2015 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 2: Starting Line Surprise

08.19.2015 | 7:36 am

A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:

Five minutes before the race began, I tossed my puffy, fleecy, faux-lambswool jacket over to Katie Bolling with World Bicycle Relief. I was ready to ride, ready to race. I had not only been preparing for this race, I had been teaching clinics on how to do this race.

I was prepared.

And then, three minutes before the race began, I realized I had forgotten something: to eat. 

No, I hadn’t forgotten to eat breakfast. But during the past weeks I had badgered audiences about how they need to start eating for the race before the race even begins — as they stand in the starting line. Get the first half-hour’s calories down before the race even begins. 

Well, three minutes is enough time. I opened the two packets of GU Salted Watermelon Chews, chewed them down, took a slug of water, and found that this action had helped me calm down. I had gone from passively waiting for time to pass so I could start racing to actively doing something to help my race.

“Let’s do everything we can to work together, Ben,” I said. 

“Sure,” Ben said, noncommittally. He’d never raced this before; he had no idea whether he’d be much faster or much slower than I am. And to be honest, I didn’t know, either.

I pivoted back and looked to Jason Sparks. I figured he and I were genuinely likely to work together. “I’ll see you on the course!” 

The announcer called out the pros, gave the one minute warning, and then had the whole crowd shout out a countdown from five to the start of the race.

I pressed the start button on my Garmin 500 (yes, I’m back to the Garmin 500; I prefer it over the 510) and waited for the lag between when the shotgun announced the starting of the clock to when I would actually get to clip in and ride.

So Nice, So Easy

But here’s the thing: this time, there was hardly any lag between gun time (when the shotgun started the race) and my chip time (when I rolled over the timing mat). Maybe three or five seconds.

I was that close to the starting line, thanks to being in the silver — i.e., only the second one from the front — corral.

And I found out that the difference between starting from the front of the line of 1600 people and starting from the middle-ish part of a line of 1600-ish people is incredible

I know, I know. It’s obvious: I expected it to be easier. Faster. Less congested.

But I had had no idea how much easier and faster and less congested it would be.

Usually, as soon as I’ve got a little bit of momentum I have to brake hard, because the 200 racers ahead of me have slowed and geared down to go up the first little rise.

But not this year. This year, the only people ahead of me were pros and might-as-well-be-pros. They didn’t slow down, so I didn’t have to shrug off speed.

Usually, there are screeching brakes all around me as I round the first right turn, after the school.

But not this year. This year racers hadn’t had time to bunch up around me yet, I had a free and clear line as I made that corner.

Usually, racers who feel their best chance for winning this race is to jockey around racers the whole way down the pavement, risking tangled handlebars every second in order to gain a tenth of a second advantage on the course.

This year, I was ahead of all that. The pros were ahead of me, the near-pros were all around me, and we were just zooming down the pavement, neat and orderly as you please.

For the first time in my Leadville 100 racing life, I didn’t heave a massive sigh of relief when I reached the bottom of this paved descent and turned onto the dirt. It had gone comfortably, perfectly, and safely.

For that moment alone, the work I had put into the Cedar City Fire Road 100 qualifying event had been worth it. And Strava bears it out: in this section, I had set a personal best, getting to the bottom of St. Kevins 1:24 faster than I had ever done so before.

That’s a lot of time to earn in the first fifteen minutes of a race.

Up St Kevins and to the Carter Summit

In real life, I am nothing if not deferential to those in a hurry. I’ll make way for people to get in front of me in traffic. I’ll open doors for people. I’ll yield my place in the grocery line? If they’re in a hurry, why not help them get where they’re in a hurry to get to?

When I’m racing, my philosophy shifts, somewhat. I become the one in the hurry, the one who wants to get around people. I’m careful to not be rude about it (at least, my race brain doesn’t perceive me as rude), but I am vocal, asking for people to move, to yield their line, to let me by.

But I didn’t have to do that at all this year.

Starting from where I had, I was already as far forward as I needed to be. I didn’t need — or even want — to get around these racers; they were working their way up the mountain as fast as I wanted to go. So I found a good wheel to follow, settled in, and rode along. No need to expend energy by moving into a bad line and accelerating past someone.

The paradox struck me: up near the front of the race, it was both easier and faster.

An Aside About Eating

I hit the sharp left turn in St Kevins in a new best time (27:31) and remembered when Reba and I had told people during our webinars: once you hit this turn, the trail continues steeply for one last short pitch, and then you’ve got a great opportunity to eat.

I took my own advice and grabbed out my first GU Roctane gel of the day. I won’t keep mentioning this, but let me say right now: I was absolutely fanatically disciplined about eating a GU Roctane gel every half hour of this race. I never made exceptions, except to perhaps sometimes eat one two or three minutes early or late based on where I was on the course.

I washed the GU down with a swig of half-strength Carborocket 333 (I’m perfectly fine with mixing nutrition brands), which is what I’d keep in one bottle the whole day; the other bottle would have water.

And for the record, I never ever ever felt any stomach discomfort, the entire day. 

Folks, I have gotten the eating part of this race nailed.


Down We Go

Once you make that hard left turn at St. Kevins, you’ve really gotten the first hard climb behind you. A few  more miles of rolling riding in forested doubletrack and dirt road pops you out onto the Carter’s Summit pavement, descending for three miles in about five minutes.

I marveled at how I’ve changed as a rider since 1997, when this section really scared me with how fast and steep it is. Now…I just crouched low and rode to the bottom. No drama, no sense of riding on the edge.

Part of it’s me — twentyish years of cycling experience evidently counts for something — but a lot of it is how good modern bikes are. Big wheels, low pressure tubeless tires, amazing frames and components: the cycling world has seen so much change for the good since I started this sport.

I claim credit for it all.

My top speed for the day was 41.8mph. I’m pretty sure this is where I hit it.

On To Sugarloaf

After the three miles of descending, a 1.5 mile gentle uphill gave me a chance to sit up and drink, then I was on Hagerman’s: a wide, graded (though often washboarded) slightly uphill road that gives you one of the very best places in the course to work together.

I got lucky right away: the cyclist fifty feet ahead of me looked back, saw I was near, and sat up for a moment for me to catch up.

“Let’s go get the next big group,” he said.

“For sure, for sure,” I replied.

Yes, I really said, “For sure, for sure.” 

Immediately, I thought to myself, “Why did I just say, ‘For sure, for sure?’ Am I Frank Zappa? Am I singing Valley GirlThat is the dumbest thing I have ever said.”

Sometimes I can be a little self-critical.

This guy didn’t comment, however, and he was a champ at working together. Fifteen second pull, peel left, drop back and rest, repeat.

Soon we had caught…Brandon Smith, whom I honestly had not expected to see this day. Brandon had kicked my corn at Cedar City; I assumed he’d be miles ahead of me by now.

“Jump on, Banks,” I said, getting his last name wrong. Then, remembering Brandon Banks is a different local rider, I said, “Damn it. I just got your last name wrong, didn’t I?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, while I noted that in the past two minutes I had said two dumb things aloud and that I’d probably be best off keeping my mouth shut (figuratively, not literally, since I needed to keep my mouth wide open to get enough air) while doing this race.

We caught group after group, growing our line, ’til as we reached the sharp left turn that signaled the Sugarloaf climb, we were a dozen strong.

Which would mean nothing at all now that we were heading up one of the rockiest parts of the race. The time for pacelines was — for the time being — over.

Three Utah Boys

Brandon and I kept riding together, climbing fast and occasionally passing people.

The “occasionally” part of this disconcerted me at first. This climb is usually where I pass dozens of racers.

And then I figured it out: I wasn’t passing as many racers because this time, I was up where there weren’t a lot of racers to pass. I was already with people who are every bit as strong of climbers as I am.

I did my best to stop finding reasons to freak out over nothing.

I saw a UtahMountainBiking.com kit, knew it had to be Jason. Marveled that I was now riding with two Utah guys I know and respect as racers. That all three of us had gotten into the silver starting corral by virtue of doing well in the Fire Road 100…and that I had finished third of the three of us.

“How about that start today?” I asked? “I am never starting from the middle of the pack again.”

They agreed, briefly.

“Have you guys ever seen a snake on this course?” I then asked. “I was just thinking about how in nineteen years of doing this race, I have never seen a single snake.”

They did not reply. My ruse to get them talking had failed.

We rode in quiet, all three working hard, all three getting to the summit of Sugarloaf together. 

I waved them past. “You guys know I suck at descending; I’m just going to try to survive this next part,” I said. “If I can catch you at the bottom, let’s work together on getting to Twin Lakes. Maybe the three of us can get this race done in under eight hours.”

They may have agreed; I don’t know. They just kept going, racing hard, and I was on my own for the part of the race I dread above all others: the Powerline descent.

Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next installment of this story.


  1. Comment by AKClydsedale | 08.19.2015 | 8:43 am

    Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes? As a properly paranoid and superstitious Boston sports fan, your comment about having never seen a snake seems foreboding.

    Love the race reports – can’t wait to read the next installment.

  2. Comment by RANTWICK | 08.19.2015 | 9:08 am

    Snakes! I saw me a rattle snake up close just about a week ago, within a few hours of my home in London Ontario Canada, of all places! Whether Fatty is foreshadowing we shall see.

    Nice report fatty… racing vicariously is so much less work.

  3. Comment by wharton_crew | 08.19.2015 | 9:26 am

    Descending is scary – I can’t tell you how often I wreck from a combination of loose dirt and tightened muscles. I’d be interested in learning how steep powerline gradient is, and what the trail composition was like. Is it rocky/rutted? Loose dirt or stones?

    How many people endo on the Powerline descent? Someone has to have made a Youtube video about Powerline follies by now.

  4. Comment by rb | 08.19.2015 | 9:46 am

    The front is the way to start this race. Red was a beautiful place to be. The criteria got harder for 2016, so I need to turn in a faster Barnburner to make it back to Red.

    HOLY CRAP! I am looking forward to another 104 mile event in less than 2 weeks, and I have started plotting next year’s LT100.

    You are contagious Fatty. I have contracted some part of the mental defect that keeps you coming back for more pain. And for that, I thank you. Sincerely.

  5. Comment by Ferde | 08.19.2015 | 9:54 am

    Excellent write up

  6. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.19.2015 | 10:00 am

    I started in Orange, third from the back (ahead only of Blue and White). The ride down 6th street wasn’t as congested as I’d been led to believe (by an award-winning celebrity cycling blogger). Probably because said blogger hasn’t been THAT far back in a long time!

    There was no slowing accordion before the small rise. Once past the right-left at the Intermediate School, it was full speed ahead. Which on my awesome borrowed 1×11 setup, wasn’t all that fast–I easily spun out as fast as I could go.

    I went with almost the same nutrition strategy as Fatty, except that as a n00b, I didn’t know to go all Roctane (I had a mix of roughly 50% non-Roctane and 50% Roctane Gu). Unlike a certain upstate NY MTBer we all know, I did NOT bonk during the race. And while I came to dislike both CarboRocket and Gu, I never developed the full-on hatred I expected. In fact, I’m sipping a nice ice cold Lemonade Half-Evil 333 as I type. While downing a Salted Watermelon Gu.

    Popping out onto the pavement after the Carter Summit aid station, I hit my max of 40.9. I’m not remotely as fast as Fatty, so I’m pleased to have been within 1 mph of him on at least one part of the course!

    I’ve got a full race report finished, but I won’t share it until Fatty crosses the line. I guess that means I have to stop at the top of Powerline. All that I’ll say at this point is that as of Sun Aug 9, I was absolutely petrified at the thought of being at the top of Powerline (Outbound, of course; the thought of being at the top of Powerline Inbound is another story entirely).

  7. Comment by Corrine | 08.19.2015 | 12:22 pm

    Love the race report. Keep the installments coming. I, too wonder if snakes will play a part later. @Jeff Dieffenbach, yes, I want to hear your full race report. Looks like you did awesome yourself!

  8. Comment by Brian in VA | 08.19.2015 | 3:29 pm

    I so love these race reports!

  9. Comment by Eric | 08.19.2015 | 4:50 pm

    @Jeff, I can’t wait to read your report. I wrote up my full report this morning (linked from my name) for those interested in what it’s like at the back of the pack. I started in the middle of the pack (purple corral), but got a flat at the top of the first climb, and by the time I fixed it, I was in last place, so I spent the rest of the race trying to catch up.

  10. Comment by Ian | 08.19.2015 | 6:42 pm

    Hot damn, even the cadence of your writing is off the chart.

  11. Comment by AKChick | 08.20.2015 | 12:38 am

    Yay! Race report. I love the Leadville reports!

    @Jeff Dieffenbach can’t wait to read your report!

    Where is @davidh-marin? I want to read YOUR report! :)

    PS still not tempted to do Leadville.

  12. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.20.2015 | 12:44 am

    I understood Fatty was going to be busy with work, out of town this week. In addition to that he’s banged out three great installments, posted pictures of himself contemplating his ’stem’, commented, and made new friends on Facebook. Heck, I haven’t even gotten home yet.

    Personal speed check: 42.84 max, apparently my downhill muscle had some positive affect on this ride.

  13. Comment by Mike Schwab | 09.2.2015 | 1:16 pm

    For Sure, For Sure is also used in the song CONVOY.


    (Yeah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck,
    You got a copy on me Pigpen? C’mon.)
    (Ah yeah, ten-four Pigpen, FOR SURE, FOR SURE.
    By golly it’s clean clear to Flagtown. C’mon.)
    (Yeah, that’s a big ten-four there Pigpen.
    Yeah, we definitely got the front door good buddy.
    Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy)



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