Austin Rattler 3/28/2015
It’s always risky to travel long distances for a race. The Moots has to get deconstructed and boxed up (Mike at Pedalers Fork did an amazing job once again), nutrition prepped ahead of time, flights and rental cars arranged, hotels confirmed. Then there are always the nagging fears; will my bike get lost by the baggage handlers, what if I travel all this way and DNF, the race is really this weekend right? There’s a lot that can go wrong, but sometimes everything just falls into place…and sometimes it doesn’t.
Panic struck at LAX when I went to check my bike and the gate agent asked what was leaking. My heart sank. Leaking? “Yeah, there’s white liquid coming out of the bottom of the box.” I opened everything up and found both tires had unseated and all the Stan’s was now congealing in a puddle at the bottom of the box. I had no way to re-seat them with only a frame pump in my possession and no more Stan’s to fill them when I arrived. Looks like I’d be making a bike shop stop in San Antonio.
Upon landing I picked up my rental Yaris and hightailed it Cycle Logic bike shop where they were amazing and re-seated and sealed my wheels on the spot. From there it was off to Rocky Hill Ranch to check in and pre-ride the course the evening before the race. The hour and a half drive went quickly as I took in the green fields, wild flowers and blue bonnets. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was beautiful.
I pulled into the ranch, got my number plate and immediately set to work unboxing and rebuilding my bike, which can be a difficult task in a dusty parking lot without a bike stand. I set off into the setting sun and rode the fifteen mile lap with a smile on my face the whole way. It was flat with flowing wooded singletrack and aside from two gigantic mud pits from the five inches of rain the week before, the course was perfectly suited for my style of riding. It was as if someone had taken Cheseboro and flattened it to a pancake. I had a good feeling about the next day, which came very quickly.
The sun was still down as I drove the fifteen minutes back to Rocky Hill Ranch in a caravan of cars, all loaded with bikes. How many people were racing this thing? The parking lot of the ranch had transformed from a dusty pasture to the Staples Center. Parking was roped off in rows by the hundreds and men with flashlights and vests guided cars in like dominos. Game time.
My phone buzzed to life. It was my new coach, Billy Rice, trying to find me in the mayhem. I just started working with Billy and Invictus Cycling and Performance and in a stroke of good fortune it turns out that he lives nearby to Rocky Hill Ranch so he came out to support and cheer me on. We chatted for a bit as I prepped bottles and fiddled with my gear. The race start was still over a half an hour away but the starting line was already getting packed. I opted for an extremely short warmup and took a spot as close to the front as possible. After Fontana last weekend I wasn’t going to get stuck in the back again. The field was huge. Over 600 racers were lined up, all with the dream of heading to Leadville. Some were in it to win it and others just wanted to cross the line in under seven hours to be eligible for the lottery.What does it take to qualify for Leadville? Well, that’s a very good question. The race information is intentionally very vague. According to the Lifetime website “Each Leadville Qualifying Series race provides 25-100 qualifying slots to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, based on the total number of registered riders at each qualifier event. Half of the qualifying spots will be allocated based on the top age-group performances and half will be drawn among riders who have finished the qualifier race within the allocated cut-off time.” Still confused? So was I. They will only guarantee one spot per age group, and with each age group stretching ten years (20-29, 30-39 etc.) I knew that the only surefire way to get a spot would be to win my group. Tristan Uhl has won the race ever year of it’s existence, he’s super fast and he grew up on the ranch so he can ride the course in his sleep. He’s pretty much unbeatable and fortunately under thirty.
The shotgun blast signaled the race start and there was a brief neutral portion as people jockeyed for position. I was sitting a few wheels back and feeling confident when my chain came off for the first time. Panic. I was about to loose several hundred places within the first ten seconds of the race. Lucky I was able to soft pedal it back on and keep up momentum. The first “climb” blew apart the field. It was a pebbly fireroad with about 75 feet of vert and it was clear just how flat this area was. Tristan and his teammate Jason Sager shot to the front and I grabbed their wheels with Jorge Munoz Jr tagging along behind. And then there were four.
We worked together, rotating and pulling, and separating ourself from the main field. By mile eight we had put about thirty seconds between ourselves and the chase pack of twenty riders. My chain sucked off again, almost breaking as it tangled in the chainstay. My little ring was dead to me. I couldn’t risk front shifting in the front anymore, looks like this would be a big ring race. Things remained unchanged for the first lap and a half as we continued to pull away. When we hit the mud pits on lap two Tristan showed amazing cyclocross prowess as he dismounted, pranced through shin deep mud and was back on the bike and a hundred yards ahead of me by the time I cleared the pit. The chase was on. Jason sat behind me, clearly not willing to help tow me back up to Tristan. Jorge slipped away. And then there were three.
Jason caught back up with Tristan in the last singletrack section of the second lap and I was all alone. A bad bottle handoff cost them some time (mine were all flawless thanks to Jen Zubick) and they were within my sights for lap three but I just couldn’t hang on. The last two laps were a blur. We started lapping riders on the second lap and things got congested very quickly. Some were more willing than others to be passed and time was lost sitting up and waiting for moments to get by. I started getting nervous. I knew Dave Weins wasn’t that far behind me and with his decades of racing experience he wasn’t going to pop. I just kept turning the pedals. It wasn’t until I hit the last singletrack section a few miles from the finish I thought I was in the clear. I knew Tristan was under 30 but how old was Jason? Did I have a Leadville spot? I crossed the line.
Thanks to chip timing the results were posted immediately and I saw that Jason was in the 40-49 bracket. I had my Leadville spot and it was time to celebrate. At the awards ceremony our field was big enough to warrant eight gold coins, the magic ticket to Leadville. I guess I could have gone slower, nah. It always feels good to win.
Although I didn’t beat Tristan I gave him a good chase. Billy was excited “You were only three minutes back! That’s like…2% of race time, you can totally get those guys.” Thanks Billy, I’m excited to see what I’m capable of with a little bit of proper training. Looks like I’ll be joining Mike Kalenda at Leadville this year. Another Pedalers Fork road trip?