. Staying calm I hit it with CO2. The leak sealed for a second and then pshhhhhhht, an fountain of Orange Seal shot into the dirt. Stay calm. I took out the tube, mounted the tire and hit it again with CO2. Pshhhhhh. Air escaped around the valve stem. This wasn’t happening. Riders were starting to fly by. I took the tube back out and there was a small defective spot. I got out the patch kit but the tube was so slimy that nothing would stick. Blindly I tried the hand pump. Nothing but a flaccid tube dangling in my hand. More riders flew by. “Help, help. Please. Tube? CO2?” Nothing. Finally someone heard my please. It was Ten Dam. “Thanks so much man, I hope this doesn’t slow you down.” “Oh this isn’t slowing me down, my legs are slowing me down. I’m dead. I’ve got nothing left” he groaned. He tossed me a tube and disappeared. Saved! I started to inflate it in preparation for the install but right away air began to leak from pin holes. Another bum tube. Now I was panicking. “Help, please!” Bryan Dillon stopped and tossed me his tube and CO2. What a nice dude. He disappeared. I installed it and started to hit it with CO2. It cross threaded and exploded icy vapor on my hands. I started to pump. It was a road tube. This was going to take a lot of pressure. After 5 minutes of pumping it felt like a hard garden hose inside the tire. This wasn’t working. Cameron Piper rode by and tossed a CO2. Finally. Inflation. Rock hard but safe.
I packed up my trailside mess and started to pedal. When I flatted my Garmin was at 6:12. It now read 6:47. 35 minutes had passed and almost two dozen riders had sped passed. I was just happy to be rolling again. There was a moment when I thought I’d be stuck on the mountain for the rest of the day. To say it was disappointing is an understatement but that’s the allure of Leadville. It’s a long race and there’s a lot that can go wrong. In the end my time was identical to two years ago but instead of the elation I felt last time I was filled with disappointment. All that work to shave 30 minutes off the race only to lose it standing on the side of the trail. Next year. Maybe DH tires?