New Iron-Man-Like qualifier series for Leadville Proves Popular - Even for the Likes of Armstrong
by Jason Sumner
(July 31, 2011) CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Take the Ironman model and give it a mountain biking twist and you have the new-for-2011 Leadville Qualifying Series, which concluded Sunday at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in the Colorado Rockies.
The idea is straight forward enough. With the famed Leadville 100 being a guaranteed sell-out every year, how do you expand the brand? Do as the multi-sport crowd did and create a qualifying circuit. Ironman goes to Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and about 20 other locales.
The LQS was three races this year – Crested Butte, Lake Tahoe and Lake Placid – but look for that number to grow to as many as eight by 2013. Crested Butte Mountain Resort will be among that crowd, having inked a three-year deal to host the qualifying race.
As for Sunday’s action, it was Rebecca Rusch and Lance Armstrong each snagging exciting final-hour triumphs – and automatic bids for the big show in two weeks.
Armstrong bridged a 60-second gap to second-place finisher Greg Krause, and surprising to even himself, it all happened during the final six-mile singletrack section.
“That’s usually not my specialty,” said Armstrong, who was riding a Gary Fisher 29er hardtail.
Armstrong’s posted a winning time of 4:32:31, 3 seconds in front of Krause. Crested Butte’s Travis Scheefer was third.
Meanwhile, Rusch, a two-time defending Leadville champ, reeled in second-place finisher Jenny Smith with just under 10 miles to go in the 63-mile race that included two giant fire road climbs, plus two trips through some of the CBMR’s ever-improving singletrack trail system.
Smith valiantly tried to grab Rusch’s wheel on the false-flat Gothic Road climb, but the Red Bull-Specialized rider was not to be tamed, as she ended up first women and fifth overall in a field of 201. Crested Butte local Jari Kirkland was a distant third in the women’s race, behind Rusch and Smith.
Overall, about 100 riders qualified for August’s 13’s Leadville 100, either by excelling in their age category or securing a spot via a post-race lottery.
The course was a two-lap affair that started at CBMR, dropped down into the Town of Crested Butte, then sent riders out on a pair of horrific climbs. First up was the ominously nicknamed Slate d’Huez fire road, with it’s many switchbacks and sustained 20-percent sections.
Then, after a return to the ski area via Schofield Pass, Gothic Road and the aforementioned six miles of singletrack, racers had to deal with the grind up Washington Gulch and return to Schofield Pass. All told there was in excess of 6300 feet of climbing, nearly all of it above 10,000 feet.
“People ask all the time about the climbs in the Pyrenees and the Alps,” said Armstrong. “Well the thing you have to realize is that they are not nearly this high. Today we saw 11k feet. It’s the same thing we’ll have in the upcoming Tour of Colorado. People will have a hard time with that.”
And that’s the main reason why when asked whether or not Sunday’s win was a prelude to Armstrong returning to Leadville, the answer was an emphatic, No. “I like to train, but not that hard,” he said.
As for Rusch, she’s headed to Leadville Monday. Because, besides not showing up, the best way to deal with altitude is to spend a lot of time there.
All Images by Trent Bona