2015 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 3: Return of the Son of Joyful Warrior

08.19.2015 | 10:49 pm

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

The night before the 2015 Leadville 100, Jeff Dieffenbach — my co-racer from Boggs and now an extra-good friend of Fatty — had done something wonderful. He had made a chart:

Thumb IMG 3853 1024

Now, try to ignore the numbers in black (the actual times) and just look at the color numbers; these are the guesstimate times everyone staying at the house we had rented, as well as how to recognize us one from another as we pulled into our community aid station / tent / hangout. 

The problem for me was: I really had no idea of what kind of numbers I ought to put down. I tried figuring out aid station times that added up to under eight hours, but when I did…well, they just didn’t look realistic. I’d have to reach the turnaround at the top of Columbine in four hours, more or less.

That just sounded ridiculous. I mean, hitting the turnaround in 4:30 is a dream scenario. Half an hour faster than that? Pffff.

But I wrote those numbers down anyway. In fact, I wrote down numbers that more or less had me hitting the top of Columbine in under four hours. Because that’s a totally plausible thing that could actually happen. 

And now I was racing the race. I was at the top of Powerline, one of two parts of the race I just do not enjoy

Because I am a mediocre descender.

Let’s Get This Over With

When you are a mediocre descender on the Leadville 100 Powerline descent, you are acutely aware of four things as you descend: 

  1. You are not going very fast
  2. Lots of people are passing you
  3. There are many bikes with flat tires on the side of the road, acting as object lessons as to what could happen if you go any faster than you are currently going
  4. Your hands are going numb from pulling on the brake levers nonstop since you were seven years old

Both of these happened all the time as I came down the Powerline. And also, I set a world record for “Longest Amount of Time Anyone Has Held an Expression of Shock and Dismay on One’s Face.”

Huge thanks to the amazing Linda Guerrette for this photo

Of course, I need to be honest here and say that this photo is the most humblebraggy humblebrag I’ve ever humblebragged, because while I’m self-deprecatingly poking fun at my expression, I’m really hoping that you’ll notice that for a 49-year-old, my legs do not look half bad. 

In fact, my legs do not look half bad for a 25-year-old.

Furthermore, the Cannondale F-Si Black Inc I’m riding is almost without question the sexiest bike I have ever brought to a race, and it was handling better than I had any right to expect.

And also, my socks and shoes go rather fetchingly together and make me easy to distinguish from the rest of the Fatty Army on the course.

All that said, my game face still sucks pretty bad. By way of comparison, this is what it looks like when everything comes together, from legs to outfit to race face:

Bazu 6780383

Kudos, by the way, to the race organizers for providing free photos to racers for download this year. That’s a nice (and unexpected) touch.

Back to the Story

Right, I was going to talk about descending the Powerline. Except I’m not really going to. Because while I was nervous the whole way down and was grateful when I reached the bottom, I raced according to my plan for this descent: treat it as one of two places in the race where time does not matter. Let people by when I could, hold my line when I needed to, and get to the bottom safe and ready to catch and slaughter those who had just passed me.

And in fact I reached the bottom safe, sound, and with legs that felt like they could and would do anything I asked of them.

Choo Choo

Powerline empties onto a few miles of pavement, followed by fifteen miles of rolling dirt road, so I knew that very soon I’d be riding hard in a paceline. So I had a gel early, had a quick drink, and then looked down the road.

There’s a guy. Riding solo. He’ll be looking to start working.

I spooled up, caught him, passed him, pointed at my back wheel, and ratcheted back my effort just a smidgen.

My train was formed.

Pulling him along, I hammered to catch another guy, then a group of two. I had built a train of five just by pulling for a couple minutes. Now it was my turn to put it to work. I pulled off left and drifted back, hoping, hoping the guys I was with knew what to do.

The guy right behind me pulled through, then drifted back immediately. Then the next guy did, and so did the next guy.

They knew. All five of us knew. I had stumbled into a Christmas Miracle of a paceline: four complete strangers who either knew how to ride a paceline or were able to quickly figure it out by example.

We flew along the pavement at a near-obscene pace, getting to the right turn in what felt like mere moments, closing in on a much larger group ahead of us. 

We caught them, they joined up, and…that ruined the train. This new group hadn’t been doing a fast, efficient rotation. Who knows what they had been doing, in fact. It was no wonder our group had swept them up.

With the rotation messed up, the whole train fractured. Some racers shot ahead, others drifted back. I looked to grab a wheel of anyone who was going hard, made my choice, and joined up.

As it turns out, that was Jason. We had agreed — as far back as the True Grit Epic last spring — that we should try to work together in the Leadville 100, and now we were getting the chance. 

“Let’s do this!” I whooped, feeling the intense joy of someone whose race is going impractically, impossibly well. I knew Jason’s fast. Faster than I am. Maybe this guy was going to be my ticket to a sub-eight-hour race.

We began quick rotations, which kept up for the remaining couple minutes ’til we hit the dirt. 


I’m not sure what happened after that. Maybe someone got in front of Jason, holding him up. Maybe I was just feeling too good, racing out of my head. But I lost him before we got to the first meaningful checkpoint in the race: Pipeline.

I looked at my GPS: I had done this first section in 1:56. 

One hour, fifty six minutes. More or less exactly the amount of time it had taken me to get to this point in 2011, when I had finished the race in 8:18. Not exactly on track to do this race in sub-8.

Which did not even occur to me a little bit. In fact, I just thought to myself “UNDER TWO HOURS TO THE FIRST CHECKPOINT!” 

In my own mind, thanks to a failure to correctly do year-to-year time comparison, I was doing awesomeMaybe Han Solo was right; sometimes it’s better to not know the odds.

I blew through the first checkpoint, howling aloud; dozens of spectators joined me in my cries.

I was in full Joyful Warrior race mode, and there was nothing I loved more than racing my bike.


  1. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.20.2015 | 12:53 am

    I might argue with this statement;
    ….and there was nothing I loved more than racing my bike.

    That ice cream at Firebase Fatty didn’t stand a chance with you.

  2. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.20.2015 | 7:04 am

    Fatty’s view of Powerline couldn’t be much more different than mine. Which is kind of funny, seeing a how he’s a significantly better descender than I am.

    Prior to the Tue Aug 11 pre-ride of Powerline, I was TOTALLY spooked by the prospect of that descent. DURING the Tue Aug 11 pre-ride of Powerline, I was even MORE spooked, as having “ridden” up it gave me a very real view of what I would be facing coming down.

    But that was before I met the secret weapon.

    Sure, I’ve gotten GREAT MTB skills advice from a number of people, most notably Doug B from Canada NY. But we never really focused on big descents.

    A the top of the Powerline climb, Reba and Fatty gathered us for an impromptu skills clinic. And their talents notwithstanding, they had the foresight to bring along Harlan Price.

    Harlan has some serious downhill racing chops and general all-around MTB skills. He talked the group through a number of considerations to keep in mind (because panic and keeping things in mind go so well together).

    Then, he proceeded part way down and set up camp to offer some on the fly tips. As I rolled toward him, he noticed some rear wheel traction issues and some positioning on the pedals issues. (I’m quite sure he noticed many other issues, but you can only coach so much in 20 seconds of downhill passing.)

    “More front brake,” he called, “It will cut down on the rear wheel skidding.” Okay, I thought, maybe I’m worrying too much about endoing.

    “Feet level with one another, front foot slightly up, heels down,” he added. Okay, right, you said that at the top, which was at least 7 minutes ago, so how could I be expected to remember that.

    Putting both new tips to work, I gained both confidence and speed as I approached the really steep section at the bottom. I wasn’t particularly fast, but I was in control, and at one point, a guy climbing up Powerline saw fit to exclaim, “Hey, nice line.” And I don’t even think he was being sarcastic.

    In the race, my experience was even better. I followed the wheel ahead of me, didn’t think about the wheels behind me, and benefited from being toward the back of the race with the other slow kids.

    The official photographer’s pic of me on the descent shows a big smile, and it was legit!


  3. Comment by Paul Gutman | 08.20.2015 | 7:29 am

    I so desperately want a “like” button for davidh-Marin,ca’s comment.

  4. Comment by Corrine | 08.20.2015 | 8:46 am

    Fatty, thanks for posting 2 installments on the SAME DAY! I hate waiting for the next post. Jeff, great photo and I noticed in one of your other photos that you were still smiling while pushing your bike back up Powerline! You must have been having fun out there.

  5. Comment by Derek | 08.20.2015 | 9:10 am

    Your legs are like tree trunks! Awesome

  6. Comment by Mike in Memphis | 08.20.2015 | 9:37 am

    If the Greeks were still making semi-limbless statues out of marble, they could do worse than modeling Ares’ quads off yours.

  7. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.20.2015 | 9:46 am

    My facial expression going UP Powerline was a grimace disguised as a smile.

  8. Comment by Frank | 08.20.2015 | 11:28 am

    At Powerline I was alone so I had to find my own line while trying to stay upright. At one point of the descent I briefly lost contact with the earth and went airborne…while holding on for dear life…and it was fun and terrifying at the same time. I so look forward to do that again…I know I am crazy!

  9. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.20.2015 | 12:01 pm

    @Frank, let’s you and I pool our resources and add a chairlift to the Powerline towers. Because as much as I’d like to get good at that descent, I’m not sure that I or my non-Adonis quads are willing to pay the price of climbing it every time.

  10. Comment by rb | 08.20.2015 | 1:18 pm

    I am always (is 3 times “always”?) more relieved at the bottom of powerline than at the top of columbine. Bad downhillers unite!

  11. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.20.2015 | 1:43 pm

    @rb, I’m all for uniting … but at a respectable distance for safety’s sake, please! [grin]

  12. Comment by dug | 08.20.2015 | 2:53 pm

    “Maybe Han Solo was right; sometimes it’s better to not know the odds.”

    If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times–Han Solo is ALWAYS right.

  13. Comment by MattC | 08.21.2015 | 12:31 pm

    “There are many bikes with flat tires on the side of the road, acting as object lessons as to what could happen if you go any faster than you are currently going.”

    Fatty, I have to ask (and this applies to Davidh, DaveT, and anybody else who has raced Leadville): what is happening that these people are flatting? Are they running tire pressures WAY too low? Are there tons of gigantic goatheads or horrible sharp rocks or something like that?

    Quite honestly, I don’t see any reason that going fast downhill is a reason to flat (ever been to a downhill race? Those guys and gals FLAT-OUT-FLY down some UBER-ROUGH stuff and rarely flat). I’m not a great descender, but since I put on a dropper post a few months back, look out…my bike really takes a beating on some downhills. And I don’t even have tubeless anymore. Just curious why so many are flatting on a MTB race.

  14. Comment by MattC | 08.21.2015 | 12:40 pm

    @dug, that Han solo bit sounds similar to a “Jens” joke.

    When Jens was a young lad taking history, on his test he wrote-in “Attack” as the every answer for every question. The teacher called him up to explain his answers, and he simply said “the answer is ALWAYS to Attack”. He got an A+ on his test.

  15. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.21.2015 | 1:15 pm

    @MattC, I’m by no means an MTB expert, but I think the flats were more likely from pressure too high, not too low.

    Powerline was rocky on the shallower stuff at the top, but my tubeless setup absorbed it flawlessley. At the bottom, Powerline was smooth on the steeper stuff. Columbine was pretty much the same.

    Perhaps too much pressure was coupled with too rigid a posture on the bike. Based on great tips that I received, I tried to use my arms/legs as additions to the bike’s full suspension.

    I think that it would be GREAT if the Leadville organizers would do a follow-up survey to ask people what equipment (and pressure) they rode and what mechanicals they had. There could be some excellent learning there.

  16. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.21.2015 | 6:03 pm

    Jeff D is a data nerd, and for that I personally say ‘thank you’. Poor pressures will probably be the prevailing response.

    As a Clydesdale I did not find any of the rocky sections difficult on the tire, but you had to pick your line. I think there were many who chose to ‘bomb it’, and in doing that there were some rock sections with hard, sharp, deep bottoms.

    There are only 360 days or so till Leadville 2016. It’s not too early to get The Team together!
    I’m talking to you. @MattC, @NicGrillo, @CarlosPerea, @ChrisD, …..you got the idea, we all need our ‘buckles’

    @NancyS. Interested?

  17. Comment by rb | 08.21.2015 | 6:04 pm

    @MattC Powerline has roots at the top, rocks at the bottom. there’s plenty of opportunity for sidewall cuts and for sudden lateral force (sliding sideways, into a rut) to cause a burping tire.

    more than that, I think the powerline DH is the first time on race day the bike setup is really tested. If there was a weakness in a tire or the seal, the top section of powerline is going to expose it. I think this because for as steep, rocky, and fast as the columbine DH is, no one seems to be broken down there.

  18. Comment by MattC | 08.22.2015 | 9:35 pm

    @Jeff, davidh and rb, thanks for the info. I guess there’s really only 1 way for me to understand what it’s like…that’s to RIDE it (but not the whole race, just the climbs/descents).

    @davidh…uhm, well, thanks for the invite…but riding my bike for more than 6 or 7 hours (ok…let’s be serious here and call it 5 hours) is no fun at ALL for me. I’ve done right around 6.5 hours the last 6 Saturdays in a row, and quite honestly, I’ve HATED the last hour (plus) every time. My neck (stemming from an injury when I was a young indestructible lad of 20) gets SO sore that no amount of 800mg Motrins help. I can’t even begin to describe the depth of HOW MUCH I want to NOT be on the bike anymore when I pass 6 hours.

    So sadly, as enticing as the great Leadville Trail 100 is (and the great fun of hanging out w/ all of Team Fatty and company would truly be), I’ll have to pass and live vicariously through you all. Too bad my bro Greg doesn’t MTB anymore…he’d be a natural. He LOVES pain and can dish it out for 11+ hours (he’s fallen into somehow liking double-centuries these last few years). I’d crew for him tho (Greg? any interest in Leadville?)

  19. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.24.2015 | 6:57 am

    @MattC, easy answer here. You can do Leadville. You just need to do it Sub-6. You’re welcome! [grin]

  20. Comment by Paige | 08.24.2015 | 8:59 am

    You have sucked me into this report and now all I can do is hit refresh over and over hoping the next install is posted.

    Sigh….I wish your writing and race reports sucked.


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