This weekend marks the second Saturday in August. While I’m sitting at home eating cake and hot dogs for my daughters birthday, 1,500 riders will be tackling one of the most grueling races in the world.
Leadville established itself as the bucket list cross-country mountain bike race long ago. It requires entrance in a competitive lottery just to get in and is capped at 1,500 riders at the mass start in Leadville with an elevation 10,152 feet. From there riders take on a gruelling 104-mile out-and-back route which takes them above treeline at the summit of the Columbine Mine climb, elevation 12,424 feet. Over 104 miles the race has approximately 11,000 feet of climbing.
What draws a lot of interest from disciplines other than pure mountain bikers though is that the course isn’t particularly technical. Most of the race takes place on fire-roads and gravel. While short-travel full suspension XC bikes are the norm now, a hardtail or even gravel bike will get you through just fine. The real difficulty is the lack of oxygen and continuous climbing in this “Race Across the Sky.”
That lack of technicality draws WorldTour road cycling pros to the scene. Lance Armstrong won the race in 2009 and Levi Leipheimer took the title in 2010.
This year Taylor Phinney (EF Education First) will take on the Leadville 100 with teammates Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes. Other big WorldTour riders who will be racing are Peter Stetina and Ted King. The WorldTour pros will have tough MTB competitions. Two-time defending champion Howard Grotts, three-time winner Todd Wells and other big names like Quinn Simmons, Jeremiah Bishop, Payson McElveen, and Alex Grant will be there as well.
WorldTour pros can struggle with this type of race, on the tarmac they have hard efforts interspersed with easy efforts sitting in the peloton. The Leadville 100 is 6 to 7 hours of constant, high power. At this point in the season, far removed from the spring classics, WorldTour pros are used to 3 to 4 hour days in the saddle.
All that said, I’ve got my money on Stetina this year. Stetina came in second at Dirty Kanza so we know he has the stamina for a strong all day effort. Plus, he grew up in Boulder and knows the local scene.