The same can be said for any endurance event. In my opinion, just getting to the
starting line in a healthy, uninjured condition is an accomplishment. Doing your best during the race is
also an achievement, even if you don't finish. Toughing it out to finish
is the goal, of course, and "to finish is to win" in the opinion of
many. The first one across the line is the actual "winner," but anyone
who even starts these events after training diligently for them is a
winner in my book.
There are those who will argue with that, of course. They can express
their views on their own web site!
Today there would be 589 "winners" of the Leadville Trail 100-mile
mountain bike race, 73.9 % of the 797 riders who began the race
at 6:30 AM. "Many more" finished unofficially after twelve hours,
according to Merilee.
And you might be surprised who was the first to cross
the finish line, deemed by most of the sports world to be the only real "winner" of
the race. It must have been exciting at the finish line at 1:28
PM. We were still serving riders at the 50-mile turn-around aid station
when the first racer crossed the finish line.
Jim and I were up early to see the start of the race. Well, sort of
the start. Our camper sits near the course at the end of Sixth Street
where it intersects with McWethy. This is the spot about 3/4 of a mile
into the race where the riders make their first 90-degree turn. We
watched from here last year and it was so cool to see over 500 cyclists
riding so close together making that turn. Only a few spectators are
cheering the riders from this vantage point, and the main sound you hear
is the whirring of hundreds of wheels and the breeze created by the bikes
and riders as they cruise by.
Add to that the back-drop of the sun shining on the top of Mt. Massive and
Mt. Elbert (below), and we think it's a much better place to view the
"start" than at Harrison and Sixth Streets downtown.
We could hear the starting gun go off as we stood at the edge of the
road talking with Brent Craven and the course monitor, ultra runner Karsten Solheim. It didn't take long for the lead vehicle and
almost eight hundred -- yowza! --
bikes to reach our viewing point:
It just amazes me how close these folks can ride and not
crash into each other! In the photo below they are making the right-hand
turn onto McWethy for the descent on Turquoise Lake Road. That's Jack's
home-building office in the background. Our camper is parked to the
right of it, hidden in the trees.
The riders kept coming and coming in one long wave of
whooshing and whirring until they eventually were more spread out near the
back of the pack. There was more talking going on in the rear, just like
in a long run. The competitors in the front are more focused on jockeying for
position, while the ones in the back are there more for the journey.
Their goals are just as serious to them as the elite riders or runners,
however. Few are out to DNF. They've worked hard to get here and most really want to finish.
After all the riders passed, we hopped in our truck and
headed south to the little village of Granite to rendezvous with the
other volunteers we'd be working with all day at the Columbine Mine aid
In past years, our group of about fifteen people has met
for breakfast at the Country Peddler in Granite. This year we had to
improvise because the restaurant is closed and up for sale. Bummer. That
was always a treat for us. This time our AS coordinators, Mike and Marge
Hickman, picked up a bunch of breakfast burritos at Subway and brought
them down to the parking area.
While we were waiting for everyone to assemble, someone
spotted these eight mountain goats having breakfast among the rocks in
the canyon on the other side of the Arkansas River:
Below are several of the volunteers watching the goats,
which we could barely make out with the naked eye:
Before we dug into the burritos, Jim Ballard started
taking $1 bets for time of the first rider to our aid station at the
half-way point. Everyone's getting a laugh, below, as Ballard
tries to determine if one young man is old enough to enter the lottery:
Then we dove into the burritos -- thanks, Mike! He's in
the red jacket below:
We headed up bumpy Lost Canyon Road for seven or eight
miles to the site of the Columbine Mine, where we'd be setting up our
aid station. The race participants ride up about five
miles of this road through aspens, firs, and finally above tree line to
the tundra. The high point is 12,600 feet, the same as Hope Pass. It's
the perfect spot for ultra runners (which included at least half of our
volunteers) to acclimate all day! OK, so we're not totally
There's an interesting story about the location of our aid station.
Until last year, we've been able to set it up right near the old mine
buildings. Last year the Forest Service determined that we'd be doing less harm
to the mine site if we set up the AS farther up the hill away from the
buildings. The riders were pleasantly surprised that they didn't have to ride down
the saddle east of Quail Mountain quite so far, and then back up on the
Some time in the past year the Forest Service learned that it doesn't
"own" the mine site. The city of Aurora does. (I'm not making this up.
Mike Hickman, who is also a Lake County commissioner, told us this.)
Apparently there are negotiations between the Forest Service and Aurora
for a land swap so the Forest Service really will have the mine
In the meantime, we had no Forest Service person over-seeing our operations
this year and we set up the aid station near the buildings again. These
remnants are behind the aid station:
This is a much better location for the aid station. There is more flat land
and the wider turn-around area is safer for the riders. Many of the first fifty riders zoom right by
and don't even stop to refuel. They want to go as fast as possible. Some folks who rode
last year grumbled about having to go down the hill farther, but it adds only
about a quarter mile to the total race distance. The bike course is a little over 101 miles
officially anyway. (The run course probably is, too, with all the trail
relocations on Mount Hope and the Colorado Trail, but race management still
calls it 100 miles.)
It took twenty-one volunteers (more this year with more riders) about an
hour to set up the aid station, medical tent, porta potty, prayer flags, and
There were numerous food choices, from fresh fruit (watermelon,
cantaloupe, bananas) to sandwiches to salty foods to sweets:
Morgan helps Brent set up his flag, below, with Mike assisting
with the ever-indispensable duct tape:
Brent cooks up hot soups, ramen noodles, and rice in the back of his truck
every year. Yum!
I was in charge of filling up the large water container and
mixing up four
five-gallon containers of Poweraid before the race and refilling them as needed
throughout the morning and afternoon:
Newbies have the honor each year of setting up the porta potty, which
ended up attached by ropes to the front of our truck so it didn't end up
blowing away in the wind! The weather was perfect for us all day (a first) but
it did get windy at times. Here Chris and Greg show off their handiwork:
We got done about fifteen minutes before the first riders appeared, enough
time to pose for our annual group photos. I'm in the first one (on the far right)
taken by Jim Ballard, and he's in the second one (blue hat):
I had time to get some other shots of the aid station and our location
before the first riders appeared. We had excellent views into the Clear Creek
valley (road to Winfield) and the mountains to the south:
The next view is what the riders see as they approach our aid
station heading east and going downhill a bit from the high point. They
make a left turn around the cones and head back up the hill, then ride downhill
for about five miles on Lost Canyon Road. Marge and Lisa are sitting in the
foreground, ready to record numbers and times. We also had a radio communications person
in our group:
By 10 AM we were eagerly anticipating the first competitors.
Last year Dave Wiens came through first about 10:12. I guessed earlier
in out little lottery game (10:10),
thinking Wiens and Landis would be pushing each other. We could see down the
road about a mile and knew the first two riders were neck and neck. Even with
binoculars we couldn't tell who they were, but the radio guy knew:
Look how close they were at fifty miles!! It was Wiens in
front, with Landis right on his tail. Marge won the bet (and about $20),
guessing the time most closely. It was 10:08, about four minutes faster
than Wiens' time through here last year.
Here are close ups of both men, with Wiens first:
What you can't see very well in the photo above are Landis' bloody
leg and arm. He fell on the first big downhill had a flat tire that
had to be fixed. Would he have been ahead of Dave at this point if those two
things hadn't occurred? We'll never know. Those guys were very close the entire
Here's another view of just how close they were as they zoomed through
our aid station and headed back up the hill:
A lot could happen over the remaining fifty miles, and we wondered who would
win. It might not even be one of these two guys!
It took a few minutes for the third rider to come in, then we got
increasingly busy the next four hours as most of the 797 riders came through
our aid station. We never got totally overwhelmed by the "bubble," however.
Even during the middle of the pack we had enough volunteers to assist the
riders. We all worked very well as a team.
Many of the first riders didn't even blink as they entered the aid station
and kept right on going. We offered them fluids and goodies and cheered them on
their way. Once riders began needing us, our AS looked like an Indy pit stop.
First, we'd ask if they needed water or Powerade. Several volunteers filled
bottles and bladders with water from a jug and others provided Powerade.
Until the AS got congested, the riders could stay on their bikes and we'd bring
them whatever they needed. Then they were off. In the photo below, "my" Jim (in
wide-brimmed hat) is bending down for some Powerade for the rider while Kathy
Lang gives him water:
There were at least three men named "Jim" in our group, so we
had to use last names sometimes. There are two more Jims on the right in the
When more riders started coming in at once, we encouraged them to hand over
their bikes to leave more room at the tables. We'd tell them where we were
taking their bikes and direct them to the table. Often the people filling the
bottles would replace them on the bikes before the riders returned to them. That's
Jim stayed in front of the tables and mostly handled bikes and
gave out water and Powerade. In addition to those jobs, I also retrieved drop
bags, mixed up Powerade, cut up fruit, and kept track of all the empty water
jugs. When I saw the empty jugs were just being thrown behind the tables and
began cluttering up the area, I realized they needed to be herded back into the
empty crates. Since we'd be returning them to the LT storage area after the
race anyway, I rounded them up as the race progressed and put them back into
the truck bed.
Every once in a while I had a chance to look up and see the
riders coming in. In the photo below you can see one of the mine buildings on
the left and the hill the riders come down in the background. The summit of
Quail Mountain is out of view on the left, and Hope Pass is beyond that, less
than a mile away as the crow flies:
An advantage of riding a hundred miles on a bike is that it's much faster than
running a hundred miles on foot. However, a cyclist may be feeling great but
the bike breaks down. If the rider can fix it, he or she has lost some time and
might not make cut-offs. If the problem can't be fixed, the race is over. We
saw several riders making repairs at our aid station:
Volunteers can't help with repairs; it's against the race rules.
These guys were able to get back out on the course, but one fella had serious
brake problems and had to be picked up as the aid station volunteers drove back
down the mountain.
Serious injuries are also more likely during the bike race than the run. There
are a lot of rocks on the course that can throw a rider, there is two-way bike
traffic on the route, and steep climbs and descents with loose rock and grit
can make riding more dangerous than running.
We were alerted by radio that one of the male riders, Jan Baer, was air-lifted to the hospital
with a broken femur from a nasty fall (ironic, as he's an orthopedic surgeon). We were to look for rider #328, which
was his wife, Kim Baer -- the gal going for her tenth finish! By the time she
got to Columbine, she already knew about her husband's injury and knew he'd
gone to the hospital. She saw him before he left and was upset about his
injury. However, he strongly encouraged her to go on since the finish was so
important to her.
She continued on, finished her tenth LT100, and then went to see her husband.
Not one of us criticized her for that decision. There wasn't anything she could
do in the next four hours to help him, and everyone knew he'd want her to
continue the race after all the time and money she'd spent training for it. She
probably finished faster under the circumstances, too!
We heard that a second person was also taken out by helicopter to a hospital
but don't know the circumstances or identity.
Remember the amputee from South Africa? Unfortunately, he was one of the last
to reach our aid station. That's him in the green jacket below, getting ready to head
back down to Twin Lakes with the assistance of Sylvia, Jim, and Karen:
He was in good spirits but I doubt he made the cut-off at Twin Lakes. Because
we can't transport bikes and riders down from Columbine very easily (we have
only five or six vehicles up there, and they're loaded with volunteers and
supplies) there is no cut-off at the turn-around. The cut-off at Twin Lakes,
ten miles below us, is 2:30 PM, so anyone leaving Columbine after 1:30
probably will get pulled at Twin Lakes. With so many first-time LT100 riders, I
was surprised there weren't more people coming in late to our aid station.
We broke down the aid station after the last rider came through about 2
PM and headed back down the mountain. I got better "windshield series" photos
going down than driving up. What a beautiful view for the cyclists as they
descended from our aid station:
I hope the cyclists weren't so trashed by then that they couldn't enjoy the
scenery. They did need to keep their eyes on the rutted, rocky road, though. It is
probably easier to negotiate the worst sections above tree line with skinnier
tires than those on our trucks. Because of the rough, narrow road and the fact
that the cyclists go up and down it, no crew vehicles are permitted at
So you're probably wondering who "won" the race, aren't you? Our radio guy was
able to tell us the results while we were still on the mountain.
Besides the 588 other winners who finished the race, the first one across the
line was Dave Wiens in his fifth LT100 win. With perfect weather and Floyd
Landis pushing him the entire way he broke seven hours for the first time with
a fine 6:58:46. Landis also beat Wiens' previous record by
finishing in 7:00:30. Both were gracious and sportsmanlike after
the finish, as reported in interviews at yahoo.com and bicycling.com.
The first female was Gretchen Reeves in just over eight hours. As
mentioned earlier, about 74% of the field finished in under twelve hours
and quite a few more after that.
It took about an hour to get back down the mountain and to the LT storage
facility in Leadville. We drove past the finish line at Sixth and Harrison
about 4 PM and could see a couple riders coming in. After unloading the truck
we headed back to the camper to get cleaned up and rest before going to a
friend's house for a post-race party.
On the way out of Jack's property at 5:43 PM, just forty-seven minutes
before the 6:30 PM cut-off at the finish, Jim spotted a woman on a bike
with a race number heading toward Turquoise Lake Road. She'd missed the turn on
Sixth Street, less than a mile from the finish! Karsten was at the top of the
Boulevard, where the riders return, but she blew by the next turn where there
was only a cone and no course monitor. I'm so glad Jim noticed she was in the
race, because I didn't think much about it. There have been so MANY cyclists
ride past our camper the last couple weeks.
She was grateful we stopped her and she got turned around. Who knows how far
she might have gone if Jim hadn't noticed her race number. I hope no other
riders made the same mistake. Your brain just isn't the same after a hundred
miles, whether you're riding or running!
After socializing with friends all evening, we were too tired to get up early enough to attend the awards ceremony on
Sunday morning. We haven't heard any more stories from the race. If we learn
anything interesting next week, I'll do an addendum to this entry.
We had a great time volunteering and are looking forward to the same
jobs before the run next week. Stay tuned. Meanwhile I'll report any more
interesting training runs we have.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil