Levi Leipheimer, riding in his first major mountain bike race, broke Radioshack team-mate Lance Armstrong’s record time to win the Leadville Trail 100 on Saturday – despite an over-the-bars crash.
Putting his Tour de France fitness on display for all to see, Leipheimer overcame the mishap to finish in 6:16:37, bettering the course record set by Armstrong last year by 12 minutes. Armstrong chose not to defend his Leadville crown, citing a hip that remains sore from a crash in last month’s Tour de France.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek), who battled Leipheimer for over 80 miles, finished second and also beat the Armstrong record, by 3:30. Todd Wells (Specialized) suffered a major mechanical and finished third.
Dave Weins (Topeak-Ergon) nosed out Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) for fourth place as Bishop, who was still dealing with a nasty cold, took fifth.
“That was ridiculous,” said Leipheimer after the race. “I don’t know if I’ve ever suffered that much before. JHK was super-strong and I was worried because I was suffering on Columbine. I’m just not that used to the altitude and he was hanging tough.
“But I guess that the distance and the fitness from The Tour was enough – although we don’t go this hard in the Tour!” Whether he was joking or not was unclear. While Leipheimer has made his fame on the road, he loves riding off-road with his friends back home. “I’ve been riding my mountain bike a lot the last 10 years,” he said.
Nearly 1,400 racers from 20 countries gathered in the normally sleepy town of Leadville, Colorado for the high-altitude endurance challenge. Starting at 10,152ft with a loop around Turquoise Lake, the 100-mile (160km) course then took them over Sugarloaf Pass at 11,071ft before reaching a maximum height of 12,550ft.
Riders set off at 6.30am as the sun came up over the Rocky Mountains and had a 12-hour time limit to complete the event. The pace was blistering for the first hour, and near the top of Sugarloaf Pass there was a major mishap.
Leipheimer said: “I crashed near the top of the Sugarloaf climb. I shouldn’t have been leading. All of a sudden I thought there was a right turn and I hit my brakes. Todd Wells hit me from behind. I haven’t been hit that hard in a long time.”
Wells said: “I crashed too and wrecked my front wheel and flatted. My team-mate Ned Overend gave me his wheel so I could catch back up.” Overend managed to limp into the next Aid Station where he borrowed a wheel. Wells finished the race with blood oozing from his knee, but neither he or Leipheimer seemed to be seriously hurt.
On the incredibly steep descent down Powerline, Horgan-Kobelski opened a few seconds’ gap while the mayhem behind him sorted itself out. Surprisingly, 10 riders including Matt Shriver, Bishop, Alex Grant (Cannondale), Weins, Jay Henry, Leipheimer, and Hogan-Kobelski all managed to re-merge into a big group. On the short road section of course before the rolling hills at Box Gulch, there seemed to be a truce as all riders sat up and took on food and liquids.
On the stretch to the base of Columbine Mountain, several riders including Shriver, Leipheimer and JHK ramped up the pace. As they started the climb, the lead group had been reduced to five. Shortly thereafter, the whole race shattered as riders headed up the mountain. “You just have to ride your own pace on that mountain,” said Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe’s).
Horgan-Kobelski and Leipheimer got away on the mountain. JHK later saying of the break: “I was really happy to go over a climb like that with him… to stay with a Tour de France podium guy.” JHK then descended like a madman, opening a 500m gap on Leipheimer as they reached the bottom.
“I felt pretty good until we hit the Powerline climb,” added JHK. “I really turned myself inside out on that climb thinking I might be able to catch back up on the descent. But it was pure suffering from that point on.” Wells ended up riding much of the race alone in third place, later joking that it might have been better if he had pulled out after destroying his wheel.
The race for fourth place was nearly as exciting as the race at the front. Weins reached the bottom of the Columbine descent a full minute behind Bishop but managed to reel him in on the long traverse back to Powerline. “If Weins had given it even one go he would have left me behind,” said Bishop. Instead the two stayed in contact until the final climb up the road into the town.
In the women’s race, Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) and Amanda Carey (Kenda-Felt) put on an impressive display of power. Riding just behind the top 20 men the whole race they made it to the Columbine climb together.
“I knew that Columbine was the make or break so I just put the hammer down there,” said Rusch. “I think I got five minutes on the ascent and a few more on the descent. Then I didn’t look back and started to think about the course record. I was cramping… I left it all out there. I can barely stand up. It was one of my most painful days on a bike.” But, she had a new course record and was jumping for joy as it was announced.
For full results and a photo gallery, visit www.cyclingnews.com.
||Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)
||Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek)
||Todd Wells (Specialized)
||David Wiens (Topeak Ergon)
||Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale)