Rebecca Rusch and Lance Armstrong each took late-race wins in the final Leadville Qualifying Series Race, held on and around Crested Butte Mountain Resort, in the sun-splashed Colorado Rockies on Sunday.
Rusch, winner of the last two Leadville 100 races, used the help of a strong group to erase the advantage of second-place finisher Jenny Smith, catching the solo-riding Gunnison, Colorado-resident about 10 miles from the finish of the 63-mile race that included two giant fire road climbs that rose above 11,000 feet.
Smith did all she could to hold Rusch’s wheel as they speed to the race’s finish, but couldn’t keep pace. Crested Butte local Jari Kirkland was a distant third in a race that had 201 starters, and served as a last chance for wannabe Leadville 100 racers.
About 100 riders earned the chance to contest the famed high-altitude race on August 13, either by placing high in their age category, or winning a spot via a post-race lottery.
A last minute addition; it was announced at the racer meeting on Saturday evening that this year’s Alpine Odyssey would be joined by some pretty lofty company. Sure enough, at 6:29 am, 1 minute before the race began Lance Armstrong joined the field of competitors at the Starting line below Mt. Crested Butte Photo courtesy: Trent Bona, www.trentbona.com
Armstrong fell into the former category, winning the overall and his 40-49 age group. But said afterwards that while 63 miles on Sunday was fun, he had no interest in suffering through the 100-miler two weeks from now.
“I’m old and I’m retired,” he said.
But based on Sunday’s action, you would have never known. The seven-time Tour de France champ shut down a one-minute gap to eventual second-place finisher Greg Krause all during the final six-mile singletrack section that wound around the shoulder of Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
“That’s usually not my specialty,” said Armstrong, who was riding a 29er hardtail. “But for some reason today I sort of felt in the groove and was able to come around the guy on the last downhill. That definitely surprised me.”
Armstrong’s winning time of 4:32:31 was just 3 seconds better than Krause. Crested Butte’s Travis Scheefer took third.
With only 7 miles left in the race Greg Krause had established a solid minute and a half lead on Scheefer and Armstrong as he hauled past Gothic Mountain in his big ring Photo courtesy: Trent Bona, www.trentbona.com
Overall the first-year event was hailed a great community success, and organizers say they’ll be back for at least another two years.
“[Crested Butte Mountain Resort] jumped all over this from the word go,” said race director Dave Ochs, who puts on several other local CB mountain bike races throughout the year. “They are really trying to get their bike park rolling and get bike events going here. It’s kind of like Leadville itself, where the idea is to get all types of riders involved.
“They have trail here that are really easy for the newbie tourist types. Or you can throw on the pads and get after it on a bike. It used to be dead up here. But now there’s a huge change and its been unbelievable.”