Written by Michael Green Tuesday, 20 August 2019 00:00
Leadville 100: it’s a bucket list event for some and a summer ritual for others. For me, I received a qualifier coin last year, so why not go? So here I am, in Colorado at a race billed as the highest and hardest one day mountain bike race, starting 2 miles above sea level and goes up from there, beyond the tree line.
The various pod casts and race reports scared me a little and got me more and more anxious as the big day arrived. I wasn’t just attending the race to complete it, I was traveling across the country to win the coveted BIG buckle for those who complete the 104 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing in under 9 hours: a task that roughly 10-15% achieve dependent on the year. Accordingly, I planned and re-planned everything. I dialed in my nutrition based on past race experience http://www.bikeman.com/team-bikeman/race-reports/3665-coast-to-coast-100-gravel-grinder- , determined my FTP at altitude using my Stages power meter, coached my pit crew (Mrs Green) to “think Formula 1” and had my bike running perfectly. I’ve got this!
I wasn’t afraid of the distance, nor the climbing, but I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to the altitude. Secondly, with up to 2000 starters and a crowded course, other people can greatly impact your day, especially then someone decides to walk with their $10,000 bike on a steep hill? At 6th and Harrison in Downtown Leadville, America’s highest city and 46 degrees, the day started with a shotgun blast.
The first few miles were fast downhill, a quick left onto gravel and onto St Kevin's climb, a reasonable 800 feet of vertical for a warm up. As you can imagine, this was chaos, everyone fighting for lines, impatience with others, and pure slowness. My pre-plan was patience and use this as a “time to eat” for I knew I could waste a ton of mental energy on this climb. By the top it started to string out, a dirt road downhill, through the first checkpoint at Carter Summit and another fast descent. Now, we can start to race our own race.
Back to climbing on Sugar Loaf and the crazy steep descent of the famous Powerline. Again, I buzzed through an aid station onto the sweet flowy singletrack and onto the valley roads which, upon my return will be windy and I’ll need to share the load with other riders. Here, a Belgie and I shared some pulls and talked some ‘cross. A few more ups and downs and 40 miles we came to my first checkpoint at Twin Lakes where I changed my hydration pack, got some gels and slammed a Red Bull. We transitioned smoothly but I was behind schedule - but that’s okay, I planned on being “chill” during this first part, because now it was going to get hard.
The next section was 20 miles and included the 8 mile climb to 12,600 feet and Columbine Mine - sounds fun doesn’t it? Because of the morning chill I’d kept on my mid-weight gloves and Bikeman Verge vest to temper any chill at the top and for the descent, and that was a good call, there was a definite cooling of the air and descending at 30 mph was a time to get cold. The climb was long. I was making good progress passing many and tapping out a decent tempo but kept my power under control: thanks Stages for keeping my power under control so I’d have more later. Near the top, the steepness hits 24 degrees or so and too much for some which forced me off my bike during the infamous conga line. But instead of strolling, I had a cyclocross mindset and jogged with my bike passing others. This is possibly the worst part of the day, not only am I trying to pass those ahead of me but the front row pro’s were now descending on the same path. Definitely a time to be aware of your surroundings and a time not to be tanked!
Eventually I remounted blew through the halfway point aid station and started the 8 miles down. This was fun but harder than I planned for: surprisingly my calves got a little sore from taking the brunt of the trail and standing on my pedals. Within what seems like moments I was back at Twin Lakes for more fuel and a new pack. Mrs G was shocked to see me, I’d made good time and was now at 9 hour schedule. Later she said I was looking fresh and frankly I felt good, but this was the start of the race: 44 miles remaining and the climbing had only just begun.
I was feeling energetic, I rolled through the dirt sections and onto the valley floor. Taking the advice of others, I needed to ride with others to maximize any draft in the valley floor, but looking into the faces of others, they were tired and not prepared to think about a paceline. This was a bit frustrating as I sat on the front and pulled the others. Eventually their elastic band snapped, I pulled away and was on my own again.
I was riding well, I passed many and flowed through the singletrack and eventually onto the Powerline climb - this, I was told is the hardest part of the day, and it was. It’s a LONG uphill, 80 miles into a long day, has sustained pitches in excess of 20 degrees, is south facing, so the sun is beating down on your back, and is simply the funnest time I’ve had on a bike!! My computer said the temperature was now in the 80’s. I walked about 50 feet of the climb and received a push from a friendly spectator as I remounted. I was still passing others, had found myself a companion for the remainder of the climb and we talked each other through the hard part of the day. It was on the climb that I felt the first twinges of cramp and downed my homemade “hot shot” https://theplantedrunner.com/fireball-anti-cramp-gels/ . This did the trick and I was able to ride without missing a beat. I like spicy things so I “upped” the recipe a little and burned my throat - but it took care of my cramps!?
At the top, a rewarding downhill rewarded us onto Haggerman and back up to Carter Summit. I could taste the end now, just 12 miles or so remained. The next descent of St Kevin's was rocky so I rode my brakes and was very cautious for I didn’t want to join the many who had flatted that day. My Carver wheels rolled perfectly and solidly wherever I pointed my bars. Hitting the bottom I continued to ride past the many who had already cashed in their chips for the day.
I passed 80 folks on my way into town and finished my longest ever day in the saddle. I finished the day in 8 hours 46, ahead of my goal and good enough for a BIG buckle. My plan for the day had worked extremely well, I still had energy at the end, sprinted across the line passing another with 20 yards to go. I’ve completed Leadville, had the experience, got my buckle, and love Colorado. I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt...and the BIG belt buckle.
Thank you Leadville, Colorado, Team Bikeman, and Mrs G for a wonderful trip.
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