[Updated w/ Photos and Strava]
Sitting in the medical tent while a crew sprayed water on my bibs to get them unstuck from dried blood and dirt and trail rash was not how I envisioned my Leadville experience.
Hypoxic at altitude, cramps, general bonking, wrestling mechanicals — these were all things I thought about pre race, but not taking a massive beater on the non-technical course. So of course that is exactly what I did at mile 20, descending the upper Pipeline section in traffic on a rutted and steep and rocky section. Easy riding until I was passing a guy and in hindsight didn’t give him enough room in case he slipped down off the one primary/smooth but off-camber line, which he did, sliding down into me at speed in the romper room and here we go! Launch over bars, look out below, wow that spot doesn’t look very soft, in fact it looks like a rock garden. It is a rock garden, There Will be Blood. [Note: Other dude was able to lay it down vs. superman, and ok. I apologized, won’t go into fault but happy to take full blame/responsibility just on the premise I was passing]
As if I needed more adrenaline after the shotgun (literal) start w/ 1700 other riders.
So I popped up and did the old once-over, deciding not to actually look at what I knew would be a thorough gouging / rashing of the right side, but confirming it was all superficial, which it was, good. The bike, ack. My bottle cage had been ripped out of the frame, dangling/attached to the inter-connected cable guides. The (empty) bottle was still in it but the cage was unusable. The (full) bottle that had been in my jersey was gone down the hillside. Sweet, so now I’m gonna have 1 bottle to do another 80 miles and stop at every aid station and have to dig it out of my jersey pocket. Obviously a big challenge of this kind of race is getting hydration and calories in your system early and often so you don’t explode, and I’d just made that challenge even bigger. Lost the front shock lock-out, and rear shifting was off. But the bike was ridable so back on and get to mile 26 aid station and catch up on hydration/etc.
Pre-race strategy to achieve sub 9 hour/gold buckle: Go hard, don’t crack, never panic. Time to focus on the final piece of the equation. And the Magic Pixie Dust my daughters had coated me with (Quotes: “it won’t wash off even if you take a shower” and “when you get a flat tire you won’t care”). It worked. The Pixie Dust overcame my penchant for Mountain Bike race adventure. I did have to stop at every aid station for liquid and food (note: they don’t hand out bottles, and my support crew (thank you Katie (teammate Matt Chappell’s wife) and Ann (Katie’s mom) and Mike (Katie’s Dad) did have my bottles, but carrying two in the jersey pockets wasn’t going to happen given they were already stuffed w/ food/supplies/etc.. The rear D issue had me off the bike 5 times from shifting the chain into the wheel and getting it wedged and trying to barrel adjust to fix and blah/whine. I thought hard about a longer more focused stop but mostly avoided the granny ring on the rear and really tried to feather things but every now and then the stars aligned poorly and well, I’m just glad I didn’t break my chain or worse and these stops had a ‘fixable mechanical’.
The race actually went by pretty fast, and I went hard but was fairly conservative, feathering bike and body over the final 80 miles. Highlights were the top of Columbine views and high alpine beauty, zoning out in the couple miles of singletrack, the PBR hand up crew (in hindsight I really should have grabbed one), paceline/peleton at 30MPH on dirt road in a sea of gravel, powerline crowds on the inbound/mile 80, and the guy from Marin who knows my teammate Chris that came up behind me on the Boulevard when I was alone and spacy and knew I was a mile or two from the finish and would end up inside of 8:30 – he was hammering and rode me off his wheel, nice one. Next time, more Pixie Dust. Finish time 8:24ish, Gold Buckle.
Thanks again to my family and Matt/Katie and Ann/Mike, and to all the peeps that sent cool messages and vibes. Leadville is as advertised: big event, hard, cool, beautiful. Looking forward to giving it another run someday.