Leadville 100

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I might as well just get this done & posted and move on.  I have some pretty mixed emotions about the Leadville 100 race on Saturday.  It didn’t go as I had planned/hoped, but that is the way of sport.  I have been dwelling on it on and off, but I’m not second guessing myself about preparation or execution.

I think, and still think, I was pretty ready for the race.  I kind of just didn’t show up that day, which was a surprise.  I do like surprises, I learn from them usually, but so far, I haven’t really learned much yet other than I am having a hard time just letting it go.

I woke up at 4:30 am Saturday feeling pretty spry.  Kind of like in Lutsen.  Surprisingly awake and ready to get going.  I wasn’t hardly nervous at all.  It was dark when we got there at 5:45 and I really didn’t have much to do than to ride up to the start.

There were a few introductions, most the guys that finished at the front over the years, then the F1 driver, Mark Weber and a couple others.  I talked to my friend Dave Wiens a little and then we started.  It was a tad cold, 45 or so, but I just started in short sleeves, no undershirt.  I knew we’d be climbing pretty soon and that the day was supposed to warm up quickly.

I was fine going downhill the first few miles.  A little spun out, but everyone was.  The Ergon team was setting pace, but it was pretty tame.

We started up the first climb a few miles out and I got caught behind a few guys that got tied up and a big gap opened up in front of me.  I made an effort to get back up to the front group that was stringing out, but backed off, following my plan of not redlining it early.  Pretty soon I was climbing by myself, which was fine.

I started worrying a little on the first descent, not seeing anyone in front of me.  I knew I needed to be attached to a group at the bottom of the Powerline descent, which was a climb away.  I caught Todd Wells who had a flat.  He stopped and changed his wheel I think, right when we hit the pavement.  I started the 2nd climb, to the top of Powerline and Todd came blasting by.  I sat behind him for a couple minutes, but once again was over my limit, so decided to back off.

Again, I worried a little, thinking I might have to ride the 17 miles over to Columbine by myself. But, I guess I went fast enough down the rocky descent of Powerline because about a minute from the bottom, I came upon a huge group that seemed to be creeping along.  I was stoked.

So, I had my group and thought I was okay, even though I wasn’t pedaling very good, I was optimistic that I was going to eventually come around.  The next hour over to the Columbine climb I tried to eat as much as I could stomach.  I had a banana, a couple protein bars and drank my whole bottle.  My group was somewhere between 10-15 guys, depending on where we were at.

I started feeling a little better, especially when we were climbing, my group was slowing down a lot, slower than I felt like going, but I just rode with them, conserving my energy.

Trudi and Dennis were at the bottom of Columbine and I told them I would get a bottle on the way back through after the descent.  I didn’t want to carry a full bottle up the 3000 foot climb.  I knew I’d be breathing too hard to drink anyway.

By the bottom of the climb, I was only with two other guys.   The rest of my group was behind.  I didn’t try very hard on the flat bottom section, saving my energy for the last couple miles, which is steep and technical.

I climbed just okay.  My body still wasn’t going as I had hoped, but I was still optimistic.  I started up the top section, above tree line, when the 5 leaders came flying down.  It was the three Ergon riders, Christoph Sauser and another guy.  Then it was a huge gap.  I climbed another half mile before Todd came down on his own in 6th.  Then another huge gap.

With less than a mile left to climb, guys started coming down pretty continually.  Brian was in 14th.  I think I was in 21st, maybe three minutes or so back on Brian.  I was okay with that, considering how pitiful I was riding.

The descent down Columbine was interesting, scary interesting.  Going downhill at 40 mph against a bunch of oxygen starved bike riders climbing keeps it interesting.  A couple times guys would just veer over to my side because they had overlapped a wheel or something and I’d have to skid and swerve.

Anyway, I made it down unscathed , but the rest downhill didn’t seem to help my pedaling.  I got a feed at the bottom and then started the open section back to the Powerline climb.  I was by myself and it was a pretty good headwind.  I couldn’t get pedaling right.  I still don’t get it.  I felt like I had power, but it wasn’t assessable.  This is where I first started feeling like I might cramp.

I’ve always had hit or miss issues with cramping.  First my right satorious started catching some.  This is weird, because it usually starts with my left leg.  Pretty soon I realized I was going to be having some real issues.  I tried a lot of different things.  I tried standing some, stretching my legs.  I had eaten and drank so much I couldn’t really change that.

But, nothing helped.  I was riding along and all of a sudden my right leg would lock up.  The satorius cramps are manageable.  I can pedal through them and eventually it releases.  After about 40 minutes, a guy towing Sally Bingham came up.  I sat behind the two of them, hoping a little less effort would help with the cramping.  I tried to pull through once, but both my legs seized up and I dropped way off the back of them.  After they released I just rode back up to them again.  I had power, just it was being interrupted seriously by cramping.

And that was how it went the rest of the race, the last 25 miles.  At the bottom of Powerline, I let the guys I was riding with go ahead.  I didn’t want to start in front of them and then seize up and screw them up.

But, I was thinking the day was so bad, but I wasn’t going to walk or dab anywhere on this climb. I knew I didn’t have any control of the cramping, but I was hoping that they would stay away for the next 10 minutes.

I had ridden this climb a few times and it wasn’t that bad.  But, I knew I was going to have issues.  I had put a 11-40 on the rear and was planning, in my state to climb the hill in a 24 x 35, which is one cog down in the back.  I rode the first steep section in this gear, then it levels out for a little and when I looked up at the next section, I realized that I was going to have to use the 40.  I didn’t know whether I could balance my bike riding so slow.  The gear is stupid easy.

I shifted into my 40 and started up the next section.  Sally and the other guy were about 1/3 the way up.  A couple spectators gave me pushes, which didn’t seem right, but I was in not position to talk and tell them I’d like to ride up it myself.  Sally got off at the top and walked a little.  I kept on my bike and was mildly relieved to get there without touching my foot to the ground.  It was a small success on a bad day.  I was riding the climb in 5 1/2 minutes training and it took me nearly 10 to ride it in the race.  I have a hard time believing I could balance riding that slowly.

The cramping started again soon.  There is still a couple more miles of rocky climbing.  Guys kept just going by.  I think at least 5 or 6 more guys passed me.  Each one talked to me for a bit. It really didn’t seem like we were racing anymore, just surviving.  We were in the mid 20’s placement-wise, but we only had one speed.  And mine was really slow.

I got over the top and started down the descent to the pavement, where you went downhill and then had a couple mile pavement climb.  I caught a couple guys and then went right past them.  When I started climbing, my legs were twitching like crazy.  I stayed on one guy, then cramped and dropped back to the other guy, which was a couple hundred meters back.  Then I started feeling better, so would ride away, only to seize up again and be back.

At the top, only 10 miles from the finish, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pedal the rest of the way.  We descended down and the last few miles was flat, with a 10 minute climb to the finish.  But, before I got to the pavement, my right hamstring cramped and I couldn’t pedal.  It was on a small hill, so I just stopped and got off my bike.

Man, the pain.  It released after 30 seconds or so, but when I tried to get back on, it would start all over.  I got to the other side of my bike and started pedaling.   To my surprise, I could pedal.  I looked back on the road and couldn’t see  anyone behind me.  When I got to the last long dirt climb, I couldn’t even see the guy I was riding with on it.  He had put a couple minutes on me the last 3 miles of the race.  Crazy.

So, I rode to the finish.  I wasn’t that depressed.  I really didn’t have control over what had just happened.  Plus, I had stayed really motivated throughout the ordeal.  I can’t really fault my effort, I never really gave up.  But, I never really showed up.  Maybe it was the heat.  It wasn’t that hot, but climbing, with the sun on you, it seemed crazy hot.

I finished about 30 minutes slower than I thought I would.  I was hoping to be somewhere between 6:45 and 7 hours.  I finished in 7:23.  I was 29th, with two women ahead of me.  That is a first in a mountain bike race.  But, they were both going crazy good.  Brian finished good.  He was a minute faster than last year at 6:54 and finished 12th overall.  He seemed happy with that, which is great.

The experience was pretty great.  Maybe I’m just not made to ride that far at that high of altitude at that intensity.   I had put a lot of time and effort into the event and it is still stinging some.  I want a do over, but that isn’t happening.

I really appreciated all the support from all my friends, plus all the people that I didn’t know cheering like crazy for me.  The feed zones were my favorite part of the race.  Little tent cities jammed with crazy fans.

My legs are pretty destroyed.  Riding that long with cramps is not a good thing for muscles. They are still pretty wasted.  I’m not so tired, more mentally than physically.

The awards cermony was on Sunday morning, early.  I though it was terrible timing, but it was good after we got there.  It was supposed to start at 7:30, but we didn’t get there until 8.   It is at a huge gym, completely jammed with people.  Right after we got there they started giving out awards.  The first one was for climbing the Powerline climb.  Oakley was giving out a prize bag for the fastest rider in each age group.  I had just been telling Vincent how I had done my balancing act trying to ride the whole climb.

I was really surprised when they call my name for my age group.   I couldn’t have gotten up that hill any slower, without walking and that might have even been faster.

Anyway, I got some glasses and a bag and Oakley gift card.  Super nice.  Steve Blick, Mr. Oakley himself, was standing on the Powerline climb cheering all day.  I said hi to him when I was crawling by.  I didn’t know there was a timed segment, and even if I did, there was nothing I could have done to do anything different than I did.

The guys at the front of this race were unbelievable.  The three Ergon guys rode from the Powerline to the finish the day before at race pace.  They rode 1:31 and it was  2nd fastest Strava time ever, behind Christoph Sauser.  I don’t understand it at all.   Then they go and crush everyone on race day, riding under 6 hours.  The did take 4 minutes off their day before Powerline to Finish Strava segement.  It was unreal.

I’m not sure that these 100 mile MTB races are for me.  I’ve done two so far and have had a super day and then now a really subpar day.  I guess that isn’t enough to really make a judgement.

Next year, if I come back, I’m going to try something different.  Maybe race a little more instead of sitting at altitude and training.  I’m not sure what went haywire, but something did.  Overall, I’m glad I did it.  I’m trying to do races I haven’t done previously, and this was one of them.  I’m going to stay on this program, doing new races with new experiences.

After the awards we got on our bike and did a lap of Leadville on the bike path.  It was a 15 mile ride going by the old mines.  It was wonderful.  Part of what makes racing bicycles so great.



Plus, extras.

Plus, extras.



Age group awards.

Age group awards.

Old mine above Leadville.

Old mine above Leadville.







37 thoughts on “Leadville 100

  1. channel_zero

    They rode 1:31 and it was 2nd fastest Strava time ever, behind Christoph Sauser. I don’t understand it at all. Then they go and crush everyone on race day, riding under 6 hours. It was unreal.

    We know people dope for their local office park crits, so a doping-related explanation would come as no surprise. This is cycling after all.

  2. El Jabón

    You ever consider weightlifting?
    You’re a skinny dude. Perhaps a little more mass could help mitigate cramping, and improve anaerobic performance (your kick/sprinting). Good for bone density, something that is lacking among many cyclists…
    Just a thought… 😉

  3. mike crum

    Thanks for the great report. I really enjoyed reading this and all the time you put into engaging with your fans.

  4. Esther Kennedy

    I agree Mike. It’s such a pity that some people’s own personal misery gets directed at Steve, who is just sharing his experiences with those that choose to come and read about it.

  5. Ducky

    I agree with Mike. Loved the race report, and you are very generous with the public. And I agree with you, riding through the tents at the rest areas, especially Twin Lakes, was by far the best part of the day for me. In my fantasy world it was a little bit like the Foresg at Arenberg. Lastly, you passed me on the way down Colombine, just seconds after Kent Erkison passed me on the climb. I heard him yell Tilly! And I looked up and there you were…elbows out wide and flying!

  6. Jack Boy Yeah

    Good result anyhow, I thought you might nip inside the top 20 in another display of Tilford’s Got Talent (but where the h*ll is the field depth of riders half his age).

    Anyway, I though your decision to spend the time at altitude that you did puzzling, but chalked it up to a “Tilford knows his body by now” decision. I’d have said if you don’t have 4+ weeks to spend fully acclimating, then just get there 2 days before the event. The altitude is an extra stress, and it’s kind of like saying you’re going to a different, harder training cycle right before and up to the race and expect to feel fresh. But it seems like lots of people come to event here in Colorado the week before and think that will help them adapt, but it’s a mistake in my opinion. At least staying on the front range and riding some hills wouldn’t have been as much stress.

    Could you have ridden this race on a cross/gravel bike? Sounds and looks like mostly dirt roads, not rocky droppy trails. Wonder if the time made up on the flats between the major climbs would offset the loss on the descent?

  7. James

    Not epic enough for Tilly. & those crazy awards are the next day so they can keep everyone in Emopria :-))

  8. Esther Kennedy

    I can relate. Having the awards the next day makes it tough for me to get back to my priorities–my volunteer work providing hot air balloon rides for disadvantaged youth.

  9. The Padre

    Congrats Man!! Really, dropping out wasn’t an option, suffering was the recipe for the day. Your a better man because of that perseverance. Cheers

  10. H Luce

    yeah, definitely time for some blood testing here… If it’s too good to be real, it usually isn’t.

  11. The Cyclist

    How’s your hematocrit? Maybe it’s a tad too high after all this training at altitude. Couldn’t that cause crampin if the blood’s too thick and doesn’t flow as it should?

  12. Joseph Kennedy

    Don’t be a smart ass, Esther. Remember when Rosemary got her lobotomy? Same can be arranged for you

  13. Jim Ochowicz

    I think I know a way for you to pick up a least an hour on the other fossils in your little participation event. Call me

  14. john adamson

    Well done and another great report. My thought – this is the sort of race where anything can happen. There are so many variables that are beyond your control and you certainly suffered through one of them.
    Until next year.

  15. A. Petacchi

    Steve, I still hope you love cycling. Love it so fucking much. Love the races, the rides, the people, the businesses, the blogging, love it all!

  16. The Cyclist

    … running is good for bone density too, but it doesn’t make it more fun… does it?

  17. Pepsi Frank

    ^Spot on, all of your body’s resources are going to acclimatization. Live at altitude or just go there for the event only.

    Think about dialing back slightly on the first half so that the second half can be full gas. You will end up passing those that passed you and then some.

    The top finishers here all live at altitude and race 60+ mile MTB races for a living. This is simply another day at the office for them.

    Great result, don’t give up on marathon events. In the long run you will find them to be more interesting and challenging.

  18. Dave Wiens

    Weightlifting is something that I used successfully to combat cramps at Leadville. Up through 2005, I would have to deal with cramps of one sort or another in this race, particularly in 2005, when I began cramping coming down Columbine. Beginning in 2007, I lifted right up to a few days before the race and didn’t have cramping issues anymore.

    Nice writeup, Tilly, it was great to see you and Trudy again. It’s been a long time.

  19. A. Petacchi

    You are right, my mother never loved me as a child and I’m terribly insecure. I have to come to online forums and be a troll in order to feel good about myself. I am going to turn a new page and stop being such a loser starting today. I’m good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me.

    Thanks Mike, you are a true sage.

  20. Jason

    You’ve said it many times on this blog–each discipline takes a lot of time to learn. You can’t expect to have had it all figured out after a couple races. There’s the training (weightlifting?), what to do leading up to a race, after a race, and how to exactly eat and hydrate during a race, pacing, etc. Those guys at the front do 4+-hour mtb races all season and are the best in the world at it. Jeremiah Bishop has done 200-mile gnarly mtb training rides and once won 100-mile mtb race (way harder and more technical than Leadville) while not stopping at a single aid station or taking a feed. He carried everything he needed. I would quit caring about any professional racing if that guy doped. He’s as classy as they come and total boy scout. Those top 4 are maybe the best 100-miler, marathon, stage race mtbers ever. And Todd Wells is Todd Wells–he can hang with and be the best in any discipline.

  21. Ester Kennedy

    Still bitter about yesterday’s counseling session are we Joseph? It’s hard to hear those things isn’t it. You’ll work this out Joe, you will. I believe in you.

  22. Brian S

    I agree with El Jabon and Dave Wien’s suggestions about weightlifting. Stronger muscles would only do you good. The amount of endurance work you do will make it so that you won’t put on weight. Even if you did put on a bit of mass, you would be gaining strength and power and that would win out over any small weight gain.

    I also think the altitude got to you even after spending all that time in the area. Leadville is a very unusual event because of the altitude. Even if you live at altitude, you will still feel the effects at Leadville. For a flatlander like yourself, I would come back next year for a do-over. But, next year I would try the “arrive immediately before the event” tactic. Plus, adding some more mtb racing prior to the event would also help. Although mtb racing uses the same muscles basically, the position on the bike and the demands put on the muscles do differ. That may have also contributed to the cramps.

    Overall, I’d say congrats though. You did win your age group and it was still a good job by you. Good luck next year in your do-over.

  23. JB

    Don’t you have a deal with Shimano? I’ll take those Sram Guides off of your hands. No fee. 🙂

  24. mike crum

    You know “Jim” you are not nearly as clever as you think you are. Why don’t you go out on a ride and maybe you’ll gain some much needed perspective. It’s really working for me.

  25. Stoney

    Steve, Let’s get down to reality…you’re getting old man. You can’t expect to hang with the best long distance MTB racers on the planet, who are in the prime of their life. You won your age group. Be Happy!

  26. El Jabón

    Who said anything about fun? This is about an aging man trying to mitigate age-related decline in performance. Weightlifting is often seen as a way to do this.

  27. James

    Amen brother. JB is the real deal. Was great to see him up on the podium.
    In addition to winning the 100 mile race with no food or water hand-ups, he also filmed a bunch of parts and posted on Facebook . . . . .during the race!

  28. RON

    To imply that someone’s performance is “unreal” because you had a bad day on the bike is total bullshit. JB has walked the walk and talked and talk since he turned pro. He is the real deal. To imply otherwise because you had cramping issues is old man sour grapes.


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