Leadville 100 MTB Race Report

Well… I’m stoked that one is done. I had a super fun, really hard day at the Leadville 100 MTB and am super stoked I ended up taking my slot and toeing the line. All the details are below.

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I rolled into Leadville early friday morning to picket up my packet, go for a spin, and meet up with Andrew who would be crewing for me all day at Pipleline (miles 26 & 76). I felt fantastic on my spin up the first climb on the course and it had me excited for race day. I had a breakfast burrito, checked out the expo, and then cruised down to silverthorne for the night. All pretty uneventful as I would want it to be.

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I was up at 330 race morning for breakfast and coffee and then Luke and I drove to the Leadville. Parking was easy and soon enough I was on the line and ready to roll in the silver corral. The only part of the race I was really nervous about was the start. 1500+ people smashing down the road before we got to the dirt. To go fast at Leadville it’s all about getting in a good group from the start. Surprisingly, other than a guy knocking into me when he missed his pedal right as the gun went off, the start wasn’t as chaotic as I imagined. I moved up easily and was in great position as we hit the dirt road and the St Kevin’s climb.

On the climb I moved up quite a bit but was really having work, not going that fast, and just felt ok. I thought it was just because i was cold. After Carter summit we ripped down the road and I was right with the group I wanted to be with as we hit Hagerman’s pass road and then things went south. I could barely hang on. I was yo-yo’ing of the back of the group and on the verge of getting dropped… and the pace wasn’t hot. My legs just would not respond and I didn’t have the power to surge and latch back on. We hit the sugar loaf climb and I continued to feel flat and couldn’t get my legs into gear.

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The group split a bit and I was in the back half the second group now as we hit the summit of sugarloaf. I was stoked to get to the powerlines descent as my legs already needed some time to recover. The descent was going well. I wasn’t taking too many chances because I did not want an early flat or crash so slow me down even more. I saw 4 guys in front of me one the side of the trail with flats. I was still on the back of a solid group of 4 as we hit the steepest and most rutted out part near the end of the descent. The three guys I was behind all made a move to get around a slower rider and I was shut out and had to sit behind him…. i got dropped. Fantastic.

We hit the road and I was all alone. There were a couple riders close behind so I slowed up a bit because I didn’t want to ride the long road section solo. On the road section I made sure to get in some cals as the first 90′ of the race were pretty hectic. We ended up working together to the pipeline aid station where Block was waiting with a fresh bottle of skratch. I was fumbling to get my vest off riding with no hands on the rocky fireroad and almost took a digger so I stopped to grab a bottle and take off my vest and the two guys kept rolling. So I was solo again heading out if pipleline. My legs still had one gear which was pretty much the story of the day and I couldn’t close the gap that had been created with my quick stop. A few minutes later I was caught by a solid group and they were moving well. I jumped on the back and held on and eventually got on the front and did some work.

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I stayed with this group all the way to the Twin Lakes aid station where we all kind of did our own thing and the group totally broke up. Heading into the race the columbine climb was what i was looking forward to the most. It’s a grade that I love and usually can hammer… of course… not on this day. I was creeping and could not push the gear that I normally would have nor did I have the legs to get out of the saddle and reel guys in. I could see a group just ahead of me but I couldn’t get to them.

It was frustrating to have crappy legs and no power in such a big race but I was keeping things in perspective. Maggie and Fi didn’t come up until the day of the race to see the finish and when I talked to Maggie Friday night before I went to bed she told me to “just have fun and to enjoy myself”…. and that’s exactly what I tried to do. Although I felt like crap in my head i kept saying “just have fun and enjoy yourself”.

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The top of columbine couldn’t come quick enough. I managed to pass a couple of guys but a handful had passed me. Every time some one would come by I’d try to latch on but nothing seemed to work. I reached the turnaround and was again so stoked to descend and give my legs a break. Shortly after the turnaround and mile 50 at 12,500 ft I I saw my teammate Trapper and my friends Brandon and Chad not too far behind. I honestly thought with the day I was having they were all already ahead of me. That gave me a mental boost and I blasted the descent solo.

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I reached twin lakes again where Luke was crewing for me. I made another quick stop to grab another bottle of skratch, a gel flask, and to ditch my arm warmers. there weren’t any other riders around me and I had 16 miles until getting back to pipeline at mile 76. this was my worst nightmare. there was a gnarly headwind and i was alone. just out of the aid station I caught another rider, Chris Munro from boulder, this was his 7th Leadville and he confirmed that we were in the exact position (all alone into a headwind) we didn’t want to be in. We were a few minutes down on a group of 7+ ahead of us but there was no chance to bring them back. We worked together and took turns in the wind trying to stay positive. I’m stoked I got to ride with him because he kept me in mentally in the game even if my legs didn’t have much in them to help our chase.

I made a quick stop at pipeline and grabbed another bottle, a snickers, and flask of SFH Push (caffeine). Chris didn’t stop and I was alone once in again blasting into a headwind. sweet. As soon as I got back on the road I was caught by a group of 4 and we kind of worked together. It seems all 5 of us were pretty blown but we were trying. We ended up catching Chris again right before the powerlines climb.

Powerlines was a shit show. Chris blasted away and as soon as we hit the super steep part the two guys i was with and I started hiking. I couldn’t get my legs to pedal up a climb I had ridden a bunch of times in training in the weeks before the race. The hike was brutal and it was getting hot. Luckily there were some rad people out there cheering us on, pouring cold water (it was now hot!) over us and just trying to keeps us in good spirits. it for sure helped. I finally got past the steep part and was back riding my bike. now I was with this young kid who’d been around me all day. he kept asking where the top of the climb was and weren’t even close.

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i just kept grinding in my easiest gear and felt like I was barely moving. With about a mile left in the climb my good friend from back in socal, Brandon, caught me… and dropped me. He urged me to go with him but that wasn’t happening and soon enough he was gone. The top of the climb couldn’t come soon enough and the descent down sugar loaf was a much needed break from pedaling. I was rolling on this section and took down a flask of SFH Push (my caffeine source of choice) and then at about mile 86 I grabbed a bottle full of coke from Luke.

On the climb up the road around turquoise lake my legs started to come around… finally… it only took about 90 miles. I caught and passed a couple of guys on the climb and then another just as we hit the dirt on carter summit. I was definitely feeling better than I had all day and the “kid” I was riding with was suffering a bit. He kept asking when the climbing was over… unfortunately for him we still had to battle some short, steep climbs before we got back to the road.

Once we reached the fireroad after descending from Carter summit we talked a bit. He was 18 years old!! I did the math in my head and told him that if we worked together we could break 8 hours. He told me he had nothing and was cramping up. We had 7 miles to go and I told him to just get on my wheel and I went to work. I was actually feeling great and had more power than I had all day. The miles were flying by and we hit the final climb with 3 miles to go… which are all pretty much uphill.

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With 3 miles to go I knew we were going to be cutting it close. I kept working all the way to the finish with the kid hanging on by a thread. He cracked on the final kicker on the road before descending to the finish. Nearing the finish line I saw Maggie and Fi on the side of the road cheering for me… nothing better!! I snuck in under 8 hours in 7:54 and was stoked. The day didnt’ play out quite as I thought it would, and I was 30′ of my goal, but was proud of never giving up and just playing the cards I was dealt on the day. I for sure could have trained harder, smarter, and more specifically for the demands of the race… and i will one day. I’ll definitely be back in the Leadville for the 100 MTB one day… it won’t be next year as I have other plans but it’s an awesome, super challenging race that I think suits me… and we just love leadville.

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  2 comments for “Leadville 100 MTB Race Report

  1. Ron Pannuzzo
    August 31, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Great job James. Liked your report. Podiums are great but you gotta enjoy the journey and find the drive inside yourself to push through the most challenging times. Well done.

  2. Jimmy Wills
    September 4, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    Great finish to go sub-8! It’s no joke at that elevation! Like the top of the Firecracker loop

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