As I planned out my schedule for the summer last winter, my thinking went something like, "I'll do three mountain biking races of 100, 85, and 135 miles leading up to Leadville; that will get me ready to finish in the top five of a strong field."
As it turns out, the plan, which seemed perfect but neglected road riding and interval training in June, July, and August (oops), did prepare me well to crush steep climbs after 70 miles. Unfortunately, it also zapped my legs of high-end speed and acceleration, meaning that I hit the bottom of the first climb at Leadville in about 100th place, topped out on that climb in about 50th, and spent the next 35 miles trying to chase wheels in a what felt like a frantic road race (which, as it turns out, I'm not particularly good at).
The field was not only strong but also incredibly DEEP (14 riders under 7:00 and 25 under 7:15), and my inability to make the right group--and even stay with the group I was in--throughout the first 40 miles was decisive indeed.
When we finally hit the climb to Columbine Mine at 40 miles, the race opened up to become more of a typical mountain bike race, with each competitor moving at his or her own pace up the climb to over 12,000'. "Thank goodness," said Max Taam, Travis Scheefer, and I to each other. We all felt more comfortable when the road-style terrain had passed, and I was energized to be working up the climb in the company of friends.
While the long races in Europe taxed my pure speed early on, they did make me confident and strong late in the race, and I continued to pass riders up and down Powerline and St. Kevins. Finishing strong is always a good feeling, and I came in with a good deal of momentum over the final 30 miles. The race was strung out by that point, and I crossed the line with no one in sight, ahead or behind.
26th place generally sounds like a low finish to me, but I am relatively happy with knocking off nearly 40 minutes from my 2007 finish (which was good enough for 12th place back then) for 7:15:43. A top finish at Leadville, it seems, will require some real work on road racing skills, high end speed, and, just maybe, a few more years of riding experience.
The race has transitioned from an every man's race to something much different, and competing there requires a diverse skill set. Congrats to a great field, and hats off to good friends Jay Henry (4th), Greg Krause (7th), and Gretchen Reeves (2nd woman; just a few minutes behind me ;-)
|Never got to finish that bar I stuck in my shorts!|