I've been meaning to give you all a race report on Leadville. So here's what I did on my summer vacation:
This year my husband and I decided to do the Leadville 100 in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is a tough race and one of the first endurance mountain bike races. The race is a 100 mile/12 hour mountain bike race ranging in elevation from around 9,300 to 12,600 feet. There is an elevation gain of about 14,000 feet.
We decided to do every WEMS race leading up to the event as training, a plan which was stymied by excessive rain washing out two of the events. (P.S. I love the Levis Trow trails! Ride them!) We were also doing a lot of training on the side, but our most serious preparation would be our two week vacation in the upper elevations of Colorado.
Altitude sickness was our biggest concern, so we laid out a demanding plan:
- Hike to the top of Long's Peak, a 14er
- Ride up Mount Evans, another 14er
- Ride the Monarch Crest trail, which flirts with 13,000 feet
- Ride Molas Pass, another trail in the 13's
- Ride Crested Butte trails, up to the 11's
I have to say, I've rarely been on such beautiful rides. It was the height of wildflower season in the mountains and we had several memorable rides where brightly colored wildflowers slapped our handlebars and obscured the turns on winding, cliff-edge trails. Monarch Crest was especially fun. We took a shuttle bus to the top of the trail and rode 34 miles of amazing views and fun, fast singletrack. Crested Butte was also gorgeous for its wildflowers and worthwhile for its fast, creative trails.
For me, Leadville was almost a secondary concern on this trip. I had so much fun doing everything else! However, we arrived in Leadville two days before the race to get ourselves registered and settle in. Leadville is a small town, but that weekend was flooded with cyclists.
We registered and attended the introductory meeting, which felt more like a religious revival as the announcer revved up the crowd for the upcoming race. Dave Wiens (the several-year champion) was introduced to his many adoring fans and competitors, and Lance Armstrong also made a bashful appearance.
We hadn't done much preriding, so I wasn't sure what to expect when the race started. Prior to the race we'd received dire warnings about the difficulty of the course - impossibly steep slopes, deadly ruts, etc. And that was on top of the elevation. On your own, the course wouldn't be too difficult. Crammed in with hundreds of other riders is a different story and there was much calling out of directions and riding in long lines at the beginning of the race.
Nearing Powerline descent, which received the brunt of dire warnings, things started to thin out. The ascent to powerline is a cool gravel road that runs along the back of a scenic ridge. Passing over the ridge, you begin Powerline descent. Powerline is a rutted rough double track trail...that's rutted enough to really make it more like single track. There was often only one good line through this. I made it down fine and took off down the road for the next stretch of course just as an ambulance pulled up to take away an injured rider. Powerline is considered the most dangerous part of the course.
The course then went through a series of paved and dirt roads with some double and single track. There were a couple checkpoints and aid stations and then the Columbine climb! Columbine is a big dirt road climb that winds for what seems like ages. As I started the Columbine climb - the top of which was the halfway point, I was passed by Dave Wiens (the leader and eventual winner) with Lance right on his tail!
I started nearing the top where the trees began to thin thinking, "I'm almost there!" I was wrong. It's still a couple more miles of hike-a-bike at 12,000+ feet to get to the top aid station and checkpoint.
Happily, what was a hike-a-bike up due to the huge amount of people was a quick bomb down. Riding downhill, I was able to shave enough time to make it to the checkpoint at the bottom in time. Did I mention? Due to safety concerns, Leadville has time cutoffs at some of their aid stations. If you miss the time cutoff, you get pulled from the race.
I was really pushing the time limit. I made it to the base aid station only ten minutes before the time cutoff. I joined up with a pack of other riders about my speed and we took turns drafting on the paved and dirt roads. Our pack quickly broke up at the North Face, however, which is a ridiculously steep and loose section of trail that we had to achingly tiptoe up. While I pushed it on the last section of doubletrack, I missed the last time cutoff by 15 minutes. I had ridden 74 miles of tough trail in 9 hours and 15 minutes!
Leadville was a very fun and well-organized race. Their support volunteers were fantastic. Schedule permitting, I may be open to doing this race again someday. And of course, Leadville helped for my other big (non-biking) accomplishment this year - my first marathon! After all that elevation training, I had lungs of steel.
View my photo album here: Colorado Trip Pics