Racing Across the Sky: Leadville 100 MTB, Part III

Shane Dunleavy is a member of the KÜHL Masters CX Cycling team. He recently raced across the sky to complete the Leadville 100 MTB Race. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.

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Climbing to Halfway

We descended out of a small neighborhood and came to a highway with state troopers stopping traffic for us. On the other side was the Twin Lakes aid station (mile 40) and another tent city – this one almost twice the size of Pipeline. Spectators and crews were lined up, and as I rode through the middle, being careful to avoid collisions, I heard people yelling out my name and offering cheers of support. I couldn’t tell who was cheering for me through the blur of concentration and pain, but I instinctively knew it was friends and family of other racers I knew.

Amy was not here as we had decided to avoid the chaos of the two large aid stations and feed at the bases of Powerline and Columbine at miles 20, 45, 60 and 80. After climbing out of Twin Lakes which sits at the low point in the race at 9300’, you tackle rough, loose jeep trails with a few sharp climbs. About 5 miles later you see a smaller tent city in the distance that is the alternate station at the base of Columbine.

Amy was waiting for me there, and I began to anticipate the small can of coke that would be in my feed bag along with her homemade sweet and salty rice crispy treats and the tasty flavored fig bars provided for me by Nature’s Bakery. She was standing on the side of the road as it kicked up the beginning of the climb, and I had to fight back tears of gratitude as I grabbed the musette she offered up to me. She ran alongside me, and I told her I was not doing very well and not sure if I was going to make it. She replied that I was doing great and was going to crush it.

I was so thankful for her support and did not want to let her down. I later learned that she had to park almost a mile away. She hiked in carrying my heavy cooler so my drinks would be cold for me.

Once I got all the fuel packed into my jersey pockets, I rounded a corner and spotted my friend JC Hernandez at the side of the road where he was waiting to feed one of his teammates. JC is a huge inspiration for me. We’d met the year before at the Fireroad 100 and had traded pulls throughout the race until he finally dropped me on the descent into the finish. We stayed in contact, and I convinced him to come up and race the Crusher 3 weeks later, where he became the first amputee to complete the race. He lost his right leg serving in Afghanistan and now races for the Ride 2 Recovery team with a prosthesis. He’s completed Leadville multiple times going sub 9 and getting the big buckle. This year he was crewing, and he cheered me on as I went by. I found some more strength to push through the pain.

I drank my cold coke, ate a fig bar and a caffeinated gel and settled in for the 90 minute climb. Columbine starts out a fairly smooth, steep, dirt road but eventually narrows to an even steeper jeep track as you get above the tree line. Exposure has made the track rocky, rutted and virtually un-rideable in sections. I got into a nice rhythm on the lower sections and started feeling better as the sugar and caffeine made its way into my blood stream. I gradually overtook riders in front of me and felt much better.

I kept an eye on my time knowing that the top was the halfway point, and I needed to summit in 4:30 if I wanted to reach my goals. About half way up the climb I heard the honking of the lead moto, indicating the leaders were coming down. They shot by at 40+mph, and then all was silent again save the pounding of my heart and crunching of my tires on the dirt and gravel.

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Five minutes later more riders flew by, and it became a steady stream as we climbed. This added a lot of stress to the climb as you had to stay far to the right and be very careful if you wanted to overtake another rider to avoid a head-on collision. I was so envious of the riders going down, wishing the pain from my climb would end and I could join them in the high speed celebration descending promised.

I rounded a corner, and the road narrowed, steepened and became very loose and rocky. Riders began to fall off and walk. Fortunately it was not too congested, and I was able to keep riding and get around them. Looking up you could see an endless stream of racers riding and walking their way to the summit. It seemed miles away, and the clock was ticking well past the 4-hour mark.

Parked next to the trail in a particularly steep and rough section was a man sitting on an ATV. I realized it was Ken Chlouber, the race founder. I’d heard he was usually out here cheering on athletes and was again inspired. I heard him tell the walking racer in front of me, “Mount up son! Get up that climb.” I as rode by, managing to do so without a bobble, he encouraged me with “Nice riding son!”  It was here my earlier efforts really paid off as I was able to ride the majority of the climb. I only walked two of the roughest sections for about 100 yards each. There was enough space between riders to ask for the trail and have walking riders move aside. This saved me tons of time.

Pretty soon I was over the summit and dropped down a few hundred feet to the small neutral aid station and the turn around. Knowing I would feel much better when I got to lower altitude I did not linger and rode right by. I was surprised by the number of people stopping to grab food and fluids, clothing or simply to rest. I just wanted to get to the descent and start the journey back to the finish now that I was past the halfway point.

I checked my time at the turn around and saw 4:32. I was going to have to make up some time to get the big buckle.

Kühl Editor

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