First of all - congratulations to Kim Hopkins and Kristin Reese for thier 1-2 finish at the MOB the Quab mtn bike race on Sunday at Lake Aquabi!
Dee and I ventured out to Leadville Colorado for our 3rd attempt at the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, which we do on our tandem.
Leadville is a hard race, crossing over 6 significant climbs and climbing over 14,000ft throughout the 100 mile race. The race starts and finishes in Leadville, at 10,200ft and climbs to it's high point at the half-way point, the Columbine Mine at 12,600ft. Riders are given a 12 hour time limit to finish the race and earn the coveted silver buckle.
Our first year on tandem we rode through a cold rain 8 hours into the race and finished in 11:55:25 - earning the buckle, but a little too close to the 12 hour mark for our comfort.
2007 was our second attempt, and after the first climb of the day, we found ourselves in 2nd place in the tandems. We held on for the rest of the day, finishing in 2nd place at 10:41:47 - quite an improvement!
In 2008, we wanted to see if we could better our time and hoped a podium spot was still realistic - as all the top 3 tandems from the previous 5 years were registered - so we knew we could have a race on our hands.
The day didn't disappoint. With sun peeking over the continental divide as we took off out of Leadville, we had only seen a couple of tandems, but with over 850 starters, it was easy to miss seeing other people. We passed one tandem as we made our way up the St. Kevin's climb, the first one of the day. On the descent Piggy told us that we were in 2nd, only a few minutes behind Mark and Serena Warner of Utah, multiple Leadville champions. The race was on!
We rode fairly strongly up the 2nd climb, knowing we still had over 80 miles to go - the prize for topping out on Sugarloaf Mountain is getting to do the Powerline descent - 3 miles of steep, rutted, rocky mountain trial that wear on nerves as well as brake pads!
After the descent down Powerline, we marched across the plateau that nestles at the base of Mt's Massive and Elbert, Colorado's highest. With a tail-wind and fairly firm gravel roads, we were able to keep up a strong pace to the 2nd checkpoint at Twin Lakes, and were about 10 min ahead of our 2007 pace.
Twin Lakes marks the start of the climb to Columbine - about 9 miles, mostly up - and the final 7, ALL up! It is about a 2 hour climb up a steep gravel road.. .that dumps you out onto a steeper, more narrow, rocky mile and a half hike-a-bike section that takes you from treeline to 12,600ft. It is a long, slow, painful slog up to Columbine, made even more interesting by the riders in front of you descending on the other side of this 4-5 foot wide rocky rutted steep trail.
Leadville is an out-and-back race, which is cool, as you get to see everybody ahead and behind you as you climb to and descend from the turn around point. We met race leaders Lance Armstrong and Dave Wiens about halfway up our climb - Lance gave us the 'peace' sign and Wiens graciously yelled "GO TANDEM!" which he honestly does for about everybody - he's a super great guy.
Anyway - we made the slow slog to the top and stopped for some soup and to refill our camelbacks - we had seen the first placed tandem leave just as we were nearing the top - and we left just 12 minutes behind them. Just as we left, a couple from Kansas, Kyle and Paulett, pulled in to the aid station... and as we were descending at the back of a line of about 6 guys, I felt someone trying to pass - and I suggested that they be patient... as I am saying that, a long green blur shoots by on our inside - the Shusters! (winners from 2007) In a fearless flash, they were gone! My desire to live kept us in this line until the uphill traffic eased up enough for us to come around the entire group - and we were off on the chase - and were behing hunted by Kyle and Paulett! Amazing - the top 4 tandems within about 12 minutes of each other at the half-way point!
It's about 45 minutes to descend from the top, much of it at break-neck speed on a tight and twisty gravel road. As we came out into the open at the bottom we couldn't see the Schusters - but as we entered a roller-coaster like singletrack section, we not only saw them, but we quickly reeled them in! On the last little rise, a mis-shift forced them to walk the rise, while we had momentum on our side and rode up over the hill, and hit the hammer on into the Twin Lakes aid station, back in 2nd. We quickly stopped, refueled and resupplied for the 40 miles and 3 climbs home, and were off. Just as we left, the Shusteres pulled into thier aid - we were again being hunted!
We rode steady, but hard across the 'flats' (not much real flat - but for Colorado - this was 'flat') A quick stop for our last aid station and 30 miles to go - we ran into Oakley Rob and enjoyed riding with him on a 3-4 mile section of pavement to the base of the Powerline... where we had a little trouble at one rutted steep point - and I dropped Dee on the ground - with Rob there to lend her a hand back up (sorry Dee!) - anyway - on to the grind of getting up this nasty climb - so steep and rutted it's all but impossible to ride. With Rob right behind, we trudged up the long steep climb. About 1/3 of the way up, you can start riding parts - and in one particularly rocky section, a change of momentum took us up a rock, stopped us cold and dropped us both down into a rocky rut. Again, Rob was right there to help us up, dust us off, and send us on our way - We sent him off in front of us... um.. .so he wouldn't see me drop Dee again?!?!?
We finally topped out - just as the cold rain started to fall - we descended a narrow rocky section for about 1.5 miles as the rain steadily gained strength, then, as we hit Haggerman road, a gravel road, it let loose - the road was a wet sloppy mess, with an inch of water running down the road... we still didn't want to get caught from behind, so we didn't let up.. and being from Iowa, we needed to take advantage of any downhills and flat sections we could - so we drove hard through the rain down to the bottom of the next climb - a 3 mile paved killer called St. Kevins.
We climbed strong and steadily, keeping pace with the folks around us, finally seeing the turn into the woods, and the last aid station. A couple of sips of Coke and a push from our friend and head Crewman, Lang, sent us onto the final 11 miles. A few steep, rocky climbs ahead and finally we topped out and started down the first climb of the day.
We hit the bottom of the climb, and in typical Colorado weirdness, it was dry as a bone! A couple of miles of flat gravel and pavement, and we were flying! One more climb to the finish! The base of the Boulevard is steep and full of round, loose rocks. We've never riden to the top because there is really only one line to follow, and if someone messes up in front of you, you are forced to stop. We found ourselves behind some guy who was not climbing fast, but still on his bike. He offered to pull to the side to let us by, but I told him to "Just stay on your bike! Just keep moving!" He did, and we made it. There is a 2 mile gravel road, all a nagging uphill grade, into town, then 1 mile of pavement to the line...with the first 1/2 mile a steep annoying uphill. At the top, you look across to the finish line and hit the hammer!
Adrenaline takes you through the crowds, up the final hill, and to the line, where all finishers under 13 hours are greeted with a Leadville 100 medal and a kiss from Marilee, the race Director!
We were done! 2nd Tandem, and by only 7 minutes! We had a PR by 17 minutes, finishing in 10:24:33. It was a record day for tandems:
A record 10 started
A record 7 finished
A record 4 finished under 11 hours and
the top 5 were all within 1 hour!
We are thankful for all the support we recieved as we prepared for and competed in this great event - Bike World for bike support and the trailer to get out there, Langer, Duffy, Benson, Fishy and Rob for the great gravel road training rides. Tyler at True Life Chiropractic for keeping us straight! Langer for his GREAT job as head Crewman -and his push off from Twin Lakes! Robby for the hand up, and kind words on the Powerline. Pig for cheering so early in the morning. Of course our kids for thier patince as we trained and left them helpless at home - I'm kidding about that part! Thanks to our friend Katie who watched our kids, the kids had an awesome time while we were in Colorado! And, of course our ALL9Yards friends for all the miles, support and friendship throughout the year!
Peace - Dave and Dee