Four of us descended on Northstar Ski Resort last Sunday to take on the Tahoe Trail 100—a Leadville 100 Qualifier. For Matt Chappell and I, our goal was to attack the course with a reserved confidence, a confidence that years of cycling would prevail over a severe deficit in training. Our two teammates, Jamie McJunkin and Conrad Snover, respectively entered the race with a mountain of expectation and a legacy to uphold.
Jamie led the way with an overall win! Conrad delivered again as an Off-the-Couch Pro and took the Single Speed win and 8th Overall. I fought the demons on the second lap and watched my 5-hour goal barely slip away as I finished 40th Overall. Matt delivered as well, placing a solid 4th on an over-geared single speed. As a team, we came away with three Leadville spots. I’d call that a pretty respectable showing for the MarcPro-Strava Cycling Master’s team.
For Jamie, a key goal for the race was to make the Gold Corral time cut for Leadville—a daunting 4 hrs 15 minutes. That’s a pretty brutal standard, as only three riders last year went under this time and the 2012 course would be 5-6 minutes longer due to the new start climb. Conrad’s goal—win Single Speed and, more privately, beat a few certain people to that there finish line.
In an odd way, thinking about the race as a 4-hour time trial was surprisingly relaxing and allowed me to focus on metering the effort for the duration versus the normal MTB race that begins with the customary lung searing hole shot start. –Jamie
I set two goals: first I wanted to win singlespeed, which is always tough. Second I wanted to finish top 10, though to manage expectations, I publicly advertised that I was gunning for top 20 –Conrad
I registered a week ago so this is a stepping stone today. #1 Don’t try to keep up with Conrad and Jamie. #2 Have fun and finish strong. –Glenn
Since Leadville last year – I’ve only ridden my single speed 4 times. Leadville is no joke with one gear and the reward of the finish line is fruitful – just plan for a long recovery, mentally and physically. We’ll see today if I’m fully recovered yet. –Matt
We were looking well equipped at the start with our Felt mountain bikes—I even slipped on a brand new pair of Mavic shoes that were looking quite yellow. Promptly at 7am, a big ol’ shotgun cracked through the morning sunrise. Two guys went off the front like scared horses. Jamie settled in at the front of the main group with Conrad looking for a draft and spinning his single speed like CRAZY. With visions of a Top Fuel dragster blowing up, there was hope the two early leaders would implode as the extreme effort crept deeper into on their lungs and legs.
Jamie and Conrad tackling the steepest pitch on the start climb:
20 minutes in, Paul Smith (Specialized Sho Air) still maintained a 30 second lead. Jamie sat in second. Conrad was in the front pack and leading the single speeds. As they hit the first descent, labored breathing gave way to the clatter of chains. The early morning sun cast riders as silhouettes over the trail covered in a dusty fog. The race was on.
As the course meanders through Burton Creek Park, there’s a long, flat section where everyone’s riding single file and pretty much blind from the dust. On the first lap, small groups started to form and Conrad was smack in the middle of one.
I was spinning super fast—maybe 140 rpms at times. There was a big advantage being on someone’s wheel. But you really paid for it on a single speed. I would spin it up to catch-up, coast then repeat—for about 10minutes. –Conrad
A little further up the course, Jamie had made it through the first round of shorter climbs including Tevis and had just caught Paul on the 06 trail descent. As they approached a fast off camber turn, Jamie came in a little hot and washed the front-end. Poof! In an instant, he hit the deck. His drivetrain was submerged in a dust bath but, thankfully, he was fine.
After the crash, I got my rhythm again and caught Paul on the finish climb of lap 1. My dust encrusted drivetrain was sounding terrible from the crash. I noticed Paul was lubing his chain as he was riding and he was kind enough to share the lube. —Jamie
Once together, Jamie and Paul traded leads for the next hour and opened a good gap on Felt rider Jason Siegel in third. Then Jamie started to gap Paul on the descents. Approaching the steep Tevis climb, Jamie’s gap had grown sizably while Conrad was resorting to a new strategy. We’re deep into the race and battling 18% in sections of Tevis, so it’s man and machine.
Tevis was so steep I just wanted to get off my bike and walk. It was all I could do to turn the cranks. I set mini goals to make it to the next water bar where the pitch relaxed for 2’, which was just enough for me to build enough momentum to make it to the next one—and they’re only about 20 feet apart. Yup, it was that steep…my cadence was probably 20rpm max! –Conrad
But, in bike racing, we all know things can deteriorate quickly.
Next thing I knew, I was out of water. I chose not to stop at the next aid station. Perhaps that was a bad decision as I began to fend off cramps with on-bike stretching gymnastics. —Jamie
Deep into a race like this, cramps are like little demons lurking behind trees, primed to jump out and take you down. But both guys teased out a solid effort over the last 20 minute climb—just enough to maintain their position and keep the cramps at bay. Matt’s perspective was a bit different.
This race is a testament that I’m apparently not completely recovered from Leadville 12 months ago. My first lap went well. The second lap, well, I felt the pain and lost a little focus. Tahoe is beautiful but all I could see were mirages of little white bunnies in the deep forest. – Matt
At this point in the race, your legs are screaming and you’re struggling to find every last bit of strength. As the minutes tick away and take you towards the top, you round a sweeping corner. There’s a nervous excitement building. The climb kicks one more time but, this time, the Strava flag comes into view. Angst turns to elation. From there it was a short downhill to the finish. For Matt and I, it was 5 plus hours of dust and Tahoe sun and a great return to racing—a suitable primer for things to come. Jamie took the overall win in 4:09 and Conrad crushed the single speed with 4:29. A great day!
This is why you train so hard. So much effort and sacrifice and luck is required. But sometimes you get a feeling that at any point something can go wrong. So, for everything to work perfectly, at any bike race, big or small, and have it result in a win—it’s such a special feeling. –Jamie
And very special thanks to Katie Chappell for standing in the sun all day snapping pics and making sure extra bottles and camelbaks were ready.
More stories and photos of the race: