The 2009 Leadville MTB race truly was epic.
As we drove to Leadville early in the morning it was raining and cold. 39 degrees out. We were all bundled up. Once we got to Leadville the rain had stopped, but the temps were still in the high 40's. The town was insane. The start line packed with over 1000 riders. Truly an incredible sight. As we lined up the weather was already changing. Behind us to the East, it was clear blue skies. But ahead of us to the west-southwest, the way we were going, it was cloudy and looking gloomy.
As is tradition, at exactly 6:30am, the shutgun blast got the race started. The mass start was chaos. It was very important to pay attention and not crash right away. The race starts with a 4 mile, paved road, downhill section. It's fast. And because of the speed, the wind was cold! By the time I was 2 miles down I could not feel my fingers or toes already. Within minutes we had reached the start of the off-road section, the race was on.
The first trail we hit is a gravel jeep trail that leads us to the first climb. It's about 3 miles or so. At this point it is still pretty packed with people so you have to be careful. This is were things started to go bad. Halfway down the trail, some moron was running, yes running, backwards on the trail. I have no idea why. As he approached the group of cyclists Jason was with, he suddenly cut across the road and took Jason out! What an idiot! Jason was fine, but his bike had a couple mechanical issues. Specifically, his headset was not on tight enough and his wheel ended up pointing the wrong way. So he had to stop and take care of that.
I continued on. Shortly after we hit the base of St. Kevins pass the first climb of the race. This is a very small jeep road, no wider than a small single lane. It is very, very rocky. And because of the amount of people on the trail, you don't have much choice of picking a line (MTB'ers will understand what I mean). You are stuck riding on whatever is ahead of you, whether it is rocks, holes, etc. Lucky for me, I hit everything right on. My bike was awesome and I was feeling good. Up to this point the weather had cleared up. It was still cold, but no rain. In fact, there was a beautiful rainbow next to us. But by the time we reached the top of the climb, nearly 10 miles into the race, it got dark, cloudy, and the rain started again. Cold nasty rain.
At the top of St Kevins you transition into a 6 mile paved downhill called Touquoise Lake Rd.; it's steep and curvy. Kinda like one of the Six Gap descents. Usually I bomb down this road, but with the wet roads and rain, I was being careful. Plus I have some slick race MTB tires on my bike so I didn't know how they would handle it. A the bottom of Tourquoise Lake you then turn onto a gravel road and begin the long second climb of the race, the climb they call Sugarloaf. No lie. It's Sugarloaf. Funny shit.
Sugarloaf climb starts as a gravel road but after a mile or two it turns into a very rocky small road. At this point the weather had cleared again. It was so damn weird. It would change in a mater of seconds, from one extreme to the other. Anyway, the climb was fairly good. But it was wet and muddy. It made it slow going. Again I felt pretty strong and just keep pedaling and keeping a comfortable pace. The view as you are climbing Sugarloaf is amazing. So beautiful with the lake below you. I wish I had a camera.
At the top of Sugarloaf the real fun begins. That's where the Powerline descent starts. Powerline, as I've explained before, is not really a road. It's just the clearing below the powerline coming down the mountains. The path is very messed up with huge ruts, holes, and all sorts of other obstacles. It is a descent which only has one line you can take. You are constantly crossing from one side of the path to the other, jumping ruts, and holes. And to make it even better, it was muddy as hell. The clouds had rolled in again so it was also kinda dark. But man was it still fun. I consider myself a pretty good descender, and I fly down the descents. Fun shit! My bike was handling everything flawlessly!
Shortly after Powerline we get to the frist aid station at Pipeline. Its the 25 mile point of the race. I got there exactly at the time I wanted to, 2:30 into the race. I was right on schedule. I felt great. Grabbed a couple bottles, some food, and went on my way.
From Pipeline to the next aid station at Twin Lakes its a short ride, only about 1 hour. It's got a couple of small climbs, but nothing crazy. It's a great area to eat and drink, which is what I did. And exactly one hour later, I got to Twin Lakes again exactly on schedule, at 3:30. I had my split goal written on my bike, and so far I was right on!! I was well ahead of were I was last year and if I kept it up, I would have no problems finishing the race.
But this is where things went downhill for me. I got to Twin Lakes too fast. Alli had not had a chance to make it there from Pipeline. She had all my gear and food. I had carefully planned out my nutrition, and I was planning to take specific things at specific times. But she wasn't there yet. Erica was, so I grabbed a couple bottles from her and went on my way. I knew this would cost me. I really wanted my camelbak (which Alli had) and specific food I had bought and made just for this section. But I couldn't wait. I felt great and was on schedule, so I took off on the hardest part of the race, the climb up Columbine.
At first everything was perfect. I saw Lance heading back from Columbine. He looked incredibly strong. Rode right by me. Pretty cool. Anyway, on the climb I was feeling good. Until about halfway up. That's where I started to feel the bonk. All I had with me were gels and water (again cause I was unable to load up with what I had planned). I kept eating gel and drinking, but it was not helping. And once we started the pushing section, two miles from the turnaround, I was beat.
The weather was not helping. I swear it changed every 10 minutes. From hot sunlight, to wet cold rain. It was ridiculous. At the top, it was cold as hell and windy! I pushed and pushed but my stomach started going to hell. I got to the point I couldn't drink anymore. It flat out hurt. But I kept slowly moving. And finally after just over three hours from starting, I made it to the top. And get this, IT WAS HAILING UP THERE!!! Yes, f'ing hail coming down on us! My fingers were completely numb. I literally couldn't shift using myngingers, I had to use the palm of my hand. At the aid station at the top, under hail, I ate everything they had. Soup, cookies, coke, etc. I spent about 7 minutes there, tried to warm up my fingers, and decide to start the best part of the race, the descent from Columbine!!
As amazingly hard as this race is, and as much as it makes me want to cry, and as much as it hurts, that descent from Columbine brings a smile to my face. Again, I consider myself a pretty good descender. And I bombed it!! I was flying down the first two miles of rocks. Picking the perfect line and hitting every thing right on. Then you get to the tree line were the trail turns fairly clean and steep. And again, I was flying!! Not even touching my brakes until I would see the switchbacks coming up. Man, it is just a blast.
And so after about 40ish minutes, I made it back to Twin Lakes. There I was feeling good again. I stopped and got some food from the crew and got going again. I was behind my scheduled goal split, but I was still doing ok. I could still make it. So I went at it hard.
The ride to Pipeline was a little longer, about 1:10 or so. I made it to Pipeline with 3:25 minutes left to finish. It would be tight, but it was most definitely doable. But my stomach was still hurting. I rarely ate on my ride from Twin Lakes to Pipeline. I was getting nauseous. So at Pipeline I force some food down and some drink, and went on my way.
I got to the Powerline climb and started the brutal pushing. Push, push, push. I kept trying to drink and stay hydrated, but by the time I got to the top of the first major Powerline climb, I puked. Everything I had eaten at Pipeline came out almost perfectly. So now I realized I had nothing in my stomach and no energy. So I forced myself to eat some gel. And then, I puked that out as well. My stomach just couldn't keep anything down. I was completely out of energy and I couldn't eat. So I was barely moving. This is where my race was over. Anytime I tried to pedal I got dizzy. I almost started crying. I knew it was all over. And what sucked is that up to that point, I still had time to make it.
So slowly I kept pushing my bike until I got to the top of Powerline, which starts the Sugarloaf descent. My plan now was to ride the descent until I saw a support person so I could use his phone and call Alli to come get me.
As I was descending down Sugarloaf, I saw a guy on the side of the road changing a flat. I thought to myself "I am done anyway, so I might as well help him." And much to my dismay, when I rode up on him it was Jason! My heart hit the ground. Sure, I felt bad for me, but J was going for the Leadman crown! He needed to finish this. And he was actually doing it. He had been a good 30 minutes ahead of me, so he was sure going to make it under 12, no problem. But he had three flats! When I stopped I immediately looked at my watched and knew it was all over for him. I seriously felt so bad. I honestly started to cry. Thank God I was wearing my sunglasses so he couldn't see.
But J was in good spirits. He knew shit happens. He had done all he could. But the three flats was something he couldn't control. So the two of us continued down Sugarloaf to the bottom. I was still planning to stop and get picked up. Jason told me when I rode up on him my face was green. He knew something was seriously wrong with me. Jason planned to keep going to the finish.
So when we got to the bottom, I stopped and was just going to call, when Jason came rolling back in. He had started the Tourqouise Lake Rd climb, but felt like shit. He figured the stops for the flats took a toll on him. And I could see it on his face. He was pale. He laid down on the road and was not looking good. So the two of us called it a race at that point. Actually, about 6 other guys rolled up and quit the race right there.
So there you go. I almost had it. I was there. But it wasn't meant to be. After 86 miles, I had to stop. Turns out, out of the 6 of us doing the race, only one finished, Ralph. Lori and Jim had missed the cut off at Pipeline, And even BB2 had to quit earlier in the race because of his knee.
The race this year was harder than all the others. The weather was a huge factor. The muddy trails, the cold, everything, made what is already a tough race even harder. But we gave it everything we had. We tried. That's all we could do.
I want to congratulate all of us. Jim, Lori, Jason, BB2, me, Ralph and G$. As I am sure you will hear from G$ later, this race is tough, and just starting it is a huge thing.
Finally, I want to give huge props to our support crew. They were awesome!!! Alli, Erica, Nikki, Matt, Ryan, Scott, Stacey, Karen, Kevin. These guys took such great care of us. They spent their entire day dealing with the tough weather just to be there for us. Love you all guys!!
So thank you (Roadies) all for all your awesome comments and support. You guys are great!! But on the plus side, we know have a full week of partying it up in Colorado, so expect many drunk pics to come!!
Peace out peeps!