Sunday, August 12, 2007

Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race (2007)

I won't be going into every detail of the race, but I will cover the most significant parts.

Anyway, on to the race....

With a shotgun blast, the race started promptly at 6:30am.  Racers were asked to seed themselves according to their estimated time.  So all of us, knowing what we did from F'ing Ralph (See above) started in the 10-11 hour section.  The mass start was incredible.  The riders followed a police car out of town going about 20mph.  And it was cold!  My fingers and toes immediately froze.  The first 2 miles or so were on a paved road, and somewhat scary with so many riders.  But then the police car took off just as we turned into the first dirt road.  This became a huge cluster fuck, and within a mile we were on the first climb of the day.

The climbs....

One of the first things F'ing Ralph failed to mention was how steep the climbs were.  From the first one on, they were steep.  As if that wasn't enough, they were dirt roads.  And as if those two things weren't enough, almost everyone was covered with rocks.  Rocks all over the road.  And they were long climbs.  I don't think there was a hill that was under a mile long.  So climbing was a combination of grinding on the lowest gear, while trying to pick a good line (avoiding all the rocks and ruts) and trying to keep from spinning your rear tire on the loose dirt.  Some of the hills were so steep that if for any reason you had to stop and put a foot down, you were done.  There was no getting back on the bike.  You had to push it until you found a flatish section were you could start riding again.  And remember that we are doing all this on a full suspension mountain bike that weights close to 30 pounds.

The downhills....

Another thing F'ing Ralph failed to mention was how technical some of the descents were.  There were some descents that if you were not a good mountain biker, you were walking.  They required total concentration which was mentally exhausting.  And your hand got numb from holding on to the bars and brakes so much.  One in particular was  a beast.

Powerline Road....

This hill turned out to be the bitch of the day.  On the way out of town we descended it, and it was ugly.  The road followed along power lines, hence the name.  It was steep as hell, probably the steepest of the longest hills of the course.  It was much, much steeper than Sugarloaf.  And about 3 miles long.  It basically went straight down for 3 miles, with several blind turns.  It was covered in rocks.  But worst of all, there were huge ruts all over created by rain and snow melt.  These ruts are what made it so tough.  In some places these things were about 1 foot deep.  If you didn't jump or bunny hop them, you'd be going over your bars.  All the way down powerline, there was really only one line you could take.  And it was fast!  Since it was so steep, if you weren't walking it, you were flying!!  You could not go slow.  It was basically just go fast, and hope to God you hit everything correctly.

It was on this section that Landis went down hard.  And it was on this section that F'ing Ralph also went down in what BB2 described as "the worst crash I have ever seen in my life!"  BB2 and Bob were right behind Ralph, and they both said they thought Ralph was dead.  And since it was so steep and fast, when they saw him crash they couldn't stop.  They had to keep riding past him.  But aside from a badly cracked helmet, F'ing Ralph was ok.  Got up, dusted off, and got back on the bike.  He's not human.

There were many other crashes on this section, many.  It was the most ass-phuckering, scariest section of the race.  If you did not have your technicals skills on par, you were going down.

Colombine Mine...

After the descent on Powerline, we rode a few more hills here and there before reaching the 40 mile SAG at the Twin Lakes Reservoir.  This was the point of no return.  This was the place to fuel up before heading into hell.  Twin lakes was the last stop before starting the nearly 8 mile climb up to the top of the mountain, at Colombine Mine.  it was going to be a gain of 3500 in about 8 miles.

Scott and I started this section together.  As we left Twin Lakes we were greeted with the return of the leaders of the race.  Local and popular race Dave, with Floyd right on his wheel.  These guys are truly inhuman, but more on that later.

After leaving Twin lakes we had about 2 miles before the start of the main climb.  These two miles were a warm up.  It started with a 1 mile climb which descended into an open valley, which then lead to the bottom of the climb.

As soon as the climb started, you knew.  The road was about 8 foot wide.  And as all the previous climbs, rocky.  Really, really rocky.  But what surprised me was the steepness.  I expected it to be long but gradual.  It wasn't.  Right from the get-go, it was Sugarloaf steep, and stayed that steep the entire way.

By the time Scott and I reached it, the front riders were coming back down, so it was scary.  On the one hand, you are trying to climb, avoid the rocks and ruts, avoid the walkers, and keep your pace.  But also, you had to avoid the guys coming down, who were flying.  I which I had video of how fast these guys were coming down the mountain, on an 8 foot road with steep drop offs on the side.

On the way up there were about 7 switchbacks.  It reminded me a lot of Hogpen.  Sharp switchbacks which got even steeper.

The climb did suck.  It was not easy by any means, but at least you could keep moving.  That was until we got past the tree line near the top of the mountain about 5 miles into the climb.  Once we got up there, the sand road pretty much ended, and it turned into rocks.   Nothing but huge rocks covering the entire road.  Everyone had to walk this part, pushing their bike.  It was impossible to ride.  Not only that, but even pushing was tough.  it was hard to get a good grip on the ground so you kept slipping.  At the same time you have riders still coming down, trying to find anyway down the rocks.  This was the section that did me in.  It was these two miles of pushing my bike uphill at the top of the mountain that took me out of the race.  Again, I wish I had pictures, because it's hard to describe just how much this truly sucked.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the race organizers did something really mean.  As you cleared the tree line, you could look left and see the turnaround point, way, way in the distance above you.  So as you are walking your bike barely able to move, that turnaround point was mocking you.

And as if those two things weren't bad enough, we were climbing up to 13,000 feet, so with every step we took, we got higher and higher, which meant less and less oxygen.  It was so hard to breath that I couldn't drink out of my camelbak because taking a drink meant missing a breath.  If I wanted to drink.  I had to stop.

So, after 3 hours of leaving Twin Lakes (10 miles back) I reached the top.  One thing I will say, the view from the top of the mountain was amazing.  We were surrounded by the Rockies and it was simply beautiful.  I took several minutes to just sit and enjoy the view.  I figured if I made it up there, I might as well enjoy it.

But I didn't have much time to waste.  From here I had 5 hours to make the 12 hour cut off, which I knew would be impossible.  But, I gave it a go anyway.

Going down...

Going back down to Twin Lakes was kinda fun, in a scary kinda way.  It was 8 miles straight down, on the same rocky, steep 8 foot sandy road.  First you had to deal with the 2 miles of rocks that we had just pushed our bikes up on.  This was slow going.  The rocks would slip out from under you so it was technically challenging.  Then once we hit the tree line, the road became sandy again.  I took some chances on the 6 mile downhill, trusting my bike to handle everything I hit.  On the way down I'd hit huge rocks or ruts that I would see at the very last minute, and going about 30mph, on a mountain bike, on a sandy road, I had to bunny hop them.  I wasn't too worried of the road or the obstacles, I felt comfortable I could handle them.  But I was worried about the switchbacks.  They would sneak up on you, and if you were going too fast as you approached them, well, I would hate to think what would have happened.

The ride down to Twin Lakes only took me about 45 minutes.  Just over three hours on the way up, 45 minutes on the way down.

I reached the Twin Lakes SAG, 60 miles, after 7 hours and 45 minutes into the race.  So I had just over 4 hours to ride the last 40 miles.  Easy right?  Just keep an average of 10mph and I'd be able to do it.  Yeah, right!


I rode right through Twin lakes, didn't stop for anything, knowing I needed every minute possible.  But the next 15 miles were pretty tough, it was mostly up hill.  Some of the climbs were short, but too steep for riding.  It was more tough bike pushing.  This is were I started to bonk.  I got to the point were anytime the road went up, I could barely pedal.  Even the flats were tough.  I kept moving, but I had one one thought in my mind the entire way, Powerline Road.

I knew that on the way back to the finish, we would have to go up Powerline Road, which we had descended earlier.  And I was scared.  I knew that a) it was going to be unridable and so b) I would be pushing my bike for nearly three miles in an incredibly steep hill.  And it was this thought, the combination of how bad I felt, how I was bonking, and of pushing my bike up powerline road, that made up my mind to quit the race at the next SAG, at 80 miles.  I simply could not go on.

So I reached the 80 mile SAG at around 3:35pm.  Just over 9 hours into the race.  Scott had left that SAG about 10 minutes ahead of me, and Jason was about 25 minutes ahead of me.  Lucky for me, The Gabberts were there with their car, and so I stopped, and quit.

My race was over.  I wanted to cry.  Actually, I did.  Thankfully I was wearing my sunglasses.  I had worked hard for 80 miles, and I really wanted to see the finish line, but I just couldn't.  I couldn't go one more mile.  So I jumped in the car and we rode to the finish line to watch the guys coming in.

The Gang...

One by one the guys started coming in.  First it was F'ing Ralph (10:57).  He was in great spirits.  Then it was Brent (11:01).  Their stories about Powerline road made me feel better, because it really was as hard, or harder, than I expected.

A little while later, Pat Reilly came in (11:41).  And then it was Bob (11:51).

Jason was next (12:41). He missed the 12 hour cutoff, but he made the 13 hour finisher cut off.  This was new this year.  They wanted to give people an extra hour to finish the course.  The didn't get the buckle, but were considered 'unofficial finishers,' and still received the finisher's medal.  His stories about Powerline Road were also about how incredibly hard it was pushing the bike.

And Scott was next (13:05).  Scott surprised me the most out of everyone out there today.  He might not have made the 13-hour cutoff, but he finished 100 miles of the toughest bike ride in the U.S.  I was happy for him.  He never gave up.

The Stories....

After everyone finished we sat around sharing stories.  Talking about the climbs, the brutal bike pushing, and the hairy and technical descents.  Powerline Road became the topic of conversation as everyone discussed how incredibly brutal it was, both ways.  We talked about the crashes (like Ralph's), the weather, and the altitude.

We all agree that we totally underestimated the race.  We did not give it the respect it required.  Mostly because we really didn't know what to expect, and we all thought it would be easier.  None of us except for Ralph and Bob knew what the course was like, so every turn, every hill, every descent was new and unexpected.


First I want to say, that this is one of the most beautful areas in the United States.  As much as I was hurting, I still enjoyed every single mile of the course.  The views were fantastic.  Mountains, rivers, lakes, it was simply beautiful.

The SAG stops are like none I have ever seen.  Anytime you pulled into a SAG stop, a volunteer would come up to you and hold your bike for you.  Another volunteer would fill up your water bottles or camelbaks while other would rush to get you any food or anything else you needed.  They were awesome!

Floyd lost the race by 10 seconds to the local hero who has won the race 5 years in a row.  Reports are that Floyd sucked this guy's wheel for almost the entire last 40 miles, and still was unable to beat him to the finish line.  The guy that won it set a new course record, finishing in just under 7 hours.  7 hours.  I can't even begin to comprehend how fast and how good those guys are.  At 7 hours, most of us were still at the turnaround point (50 miles).  Amazing.

On one of the steep descents, there was a guy who had crashed and broken his femur.  OUCH!!!  I rode by him just as the helicopter was landing to airlift him out.  As I said, this is not a beginners race.  If you can't handle a mountain bike, it can get pretty nasty out there.

Thank yous...

I can't even begin to tell you how great our support crew was.  The Gabberts, Stacey, Nikki, and Erica were there at every SAG stop, and they helped us a lot.  Even if it was just cheering us on and encouraging us, it was great to see them all through the course.  They rock!!!

So that's it.  I am sure the rest of the boyz will chime in with their own stories soon.  For me, I was humbled by this race.  It got the best of me and then some.  But I will definitely be back.  I will not give up until I conquer this monster.

Peace out!