When you ask someone about Leadville they’ll tell you how brutal the course is, how it’s all pavement and fire road, and how the amount of climbing will blow your mind. While this is all true, I feel that no one prepared me for how beautiful the ride would be. I was pedal to the metal for 7.5 hours but I still managed to find time to pick up my head and look around. Whether it was the dark clouds silhouetted agains the sage brush or the alpine meadows at the top of Columbine the scenery was stunning.
I woke up at 4:45 am on Saturday morning and found Robbie and Dave already sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee. Dave was humming a little song “put it, put it, put it, put it….” and had a sly smile. “I just have to keep it in for 10 more minutes he winced.” He’d gone against all of our advice and used the Dulcolax to get his system cleaned out. This would end up backfiring on him big time.
The start was chilly. We left our house as the mountains started to glow deep purple. It was 34 degrees out and luckily a very short ride to the start. Dave and I said goodbye to Robbie and made our way through the mob to the middle of the empty gold corral. The energy was huge. A drone was flying overhead. People were trying to get in a last minute pee behind the cars, and before I knew it the national anthem was being sung and the shotgun blast reverberated my chest. We were off.
The pace was quick. The first 5 miles are basically a road race. We shot off at about 29-34mph the whole way to the base of St. Kevins climb, which is where the top group exploded. Todd, Alban, and the gang quickly disappeared after the first switchback. Dave hopped off the saddles and disappeared as well. I was focused on keeping my heart rate down. There were 97 miles to go and I didn’t want to pop just yet. We hit the top of Powerline and I was fooling with my GoPro to get footage of the descent but my hands failed to work and I dropped the remote. Oh well. On the descent there were 2-3 racers from the front group of 10 that were fixing flats. A Kenda/5 Hour Energy rider on a cross bike had his machine flipped upside down and fiddling with the brakes. The Topeak/Ergon rider who’d shot ahead of me on the climb was rolling around on the ground after a crash (he was ok and ended up passing me on the Powerline climb).
The pavement comes quickly at the bottom of Powerline. I had lost a little speed on the cautious descent and was somewhere near 23rd position. Not bad. The group of about 6 riders in front of me hit the pavement and disappeared in a pace line. I spent 4 miles chasing only to catch them as the pavement turned back to single track. Boo. My legs were getting heavy. I missed the Pipeline bottle hand off in the chaos and luckily Mike did a flawless bag toss at Twin Lakes. I restocked the bottles for the Columbine climb and up we went. The road switchbacks were great. It was like being in a grand tour stage…until the top section hits. The top is loose, rocky and kicks to 25% in a few spots. And on top of that you have Wells, Sauser, and Alban shooting back at you from the turn around and looking for any line they can take, including the one you’re trying to climb. I felt great on the climb an didn’t have to unclip, I just pushed a low gear and kept spinning. Reaching the turnaround was huge. Mentally you’re ready for the 10 mile descent. After a few minutes descending I saw Dave and was confused as to how he was now behind me (turns out he’s had to make a few laxative induced bathroom stops). I passed Gideon at the top of the road section and then Robbie a little lower down, he was making great time.
The way back lasted forever. At mile 60 my legs started to cramp so I popped a few Endurolyte pills and kept swigging my Skratch laden bottles to recoup sodium. Every 10 miles I’d feel my hamstrings tighten back up and start the charlie horse phase and I’d repeat the process. By the time we hit the long road section again I was lucky enough to have 2 other riders near me and we were able to pace line back to the base of Powerline. Screw it. I’m walking. I jogged/walked the steep section and just about kept pace with those riding it. Oh well. I hopped on my bike a little bit past the camera and kept spinning. The top kept disappearing with every false flat. And that’s where Sally Bingham passed me. She was flying.
I can’t recall much of the rest of the race other than ascending the backside of St Kevins with “Washington, Washington, twenty feet tall made of radiation…he’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming” (George Washington Video) stuck in my head thanks to Dave and his YouTube sharing a few days before. I was delirious and every pedal stroke became a fight. I kept looking for Dave behind me, hoping we could work together and catch the Ergon and Herbalife 24 riders who had just slipped past me but no such luck.
So, Leadville isn’t actually 100 miles, it’s 104 and those last 4 miles are some of the hardest you’ll ever ride. They’re uphill, rocky, dirty, and demoralizing. You keep checking your Garmin and you know you’re 2 miles to the finish but time stands still. Finally, you pop out on the pavement by the gymnasium, struggle up the last climb and see the finish line. It’s never felt so good to cross the line. I glanced at the clock 7:30:24, I’d hit my stretch goal of 7.5 hours and managed a 33rd overall. It’s hard to feel emotional as you hold back the vomit. Shower time.
In retrospect the bike and equipment choice were flawless and I couldn’t have been happier with my Leadville gear. The Moots RSL was fast, light, and extremely comfortable. The 2×10 XTR setup was perfect, I used every gear. And, most importantly, after shredding sidewalls during the NUE Big Bear Race the Continental X King Protection 29ers tires are Leadville perfection. They’re fast, fairly light, and hooked up and descended with confidence, including on Powerline where the wet winter made things more technical than usual. Hats off to team Pedalers Fork/10 Speed Coffee. We all went out with different goals but all four of us walked away with a buckle and a smile.