Event Recap: 2013 UCI Cyclo-Cross Worlds

With plenty of cowbells, intense racing and a raucous crowd – the 2013 UCI Cyclocross Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky, was a great show! For the first time ever, the elite cyclocross world championships were held outside of Europe, and, since it was only a short drive from our Cincinnati store, we couldn’t miss the chance to see what it was all about in person! As a proud sponsor of this once-in-a-lifetime event here in the US, Performance Bicycle sent a team of associates to meet some of the dedicated ‘cross fans and also take in the racing action.

Our team arrived a day early to get set up in the expo area near the race course only to be greeted by frigid temperatures and fresh snow – perfect ‘cross weather. But soon after we started unpacking our gear, we learned that the planned 2 day event had been compressed down to a single day of racing, due to impending flood waters from the nearby Ohio River.

DSC_0001So that meant that race day was an early one for our team – to get all 4 championship races completed, the schedule started in the morning and ran all day long. Fans started rolling in shortly after 8AM to find their favorite viewing spot on the compact race course and we were ready for the influx with an array of giveaways, games and (of course) cowbells.

DSC_0013aOur tent was busy all day long – we met ‘cross fans from all across the US and Europe, including folks from about 30 states and at least 6 different countries. It’s not just Belgians and Dutch who love cyclocross – fans of all stripes were out in force to watch their favorite racers!

DSC_0008aWe even ran into Captain America and his blue-haired sidekick, who obligingly posed with our cool cowbells.

02022013_CXWorlds_0032Of course the dedicated European supporters’ clubs made the trip as well – with matching wigs, flags, hats and outfits. These groups travel to almost every race on the pro circuit, so they weren’t going to let an ocean get in the way of watching the world championships in person.

02022013_CXWorlds_0002But we should also take a moment to give a special thanks to the dedicated Louisville Parks Department team that worked late into the night to hold back the flood waters long enough for the race to go on – without the sandbags and barriers below, no one would have had the chance to enjoy this spectacular event.

02022013_CXWorlds_0004Finally it was race time – a non-stop showcase of the best cyclocross racing in the world. The junior men’s race was first out of the blocks on a still-frozen course – as you can see, conditions were fast but still slippery for these youngest racers. Dutch rider Mathieu Van Der Poel continued his season-long domination and defended his junior world crown, but American Logan Owen rode to an impressive 4th place overall – supported by a boisterous crowd!

02022013_CXWorlds_0007And the crowd noise was indeed impressive! The ‘cross fans were in full throat from the earliest races to the end of the day – and not just for the leaders or US riders (although there was plenty of “USA! USA!” chants for the home team). Even the last place riders were supported with a wall of sound on every lap – we put together a quick video to share some of what the atmosphere was like:

And they’re off – these Belgian fans got a snapshot of the women’s race as they gunned for the hole shot.

02022013_CXWorlds_0017But in the women’s race no one could touch the incomparable Marianne Vos, who soloed to her 6th cyclocross world championship (although American Katie Compton put in a valiant chase to get second place).

02022013_CXWorlds_0021By the time the men’s race started in the late afternoon, the slowly thawing course turned into a sloppy, muddy track – perfect for ‘cross racing and epic race photos.

DSC_0137We had our cowbells ready to cheer on the racers, especially in front of the Performance Bicycle course banners.

DSC_0049Top-placed American finisher Tim Johnson here navigates a tricky corner in front of the huge crowd.

02022013_CXWorlds_0051The new world champ, Sven Nys, was focused all race long – he stayed at the front of the pack all race and escaped for the win on the last lap, out-dueling teammate Klaas Vantornout.

02022013_CXWorlds_0053Crowds, banners, cowbells and mud – is this Belgium or Kentucky?

02022013_CXWorlds_0054American Jonathan Page put together a great race on his brand new Fuji Altamira CX 1.0 bike – he was running in the top 10 until a jammed chain slowed him down in the middle of the race.

02022013_CXWorlds_0064And just to show that the event organizers made the right call to move all of the racing to Saturday, here’s what the course looked like on Sunday morning!

Flooded course form @timjohnsoncx on Twitter

Flooded course via @timjohnsoncx on Twitter

All in all, this was an amazing event – we want to thank everyone who came by our tent to say hello and the folks at the Louisville 2013 organization for letting us be a part of this historic day of racing. If you weren’t able to make it to the race in person, definitely check out the replay on the UCI Youtube channel.

Performance Bicycle at the 2013 UCI Cyclo-Cross Elite World Championships

cx_worldsIn case you’ve missed it, the UCI Cyclo-Cross Elite World Championships is leaving Europe for the very first time in 2013 (the weekend of February 2-3 to be precise). The cyclocross elite are going to descend on Louisville, Kentucky to celebrate the crazy world that is ‘cross racing – full of cold weather, mud, Belgians, cowbells, barriers and some of the most intense bike racing that you will ever find. If you’re not familiar with the basics of cyclocross, head over to our Learning Center to find out what this specialized winter cycling discipline is all about. If you haven’t seen it in person, the US cyclocross scene is passionate and growing fast – the guys here in our office don’t use ‘cross to stay in shape for next season, they use the rest of the year to get ready for ‘cross season!

ben_and_ross

Ben and Ross, from our home office, at our local ‘Nascross’ race

Needless to say, we couldn’t miss this amazing opportunity to see the world’s best cyclocross racers battle it out for a coveted rainbow jersey here in the US. As an official sponsor of Louisville 2013, we’ll be sending a crew to the event to cover the action and also to meet fans at the expo who come by our Performance Bicycle tent. We’re excited to meet cyclocross fans from around the globe (although we need to work on our Flemish), show off some of the great cyclocross bikes that we carry, and even give away some pretty amazing prizes and freebies (yes, we will have cowbells)!

performance_tent

Performance Bicycle tent at Stage 6 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge

So what do you need to know if you can’t make it to Louisville for the big event this year? We’ll be posting updates to the Performance Bike Facebook and Twitter pages live every day, plus of course there will be great coverage of the racing on cycling news sites like VeloNews and Cyclocross Magazine. If you want to watch the races live here in the US, you’ll either need to find an international channel that is broadcasting the races or tune in to USA Cycling’s YouTube channel, which will stream every race live for free. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on this opportunity to watch the world’s best here in the US. Whether you are rooting for the American team of Jonathan Page, Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Zach McDonald, Logan Owen, and Katie Compton (to name just a few), or if you want to see international stars like Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Lars Van der Haar, or the incomparable Marianne Vos – it is definitely going to be a weekend to remember in Kentucky.

Pisgah Stage Race: Looking back

Our team of Johnny & Chris has finally recovered from their second place finish at the epic 2012 Pisgah Stage Race – 5 days, 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing on some of North Carolina’s best mountain bike trails. Now that they’ve had some time to recover, we’re handing the blog over to Johnny, to wrap up their racing experience.

Chris & Johnny on the final podium (Johnny is on the right)

So I have had over a week to reflect on the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. I want to give you the highs and lows, products I am glad I had, and a few final thoughts. If you are thinking about doing any mountain bike stage races, especially the Pisgah MTB Stage Race, be sure and read this post along with our coverage during the race.

Highs:

  • Incredible world class trails – My new favorite place to ride.
  • Descents – Challenging, yet rewarding. You have to know how to ride a bike here.
  • Waterfalls/scenery – In one county alone there are more than 250 waterfalls and many of the 400 miles of singletrack pass right by some of the best.
  • Fellow racers – Everyone who participated and volunteered at the event was super friendly, ready to help out, and just a joy to be around.

  • Less of a race feel – It didn’t have the feel of a race. I mean this in a good way. There were no signs of prideful, ego-boosting personalities.
  • Satisfaction of completion – Finishing this grueling event is a feat in and of itself.
  • Weather – While the rain of Stage One was rough, the blue skies, low humidity, and fresh mountain air overly compensated for it.

Lows:

  • Weather – Part of the Pisgah National Forest is considered a rain forest, I believe it now.
  • Climbs – Long, never ending. Each time you think the next turn will bring relief, the trail goes up even higher. A familiar phrase from course marshals was, “Straight up that way.”

  • Mental – You get used to the physical difficulty of the race. What is more important is being strong mentally to keep going and keep pushing, no matter what it looks like around the next bend.
  • Bike part destruction – Your bike and parts will be put to the test. Bring a spare bike, just so you know you have a replacement of every part on a bike. It is truly the easiest way to ensure and bring all the spare parts you might need.
  • Recovery? There is a question mark because by the time you finish the stage, get cleaned up, eat, and get your bike ready for the next day, there isn’t much time left before you wake up, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Products:

  • Forte Pisgah MTB Tires – With the weather on day one, tire selection was critical to maintaining forward momentum on the narrow, rock strewn, rooty singletrack (or as some call it, halftrack). Therefore I was very glad I had the Forte Pisgah tires below me to grab hold of the rugged terrain. The Forte Pisgah excels at gaining traction in this type of environment. They did such a good job of maintaining traction on the trails that they boosted my confidence while riding and given the trail conditions I was more willing to attempt difficult sections, knowing the tires would not break loose. Let’s just say the tires definitely earned their right to be named Pisgah and also a long term place on my bike.

Forte Pisgah MTB Tires

  • White Brothers Loop 140 TCR 26″ Suspension Fork – Pisgah Mountain Bike trails are for true riders. One has to know how to handle a bike to survive the trials in the Pisgah National Forest. With that in mind, I enjoyed checking out the other racers bikes to see what products they were using. On multiple occasions I spotted a white brothers loop soaking up the roots and rocks at Pisgah. I have been riding the Loop now for about 9 months and with Pisgah to cap off my testing I can honestly say it has earned its keep on the front of my bike. The fork just works, it comes out of the box ready to go and it isn’t overly complicated with buttons, knobs, dials, and levers everywhere. In most cases, with such long days on the trail with varying terrain, I could just set the threshold damper all the way and leave it all day.

  • Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur – As I am sure you know by now, the trails at Pisgah are tough, rugged, yet rewarding. I was glad to have the XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur. I imagine the sound of chain slap would have driven me crazy by the end of the 5 day event. This technology is here to stay, as SRAM now has a similar feature in their TYPE 2 models. I did have to add some tension on one occasion during the week with the built in tool. I am curious to try out the SRAM version to see how it holds up because I am not sure how many seasons the Shimano mechanism will make it through.

Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur

  • Shimano XT PD-M785 MTB Trail Pedals – Slippery Roots, skinny trails, creek crossings, and mud strewn singletrack call for two things when it comes to pedals; secure footing and mud clearance. The XT trail pedal has both.

  • DT Swiss Tricon XM1550 Wheels –  As mentioned before, the Mountain Bike Trails at Pisgah are tough. They will test a rider and the bike to the limits. The trails are laced with rock gardens, roots, drops, and high speed descents with all of the above. I was riding these wheels to find out if we should bring them in to our product lineup, and these wheels took it all in stride. They are very stiff with a low weight, the perfect combo for a multiday stage race. After multiple encounters with rocks, roots, and drops they are still spinning true.
  • Brakes – We quickly realized how important brakes are at Pisgah. If you don’t know what I am talking about, see the post on Stage One. I began the race with the new Magura MT series disc brake. They are light weight and have great modulation. Once the pads were gone after stage one and no shops in town had a replacement set of pads (keep this in mind when gathering spare parts to bring to an event), I had to switch over the set of Shimano XTR BR-M988 Hydraulic Disc Brakes for Trail off of the spare bike. The Shimano brakes were a little heavier than the Magura’s; however, the increased power and finned pads were welcomed on the steep mountain descents. My verdict: All Mountain Riding: Nothing beats the power and cooling technology of the XTR’s. Cross Country Riding: Light weight and superior modulation make the Magura MT series a top contender.
  • Grips – I was fortunate enough to try out both the Ergon GS1 and GA1 grips throughout the stage race. My thoughts. The Ergon GA1 is labeled as All Mountain and it is when compared to the other grips in the Ergon line. I loved the feel and shape of the grip. The contour through the palm was excellent, as it filled the gap you normally find in the center of your palm when wrapped around a bar. These grips excelled on the descents, dampening vibrations and providing a solid feel.  These have made a permanent home on my bike.The Ergon GS1 grips have a larger surface area for your hand to rest on. Some people love these grips and use them on all their bikes; however, they are not for me. I enjoyed them on the climbs, being able to adjust my position and rest my hand some. On the other hand, with the steepness of the descents, I found myself sliding forward and with nothing to really wrap around I had to hold on much more tightly to keep my weight back on the bike. I had the feeling on many occasions that I was going to slide over the bars. These may be for you if your typical rides aren’t as steep on the downhill sections.

Ergon GA1 grips

  • Rockshox Reverb Adjustable Seatpost – This is one item I would not do the Pisgah Stage Race without. Having the ability to lower my seat to clear so many trail obstacles was priceless. I am not the only one who feels this way. Just ask most mountain bike riders and they will tell you their dropper post is their most favorite piece of equipment. The RockShox Reverb set the bar high and is one of the best dropper posts in the market.

  • Devinci Dixon- It was a blast riding this bike at Pisgah. Even though the Devinci Dixon is made in Canada, I think it was built with the Pisgah trails in mind. What a bike. The split pivot suspension design works very well under power and braking. My consensus for the race; Most others brought the efficient climber (29er hardtail) to race on with the thought they would just suffer through the descents.  The climbs were difficult in that everyone suffered, no matter the bike. Therefore, I was one of the few having a blast on the Dixon bombing down Farlow and Pilot Rock. If having fun, ripping down world class singletrack is your thing; you must try the Devinci Dixon.

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race Final Preview

A more detailed write-up of the final stage and a full race retrospective including in depth product reviews is on the way. We didn’t want to leave you in suspense however, so let it be known that we held onto second place duo team. If you just can’t wait to learn more about Pisgah Stage 5, check out Cycling Dirt’s video recap here (you’ll notice one particular Team Performance cyclist bravely pulling the field at about 1:16).

More to come!

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – Stage 4 – Deathmarch

If any of you remember our coverage from the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race from two years ago, you may remember that Team Performance had a VERY rough stage 4. We limped across the line after 7 hours and 30 minutes of the most difficult riding we had ever done. Having that experience going into stage 4 2012 created a sense of dread as we lined up for the start.

The stage was basically identical so we knew in advance that we had to start by climbing the steep side of Black Mountain.

We sat in the pack and quietly hoped that the third place duo team was suffering as much as we were.

Black Mountain eventually gave way to Turkey Pen Gap. Todd (the race organizer) called this section of trail the most “back woods” section of the race and he wasn’t kidding. The trail was so overgrown that riders could barely see a couple of feet in front of their front wheels. This didn’t decrease the technical nature of Pisgah Forest, so it was a game of reflexes trying to stay upright.

Once through the dense Turkey Pen Gap we headed back onto Squirrel Gap. This time we rode it the other direction and it was dry. What a difference! We were cleaning lines that only days ago we had to walk.

At the end of the day we solidified our lead over third place (and lost even more time to the first placed team). Tomorrow brings the climb up Laurel Mountain and the Pilot Rock descent. It’s going to be a brutal day but at least it won’t be snowing!

2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Easy Day?

We were informed last night by the Pisgah Stage Race director that today would be the easy day. Let’s just say that an “easy day” in the Pisgah Stage Race is one of the most difficult days back home! While there were some lovely high speed sections, we also encountered the usual Pisgah Stage Race mountain climbs where only the strongest riders can power up while staying in the saddle. But first let’s take a look at some videos from Stage 2. Here’s the start of the stage:

A quick view in the pack mid-race:

And then the madness that is Farlow Gap:

Now let’s get back to the third stage – our day started like every other.

We pulled into the start about 30 minutes before the gun fired thanks to one wrong turn on our way in. That still left us enough time to get ready and warm up a little before the start.

The Performance Team felt strong today, now three days in. We know you are wondering, and yes we were able to put a little time back in between us and the third place team. The cheering section out there was also in full regalia:

The course was the usual mix of rocks, roots, and stream crossings.

Tomorrow we’re going to work on capturing some video as we tackle the stage that everyone calls the most difficult stage in the race. In the meantime, you can find us doing us what we do best in the latest video from Cycling Dirt here. (That would be eating)

The product of the day is Paceline Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r.

If there’s one product that I (Christopher) would not be able to live without at an event like this, it would be good chamois cream. Paceline’s Eurostyle has just the slightest hint of the cooling effect that differentiates it from non-eurostyle types of cream. It’s not overpowering and it really does last a very long time. Proper “body” care is absolutely essential to surviving an event this long and difficult and my care starts with Paceline.

2012 Pisgah Stage Race – Furious Farlow Gap

With minutes to spare we got our last needed set of brake pads replaced (check yesterday’s post to see why) and headed to the starting line of stage #2 of the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. The stage started out of the Cradle of Forestry, a first ever for the Pisgah Stage Race.

The Performance Team of Chris Danz and Johnny Pratt ended up in second place for the duo team category after stage one. Therefore, we had to do our best with sore muscles to maintain our position. While the weather for stage one created a mindset of strictly business to finish the stage, day two’s sunshine brought about smiles, excitement, and chatter among the racers as we barreled down the technical singletrack.

Do not be fooled however, because pretty soon the climbing ensued. The beast of the stage was a particularly steep 4 mile climb that put our mental game to the test. With mind and body battling it out we anticipated the infamous Farlow Gap downhill. Let’s just say this section is extremely difficult to complete in dry conditions, with so many drops, ledges, and boulders making up the descent. Then you throw in the downpour from yesterday and you now have the Farlow Gap Waterfall. Johnny was able to clean the line somehow, all the while passing racer after racer attempting to walk (more like slide) down with their bikes.

Meanwhile Chris was putting his medic skills to use bandaging up victims of the descent.

A happily bandaged rider.We both came out alive on the other end and powered our way to the finish.

We took third place for the stage and maintained our 2nd place position overall. We are excited to see what challenges stage 3 will bring us tomorrow.

Items we’re glad we had – Rockshox Reverb dropper post, White Brothers Loop Suspension Fork, Ergon GS1 Grips.

Ergon GX-1Casualties of the day: 1 Bottom Bracket – Even sealed bearings couldn’t survive yesterday’s stage.

Now we’re just a few back-porch repairs away from sleep. Tomorrow’s stage will be the shortest of the race at only 25 miles. Does that mean we’ll have a super easy time of it? Will our bikes hold up? Will we hold off that third place team? Stay tuned to find out!

Pisgah 2012 Stage 1 – White Squirrel Loop

Stage one of the 2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race started just as the Weather Channel predicted it would – with rain.

Some might have called it a deluge. Still, we left our rain jackets behind and signed our fates away to Todd Branham and the insanity he calls a “stage race”.

And with that, we lined up and headed out into the rain.

The White Squirrel Loop is the reason that Pisgah trails are sometimes referred to as “half-track” (as opposed to single-track). The trail is narrow, there are roots and rocks everywhere, and there tends to be a cliff’s edge to one side or the other.

Sadly, even though we were up to the challenge of riding in the rain for 6 hours, our cameras didn’t quite excel. Suffice it to say, it was very wet all day and more than a little muddy. How muddy was it? Without exception, everyone we talked to had the same issue at the end of the day:

 . . . worn out brake pads! Those pads were only weeks old and looked like they were brand new at the beginning of the day. No matter the brand and no matter the rider, we all are spending our evenings cleaning muddy bikes and replacing worn out pads.

Tomorrow we tackle the fabled Farlow Gap. We’re in second place so far in the team standings, so wish us luck and check back for more updates soon!

Pouring Rain, Product Impressions, Pounding Hearts…..The Pisgah MTB Stage Race is Here!

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are about to change, the temperatures have dropped into the “constantly pleasant” range, the days are growing shorter, and our summer fitness is going to go the way of the white squirrels (hiding for winter). This can only mean one thing: it’s time for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race!

This year, one of our Pisgah veterans David will be spending the week reporting from Interbike so I (Christopher) am taking the opportunity to introduce another co-worker (Johnny) to the sweetest single track on the planet. Over the course of five gruelling stages we’re going to try to accomplish our eternal stage race goal: don’t be last.

In an attempt to not be last this year, I’ve got a new bike! Meet my GT Zaskar 100 9r:GT Zaskar 100 9rNow those with a sharp eye will notice that I’ve made a couple of upgrades to my Zaskar. I wanted to call out one in particular today. This week I’m going to be giving the most challenging test to our new Forte Tsali 29er tires.

Tsali SidewallThe Tsali is the latest in our new line of 29er tires. It’s named for a trail network that’s in the same area as the stage race, so this race should leave the tires feeling right at home. At 656 grams for a 2.2″ 29er tire, they are a great race ready tire. The dual density rubber has shown an impressive amount of grip on my training rides and I’m looking forward to really seeing what these tires are capable of. I’m about 160 pounds and with Stan’s Tire Sealant sealing these tires to ZTR Crest rims, I’m running these tires tubeless at about 25 psi.

Tsali treadWith rain in the forecast for tomorrow’s White Squirrel Loop, stage 1 promises to be a real test for the Tsali 29er tires and for us the riders.

Now I’m going to turn things over to Johnny for his first thoughts and product highlights.

Cue Jaws soundtrack. Why you might ask? Two reasons really.

  1. The 2012 Pisgah Stage Race begins tomorrow! My heart is beating a little harder today in anticipation. I can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow through my veins.From the race director:We’ve got another great year planned and are honored to have so many folks from such a vast area want to be a part of this race. We have 75 riders coming from 12 different states, including Colorado, Texas and Vermont. Over 20% of the riders are coming from outside of the United States from places like Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. The youngest registered racer is 22 and the oldest a mere 58. Only 12% of the racers are under 30 years old and only 16% of the racers are women.We’re excited to be starting a day out of the historic Cradle of Forestry on Wednesday! This is the first time an event like this has operated out of this facility and as you will see, it is spectacular. This is the site of the first forestry school in America, founded by Carl Schenck, also the stage’s namesake.
  2. We might as well be in a scene from the movie Jaws because 3-5” of rain is expected to fall in the region over the next 48 hours. The singletrack will be our great white, looking to eat us up with every twisting, slippery root and unsettling boulder. As if the trails weren’t epic enough, throw in all the rain and I can only imagine the battle between man and mountain that will ensue. Makes you want to come out and join us right? Be sure and lift up that warm mug of coffee tomorrow morning one more time for us.

In case you are wondering, this is what I saw this morning as the weather channel page loaded:

Yes, that pinkish white section, meaning 5”+, under the word Wednesday is where we will be racing.

With all that rain on the way, having a firm grip on the handlebars is going to be very important. Therefore, we will be sporting grips from Ergon. I am going to alrenate between their all mountain GA1 Evo, which I have been riding over the past 6 weeks, and their GS1 which provides a little more support. I love the subtle, yet important contour to the GA1 grip. It fits under my palm very well and spreads out the impact over a larger surface area of my hand resulting in more comfort. With these long stages ahead, comfort is going to be critical.

Here we both are, in good spirits, relaxing over a game of cornhole. Stay tuned tomorrow and through the rest of the week as we bring you live updates from this ultimate mountain bike adventure!

Leadville Race Report: Tom from Performance Bicycle

Our team has recovered from the altitude and exertion of the fabled Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race, and has finally had time to get some coherent thoughts down on paper (or on the computer, in this case). This year Performance Bicycle sent a crew to Leadville to find out what the race is really like, and we found that our friends at Lifetime Fitness have built upon the tradition that race founder Ken Chlouber started 30 years ago – this is a race where you have to “dig deep” just to cross the finish line. In addition to our 3 racers (Chris, Tom and David), Performance Bicycle also supplied the only official neutral support mechanics for the race – our expert team of Spin Doctor mechanics, Kyle and Jeff. Check out our video below to see a few of the sights and sounds from the race, and read on below for Tom’s take on the Leadville experience.

I’ve always had a thing for endurance sports.  As a kid I idolized Rocky movies; I loved the idea of pushing the human body beyond what was considered possible.  I used to dream not of the first several rounds, but of the last – what it would feel like to be on the verge of collapse, yet still be able to push on and persevere. It’s the punching in the face part I can do without. Fast forward several years and instead of slugging it out in a ring I gravitated toward long course triathlons and marathons.  I made up silly long endurance events for my birthday each year and invited friends to complete them just for fun. So when I first heard of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race, I knew it would end up on my bucket list.

I’m a cycling fanatic and for years I cheered on Lance, Floyd, Jan, and others with great joy.  When Floyd, then Lance, then Levi targeted the Leadville Trail 100 I had just re-discovered my love of mountain biking and I was instantly captivated.  I bought and watched the Race Across the Sky films as if they were homework.  Names like Ken Chlouber, Ricky McDonald, Rebecca Rusch and Dave Wiens became mythic.  I read everything I could find about the race, the area, and the event.  So when I learned that my colleagues and I had finally received invites to Leadville, I was thrilled!

Preparing for the LT100:

Once I learned I would really be going to Leadville, I became very serious about seeing the dream through to the finish. Right away I acquired a bike more suited for the race, as opposed to my typical trail-riding style.  I bought a GT Zaskar Carbon 29er Pro hardtail mountain bike and rode it exclusively every day.  I decided that every ride I would do would be on this bike; I wanted it to become a part of me.  My rides became all about Leadville.  I now had a mission and that was, above all else, not to crash and hurt myself.  I knew that getting to the start line healthy was half the battle, and did not want anything to interfere with my goal.  Training became more about long endurance rides than about speeding through single track. I took to riding alone more than I was accustomed.  My focus was singular – build fitness and endurance while working on my nutrition plans (and NOT CRASHING).  I won’t lie… I was a bit obsessive with my preparation.  I read everything I could about the race each evening.  I visualized the racecourse while going to sleep.  I watched Youtube videos showing the course, and must have watched the two “Race Across the Sky” videos 6 times each.  I obsessed about minor details with my riding buddies Chris and David constantly (and frankly was perhaps a wee bit annoying).

Our home in North Carolina is very hot in the summer, and we live and train barely over sea level.  Leadville, Colorado, sits at 10,200 feet and the out-and-back Leadville course reaches a high point of around 12,600 feet.  There is more than 13K feet of elevation gain and loss during the race, which we had little chance of emulating in our home environment.  The best we could do was long rides in intense heat followed by short intense bursts of single track.  I would typically ride 4 or 5 hours (often in temps over 100 degrees) on the road and finish up with an hour or two of single track riding with a buddy who would meet me along the way. Generally I rode up to 180 miles a week (including my daily round trip of 18 miles of commuting) preparing for the race.

The Race itself:

Chris, Tom and David from Performance Bike at the start

After the traditional shotgun start at 6:30 AM, there is a neutral roll-out that lasts a few miles before you actually hit dirt roads. But once you do hit the dirt, the pace slows immediately – an 1,800 rider bottleneck on a narrow dirt road. Since your starting position is based on previous finishing times, first time riders like us start at the back of the pack. If you complete Leadville in 9 hours you’ll earn a large silver and gold belt buckle, and for under 12 hours a smaller but still significant buckle. While we all wanted to do well, knowing that since we were queued in the back of the pack, we had to have more realistic goals – simply to complete the race in 12 hours.  I highly recommend taking it easy and not setting too ambitious of a goal for your first LT100.   The difference between stressing out and pushing too hard at the beginning and relaxing into the race will be minor in terms of finishing times, yet major in terms of energy wasted.  Energy becomes a very valuable commodity after 10+ hours in the saddle!

After around 10 nervous minutes watching the wheels around me, we finally hit dirt.  We came to a halt immediately, and the climbing started shortly after.  The St. Kevin’s (pronounced “Keevins”) climb is around 3 miles, but at this point it was so crowded that it was difficult to pass, let alone go the pace I wanted to. Your best bet is to simply gear low, try to not touch wheels, and maintain your position. The next 2 hours are more or less like that – after climbing Sugarloaf Pass the pack thins out a bit, yet it is still very crowded and you are generally having your pace dictated to you until the first major descent of the day, which is by far the most dangerous (mainly because of the actions of others). The Powerline descent is around 4 miles of rutted steep drop offs with a lot of people trying to make up for 2 hours of bottleneck. By taking huge risks, you might make up 3 minutes during the whole descent, or you might crash out of the race you’ve spent 6 months obsessing over (or, even worse, cause others to crash).

Tom at Twin Lakes

Following the Powerline, the course is relatively uneventful until you reach the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 40.  This was the first aid station I planned to use. Our whole support team was there, and I was delighted to see them, take on supplies, and drop off some clothing.  As I had read, this was where the real race began. Up until that point, everything I had done was simply to set myself up to finish on time.  The cut-off to arrive at Twin Lakes was 4 hours – I did not push the pace, and in hindsight I wish I had.  I arrived in 3 1/2 hours, which was about 30 minutes longer than I had hoped!  I planned to make up time now that the bottle neck was behind me, yet this was not a risk-free plan. I planned on the next 20 miles taking only 3 hours, but it was way harder than I had imagined.

  The Leadville course is an “out and back” course, with a terminus at nearly the 50 mile mark on the top of the Columbine Mine Climb.  The Twin Lakes aid station sits at miles 40 and mile 60 – meaning it is 10 miles to the top of the Combine climb, and 10 miles back.  The climb itself is about 8 miles long and the elevation gain is approximately 3,500 feet – my time for this section ended up being another 3 ½ hours. Not long after starting the climb I saw the leaders come streaming down in the other direction.  They were flying on the descent – because of the 2 way traffic, if you wanted to pass on the way up, you took the chance of a collision with someone on the way down.  After 5 or so miles you make it above the tree line.  After this point, riding was futile. There was a long line of people walking up little more than a goat path at high altitude. My walking pace was 2 miles an hour, riding was 3.  Either way your heart rate is above the anaerobic threshold – above 11K feet your body does not process oxygen at anything like its normal rate. Amazingly, race founder Ken Chlouber was there by the trail, encouraging everyone on the way up. I finally reached the top, where I found a completely stocked aid station and enthusiastic volunteers ready to do anything it took to help you get back down the mountain strong.  They had warm soup, fruit, energy drinks and food.

But the idea is to not spend much time at 12,600 feet, and get down as quickly as possible.  Getting down meant at least a ½ hour descent with your brakes smoking, arms rattling, and your fingers numb from the cold and braking.  At last you arrive back once again at Twin Lakes. With your water and nutrition re-stocked, you are now on your own to complete the race within the 12 hour cut-off.  There are more aid stations, but you’d better not plan on staying too long.  The hard part of the race is just now beginning.  The Columbine climb was by far the most difficult thing I had ever encountered, but the Powerline climb, at mile 80, would prove to be even more difficult.

I took some solace in the fact that all along the course the views are amazing.  I kept looking around at the mountains and getting emotional about how lucky I was to be here, in this amazing place, doing what I loved with the support of people I cared about.  At last, the Powerline climb began.  Right away the pitches are steep and everyone, top pros included, got off to walk. By now I had a little over 3 hours to cover the last 20 miles to the finish.  Basically it became a never-ending mind game.  Every time you think you are done with the hard stuff, a climb you did not anticipate presents itself.  Even with 3 miles to go in the race, you are faced with “the Boulevard” – a seemingly benign pitch on your normal riding days that becomes a formidable climb after 10+ hours in the saddle.

In the end you simply want to finish.  But it’s not until you turn back on to 6th St that you can sense that the end is near.  You can hear the announcer and feel the energy. I had thought about this very moment more times than I care to admit… almost every day for months, yet the reality was far greater than I had imagined.  By now my wife, who was extremely worried as she expected a much quicker finish, was waiting for the first glimpse of me down the road.  There were only 30 minutes left to officially finish the race within the cut-off and she never imagined I would be so close to that cut-off time. Finally I came into view of the finish and there were my people, the finish line, and everything I had imagined for the last several years. They literally roll out the red carpet for the finishers, and Merilee, the race director for the past 30 years, was there to hang medals the neck of each finisher. It was finally time to soak it all in (although all I really wanted to do was go to bed).

Tom and his wife at the finish line

Stuff I am glad I used:

  • GT Carbon Zaskar Pro 29er hard tail mountain bike.  It was an awesome bike, and has replaced my other bikes as my go-to ride.  I love this bike.
  • Performance Ultra Max Bib shorts.  I never thought once about my shorts.  They were that comfortable, all day.  Just what you want in a pair of shorts.
  • Osprey Viper 7 hydration pack.  Just the right size to carry the stuff I needed, not too big and super comfortable.
  • Bento box. I know… it’s left over from my triathlon days, but it was awesome to have.
  • Stan’s No Tubes tubeless system… enough said.

Some lessons learned that may be useful to anyone considering the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race:

  • Do this race.  It is a special place and an incredible event – but be prepared to suffer. You definitely get what you paid for.
  • Try to meet, and take a picture, with Ken Chlouber.  He is a legend, and I believe it when he says you are a part of his family.  He has a way of making you want to be a part of his family.  Make sure you thank him for creating such an amazing race series.  You might just see his eyes water and this is one tough hombre.

Tom with race founder Ken Chlouber

  • If you recognize some of the race celebrities, say hello.  They are all incredible people, and very gracious.  We had the privilege of meeting Rebecca Rusch, Ricky McDonald, Jamie Whitmore, Ken Chlouber, Elden “Fatty” Nelson of FatCyclist.com, and several others.
  • Read everything you can from Fatcyclist.com about Leadville.  Search for Leadville on his blog, read up, and believe everything he says (including the part about chicken and stars soup).  He knows what he’s talking about.
  • Do not think that because his nickname is Fatty that you can gauge your time off of his.  He is most likely faster than you.  His wife is most likely faster than you.  There is no shame in that.
  • Watch the “Race Across the Sky” videos, and get to know the characters.  It will keep you motivated.
  • Try to meet Ricky McDonald.  He’s done the race 19 times on the same bike, with the same front tire, same helmet, and his father’s old blue service shirt (with the name “Fred” written on it). You can’t miss him.  He’s larger than life.  Meet him before the race because during the race he will be faster than you too… I don’t care that his bike is old, or that he says “I’m not fast”.  He is fast, he is tough, and very humble.  This guy is a legend.

David and Tom from Performance Bike, with Ricky McDonald

  • Eat or have a drink in the old Saloon on Harrison Avenue.  The place is unbelievable.
  • Speaking of eating, take in at least 300 calories every hour.  Too many and your body won’t be able to absorb and use the calories.  Don’t be surprised if everything tastes horrible to you during the race.  You might want to resort to “real” food, which was the case for me.  My nutrition I used in training tasted a lot different during a race and at altitude… this is where I failed.  I should have listened to Fatty and had more of that soup!
  • Go tubeless.  I saw so many people with flat tires.  Even at the very end, when people were pushing the cut-off times I saw poor people with flats.  Go tubeless, but bring an extra tube plus the stuff you need to fix a flat, a broken chain or other minor repairs.  The peace of mind is worth the added weight.
  • Don’t bring a belt for your buckle.  Buy it after you earn your buckle… just to be sure.
  • Speaking of don’ts… on a personal level I plead with you to please leave the compression socks for after the race, and under your pants. I mean it.
  • Try to do one of the Leadville Race Series qualifying events from Lifetime Fitness.  It might be your best bet to get in to the race.  My prediction is that this race series will continue to grow.  It is to mountain biking what the Hawaii Ironman is to triathlon, so your best chance to get in will be from one of the qualifying events.  That or move to a foreign country.
  • Look around while you’re racing.  It’s easy to get caught up in the other racers, or in your own suffering.  Pick up your head now and then, look around and be thankful.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh

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