Report by Eddie Clark
Leipheimer and Rusch take victory and set new course records.
(Aug 14, 2010) Leadville, Colo—For the 17th year running, the Leadville Trail 100 started off at 6:30am under a clear Colorado sky featuring a star studded field of professional athletes and everyday mountain bikers 1400 plus strong in numbers. With morning temperatures in the low 30’s, it was certainly a cool start to an excellent day of endurance bike racing in some of the prettiestmountains of Colorado.
Starting at an elevation of 10,152 feet on the main street of Leadville, racers received a police escort out of town before thousands of spectators who braved the cool temps to cheer on racers in their race across the sky. Covering 100 miles with a 50 mile out and back course, the LT100 is contested mostly above 10,000 feet with a low point of 9,200 feet, and its highest point sits atop Columbine Mountain at 12,550 feet, which also serves as the midpoint of the course. The race decidedly favors those with a penchant for climbing at altitude.
With two national mountain bike champions of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (JHK) of Subaru /Trek and Todd Wells of Specialized, Tour de France strong man Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack, mountain bike legends such as Tinker Juarez and Ned Overend, and a long list of other top pros, this year’s race was bound to be fast. Six time LT100 champion Dave Wiens noted, “You get a bunch of top bike racers together, and it’s gonna be fast. Coming in, I was just hoping for a top ten and a sub seven hour time. I was maxed out on the Columbine climb.” Wiens indeed met his goals and then some with a fourth place finish in a time of 6 hours, 33 minutes, and 54 seconds, beating his own personal recored set in 2008 by nearly 12 minutes.
It’s widely known that the Columbine Mine climb is where the race is made, but to be a contender one must be close to the leaders atop the Sugarloaf climb which tops out at 11,071 feet just 17 miles into the race. It was here that two of the top three finishers, Wells and Leipheimer nearly took themselves out of the race by colliding with each other when Leipheimer made a wrong turn. Wells suffered some broken spokes and a flat front tire and some minor scrapes to his knee as did Leipheimer. Luckily, Ned ‘The Lung’ Overend was one of five riders present and swapped wheels with teammate Wells to help his chances. JHK and Matt Shriver were the other breakaway leaders, and were closely trailed by Wiens and the trio of Cannondale racers Jeremiah Bishop, Alex Grant, and Tinker Juarez. Overend sacrificed his own chances for a top finish but was able to get going again and work back up to 27th place overall.
By the next feed zone, the leaders had all regrouped and mostly rode together on the approach to Columbine. JHK and Leipheimer distanced their selves from the others on Columbine ascent while Wells trailed behind. “It was obvious that the leaders were on another level once we started up the Columbine climb”, said last year’s third place finisher Matt Shriver who was 7th this year.
Visibly knackered, JHK crossed the finish line in second place, 8 minutes and 44 seconds behind Leipheimer. “To be able to climb with a top Tour rider like Levi up the Columbine is a real accomplishment. I was really comfortable and conserving everywhere for the first 80 miles, and rode as good as I could” said JHK of his race. On the return climb up the Powerline, Leipheimer showed his Tour fitness and slowly distanced JHK for the win with a record breaking time of 6 hours 16 minutes and 37 seconds.
Among the 1400 plus finishers was famous cycling coach Chris Carmichael who claimed his second 9 hour gold and silver belt buckle. When told that Leipheimer set the new record, Carmichael said, “Lance is gonna be pissed!” Maybe having his own teammate break his record will be inspiration enough for Mr. Armstrong to race the LT100 again next year?
Making the LT100 her primary goal for the season, previous years women’s champion and 2009 24hr World Solo Champion Rebecca Rusch returned to defend her title and break the 8 hour mark. Using the Columbine climb to shake second place finisher Amanda Carey of Felt / Kenda, Rusch gave it her all, and was rewarded with another victory. “I had to ride through some really bad cramps towards the end, and really dig deep for this one”, claimed Rusch who in taking victory also set a new women’s course record with a time of 7 hours 47 minutes and 35 seconds.
Fortunately, the LT100 isn’t just about elite racing as evidenced by the 1400 plus entrants. Al Thresher of Las Vegas, NV showed the power of the number three by racing a fully rigid singlespeed for his first time in his first 100 mile mountain bike race to claim first place amongst the singlespeed racers. Not bad for three firsts in one day! Commenting on his bike set-up, Thresher noted, “The 32x18 gear treated me fine on the Columbine climb because I got off and walked it…. I’ll need a masseuse and a chiropractor tonight though”.
Also notable was 48 year old Rick McDonald of Denver, CO who is one of the very few that has completed all 17 editions of the LT100, and on the same bike no less. About his custom built Clark-Kent Ti frame and 1993 Amp suspension fork, McDonald said, “It beats the crap out of me, it’s cracked a few times and I’ve had to weld it back, but it keeps ticking”. It’s folks like McDonald and the thousands and thousands of enthusiastic spectator’s that make the LT100 such a special event.
To sum it up best, event director Ken Chlouber noted, “It’s been a fabulous day with the great weather, excellent racing, and all the spectators… It doesn’t get any better than this”.
More photos here.
Bonus Leadville Photo Gallery: Big Guns, Ball Park Franks, and PBR's at 12,000 feet. All Images by Brian Riepe