Leadville...The Race Out [3 of 4]

Posted: 08/17/2000 by Scott Anthony


My race day started with my partner in crime banging on the bedroom door at 3:45 AM Saturday morning, August 12. Mark had the only alarm clock in the cabin and was thus charged with waking me up. I got out of bed with a purpose and stumbled into the kitchen for the pre-race breakfast.

I had been advised by JR, my trainer, to consume approximately 700 calories at least 2 hours before the race. So I had about 30 minutes to wolf down a bunch of food. It proved very easy, given the items that I had selected. No high octane coffee for this one....I couldn't afford the chance of dissipating badly needed fluids early in the game. Besides, I figured that I would be wide awake by the time the gun went off anyhow. I had a big bowl of instant oatmeal, with 2 slices of wheat toast, smeared with peanut butter, a banana, and half a bottle of Quick Chocolate milk. I think I was over the calories....but I knew that I would use it up.

As I talked to Mark, he explained how he had not slept well....tossing and turning all night. I, on the other hand had slept soundly and was ready to go. After eating breakfast, we both went back to bed to catch a 45 min. nap before the race. Sure......not a chance! I rested, but now all of the thoughts were flooding my senses and I couldn't sleep. Finally it was time to get dressed and get moving. One last equipment check, tire preasures.....and down the road we went. It was 5:55 AM

We had to check in by 6:15. It took all of 50 seconds coasting down the hill to the start line at the corner of 6th & Harrison. A large crowd was already gathered and deafening, poor quality, music was being beamed at us from the PA system. Mark and I checked in and found a place to lay our bikes down to save our starting positions. As we looked around, we assessed the entourage of equipment. He and I both decided that we had never seen such an array of Titanium bicycles in all of our lives. The Moots YBB was certainly one of the most prominent, and at just under $3000 for just the frame......you can imagine the kind of $$$$ that were invested.

The weather was perfect! We had cloud cover overnight and it had kept the temperature very moderate. I thinking the starting temp was in the low 50's. I opted for just my CCC jersey, leg and arm warmers and my habitual long fingered gloves. I would not know until later, but this clothing probably made the difference between finishing and not.

Ok, a final small dose of quick burn calories. 10 minutes to the start. I am the calmest that I have ever been at the start of a bike race. I have tunnel vision. I am experiencing the sounds of the crowd, the announcer getting everyone whipped up, but I have isolated my energies. I know what the first 5 miles of the race course is.....but that is it. With the exception of the hike we took up Columbine Mine, I have not even been on any of the dirt sections of the course. When Mark had asked me if I had any time strategies, I had an answer that baffled him at first.....but made sense later.

I was going to go fast. I would go faster wherever I could, and slower when I couldn't go fast. It was all I knew to do. I knew that I had to pace myself some, but I also new that I had to make good time on the way out, because the return leg was predominately uphill.

5,4,3,2,1.......Bang! The gun goes off and the police escort whisks us down 6th ST to the beginning of the race. Mark had told me to not worry about positioning at the start, just be careful on the first paved section. Well, I clocked the whole group at almost 30 mph going down the hill after the police pulled off. I wasn't making time on anyone, just sitting in the mass of mtbs whizzing down the paved road. I am sure glad that we weren't hammering at the start!

Finally....dirt! As we funneled unto the first of many dirt fire roads, we passed through Leadville Junction. A beautiful meadow, with early morning fog still burning off....I looked real quick for elk or deer, but got right back to business. And that was going fast! I wanted to put all of the "road" training miles to work wherever I could. I knew that people better acclimated would be hitting the hills harder than I could, so I tried to make time in other areas.

It turned uphill quick enough. And my illusions of "going fast" came to a brick wall kind of stop. Here was the real deal. Many hundreds of crazed mtber's climbing a steep, narrow fire road. Everyone gasping for air, some going a little faster....others' a little slower. The "fast" guys/gals were already several swithbacks ahead of the rest of us. And we knew that the gap would just get bigger as the day went on. That was ok.....I knew my goal. I was going to finish this race. Anything above finishing would be "icing on the cake", but nothing, nothing short of serious health issues was going to keep me from finishing this race!

I never saw Mark again during the race. I told him afterwards, that I kept pushing harder, because I was expecting for him to pass me anytime. It just wasn't to be this year.

As I was nearing the top of the first climb, there were some slightly downhill, rolling sections. It was here that I once again discovered the substantial difference in the way that I descend, and how people with more brain cells ride a bike downhill. I was passing people.....lots of people. We finally got to the top of St. Kevens and popped out onto a paved road for the descent down to Turquoise Lake. We are at the 10 mile mark and I am feeling great.

The road winds down towards the lake and this is all about how much you trust your tires on the pavement. A road bike would have been doing 45-50mph with ease. I maxed out at a hair over 45. I must say......it was definitely too fast, so early in the race, but I was pumped and knew that another climb was coming.

And here it was. The only single track on the whole course, and we get to ride it "up" on the way out. Well, ride it isn't exactly true. You see, with this many riders on a fairly technical trail, the only people who really got to ride it were the first 5 riders. Everyone else ended up walking/running. I finally got a clean shot at some of it and did ride a pretty good length of it to the cheers of some of the other racers, but it was short lived and I finished the same way everyone else did. Doing the 2 step.

It dumped us out on yet another dirt road. I grabbed some gears and started really pushing, trying to gain some good momentum. I couldn't figure out why it was so hard to pedal down this road, until we hit a switchback.....and I realized that I had been trying to pull a "huge" gear "up" this road. My first hint that the brain wasn't working up to snuff.....I had thought that the road was either flat or slightly downhill. I shook my head in disbelief and grabbed some more appropriate gears for the balance of the climb up Sugarloaf.

Climb, grind......a rather consistent grade made this more boring than anything. At this point in the race I am still watching the clock on my cycle computer nervously. I don't want to lose any time, but have to keep from "blowing-up." The top comes up none too quickly for me and it is the "fun" stuff again.

Let me explain this descent. It is a road, that criss crosses under a set of high-tension power lines, down the steepest side of Sugarloaf. It is treacherous. Normally, it is very dry, decomposed granite like material that has the consistency and traction coefficient of oily marbles. We got lucky. It had rained just enough on this hill the night before, that we got traction more like dry marbles. Lots of washed out sections. Big ruts. Sweeping turns with debris in the middle, and riders of every skill level imaginable.

Now I admit.....I was a bad guy. I should have been more patient. I know better. I was cautioned about doing what I did. I just couldn't help myself. I started passing people. And once you start....it kinda becomes like a shark feeding frenzy. I kept going faster and faster. Feeding off each close call and pushing the envelope further. I had put on semi-slick tires for the first time in my life and had not tested them on the dirt (yeah, I know.....how stupid could I be.) But I got lucky. The tires were performing well. I tested the traction on a couple of corners and got them to slide in a controlled manner. So, my confidence started to grow.....

I found myself passing a group at about the 2/3 point of the descent. I was plowing through what appeared to be a nasty, rocky section.....but which was actually a clean line at speed (your wheels spend much less time bouncing into things, they are too busy bouncing over the tops of things.) All of a sudden my line deteriorates and I have no where to go. The large group that I was passing have the "clean" inside line. I am left with the remains of a boulder strewn, off camber, left hand sweeper, which unbeknownst to me is also decreasing in radius. My speed is easily twice theirs as we all enter the corner, side by side. I am doing fine, until I realize the decreasing radius part. Not good! I find myself with way too much speed to make the corner and no line choice.

I got lucky. My line smoothed out in front of me at the same time the rear wheel lost traction. I don't know how, but I instantly crossed up my front wheel like a motorcycle flat tracker and drifted the rest of the corner. The slide started to lose momentum as the trail straightened and I just got my foot back on the inside pedal and hammered away. I was shaking like a leaf, but still in the groove. I swear that this is no exaggeration of the situation....it was the most intense, high speed, dirt corner that I have ever attempted. I know how lucky I was! I rode the rest of the descent a little slower, but there was nobody chasing me.

After crossing a small stream we found ourselves on a paved road. This marked about mile 80. As I was struggling with my gears ( they were already giving me grief), another rider came up alongside of me. He looked over at me fighting my gears and put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Awesome downhilling dude. Be careful, this is a long race." And he jumped a few gears and was gone. I finally got into a rhythm and found some riders doing a similar pace. We pacelined it down across the flats and off towards the first checkpoint at the beginning to the Pipeline Road. The guys dropped me right before the checkpoint/aid station, but that was ok. The pace was awesome. I was at the aid station at just over 2 hours. 26 miles down!

Sylvia and Michael were there and performed perfectly. They reminded meet to eat (which I was not doing well.) Sylvia offered to take my arm/leg warmers. Key move.....I said "No, not now." It is the little things that sometimes come back and pay off big. And there it was. You see, they didn't make it to the next aid station before I did. And I didn't have my jacket, so all I had for clothes for the climb to 12,600' was what I had on.

The 14 miles to Twin Lakes aid station was fast. I was surprised, I thought that it would be harder than it was. It was fast dirt roads that had some climbing and rolling hills. One big hill that kind of dropped away from you as you rode up to it. They named it the North Face, in honor of one of the race's sponsors. They warned us about it in the briefing. I just smiled as I rode down past people walking it. I got to Twin Lakes with mile 40 behind me at 3 hours straight up.

No Michael and Sylvia. No jacket. No pocket camera for the oxygen deprived picture at the top. I waited for 30 seconds, searching for them. I stopped and got some orange pieces and a boiled potato at the food table. The people were so nice. Everyone trying to help you. I have never seen anything quite like it. People to hold your bike, to fill bottle, camelbacks. Anything you need.....they are there for you. I even had 2 other crews offer to help me. These people had there own racers to worry about....saw me, knew that my people weren't there yet, and tried to help. Amazing! Thanks to everyone that had anything to do with helping at this race! A more impressive group I have never seen!

Off I go....to climb the beast. This climb has loomed large in my mind. It's profile, daunting on paper, does not do it justice. It is a mountain! It is big! There is no air here!

I suck down some more powergel and wash it down with the Endurox that I am carrying in my camelback. I decide early on that I will try to turn my middle ring as far up the climb as I can. I have the new 9 speed on this bike and have the luxury of a 34 tooth middle ring, with a wonderful 34 tooth on my rear cassette. This is great for keeping the spin going and I can shift down into the cog in back for a little more speed easily when I want to stand and push the tempo a little.

All of the training paid off here. I grunted up the first 6 miles without having to go down to my granny gear. It was long and hard. I don't know how to explain what a constant, never stopping for a break, 2 hour + climbing effort at altitude is like. At the 6 mile point the road deteriorates and the smallest gear on the bike becomes your best friend instantly. Some of us tried to keep riding, but the combination of the rough trail, lack of oxygen, and the riders descending past you at almost 30mph, just made it impossible. So, the trudge to the top began.

At this point I was almost 1:35 into the climb. This is hard, hard work. Your body is saying "no" and you have to keep telling your mind "go". We walked, being careful to stay out of the way of the descending riders. We stumbled, we silently (and sometimes not so silently) cursed this mountain. I knew that I was losing time. I started thinking that I finally understood why they give you 4 hours to climb this. It was gruelling, punishing to the core.....and there was always more! Finally, a stretch that could be ridden. Then it was walking again.

All of a sudden, it mellowed out, and we could ride again. I jumped on and slowly became acquainted with pedaling again, instead of pushing. Before long, there it was. The aid station at the top of Columbine Mine. Volunteers braving the elements were there to cheer you to your goal. The halfway point. It had taken me 2:13 to get there. Ten miles....8 of it straight up......unbeleivable.

And this was mile 50..........



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