Fourth time’s the charm….
After a clean run in 2014 my Leadville races have been marred by flats. In 2015 a torn tire took me out of the race completely and in 2016 I lost a half an hour as I tried to fill one bad tube after another that gracious fellow racers tossed my way. Oh well. That’s part of what makes racing exciting; the unpredictability of it all. Especially at Leadville- 104 miles offers a lot of pitfalls.
This year the LT100 was again the focus of my season. Coach Billy set up a schedule that had me peaking around now even though I’ve done my best to undermine the plan by spending too much time on the bike. But it’s so fun! How can someone want to take a day off? Guilty.
I arrived in Leadville Thursday evening, picked up my bike from Cycles of Life in town (thanks to Bike Flights for getting it there cheaply and in one piece). If there’s one thing I hate about traveling for races it’s lugging a bike case around an airport, on shuttles and into compact rental cars… but I digress. After a smooth flight and two hour drive from Denver to Leadville I met up with Dave the crew at Floyd’s and am so grateful for their hospitality.
Friday involved building the bike and going for a spin, the typical loop by Turquoise Lake, up Sugarloaf and down Poweline. If there’s one section to check it’s poweline. The lines change a bit every year and it’s helpful to know where the deep ruts are so you don’t end up in them when you’re bar to bar in race madness. We ordered pizza at the house and made it a movie night. The choice? Tour de Pharmacy of course. It was the ideal race distraction and there’s not a more ideal audience to watch it with. Needless to say Lance didn’t get many laughs.
Race morning comes quickly. The benefit of the gold corral and close lodging cuts down on the stress.With a 6:30am start it’s early, dark, hovering around freezing, and the last thing you want to do is stand around freezing at the starting line. The atmosphere was the same as always. Thousands of people shivering and looking nervous. The Ergon team was noticeably absent as were the Pro Roadie set as they were racing the Colorado Pro Tour race.
The start was mellow. No big initial attacks. Grotts and Wells just hung with the peloton until St Kevin’s climb. The pace wasn’t as hard charging as last year but I knew immediacy my legs were not there. You know that feeling when you know you should be able to accelerate but your body just won’t respond? Uh oh. The heart rate started to redline and I was gasping for air. It didn’t feel as effortless as last year. This was going to be a long day and I was going to have to work.
I watched the front ten slip away and fell in with a chase group of eight. We spun our way up Sugarloaf and shot down Poweline and had found ourselves down to about five. We pushed hard on the pavement, pace lining and riding hard until we pulled in the lead group just before Pipeline (minus top 3 or 4 who were way up the road). We worked together until the base of Columbine. One of my favorite sections is riding through the Twin Lakes feed zone. It’s amazing to see Thousands of people out cheering and supporting the riders. If your struggling it’s a great pick me up before the soul crushing Columbine.
Every year I think I know how long Columbine lasts and every year it seems longer. You climb for a while on the dirt road in the aspens and it’s serene. I found myself struggling to hold a wheel but there are moments of enjoyment. Once you pop out on the double track above the tree line it’s a whole new form of torture. The pitches are steep, the rocks are softball size and loose and there’s two way traffic. Climbers are struggling to pedal and swerving all over while descenders bomb back down, drifting and sliding all while fighting for a single line. Madness. The descent is fast and jarring and I was glad to be down. My back was hurting and now’s the time when you start contemplating your decisions. Your friends are all at Twin Lakes. With a car. It would be so easy to call it a day.
By the time we hit the single track again I was 16th with one rider just up the road and another one slipping off my wheel. Not good. You need a group. I struggled to pipeline by myself in the wind. No one around. I hit the road section. Still not a rider in sight. Last year there were three of us pacelining this section but not this year. It cost about eight minutes and untold watts to get to Powerline alone. People make sure you have someone here. Stop and wait. Anything. Don’t be dumb like me and ride it alone!
I was cooked. Poweline never felt so long and steep. I just wanted to be done. And not crash or flat. Cautious. Maybe too cautions. The last twenty miles are always a blur. You fly and skid down Sugarloaf then face the brutal pavement climb back up to St Kevin’s. I alway have trouble here and again lost a few spots as riders spun effortless up and around me. Where did they come from? A mix of emotions occurs. Anger. You try to chase but they’re around the next turn already. Apathy. It will all be over soon. Just look for the red carpet.