2015 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 4: Conflict and Questions

08.24.2015 | 10:29 am

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

There were times, as I raced the 2015 Leadville 100, that I cursed myself and my perpetual lack of self-discipline. There were times when, as I sensed that I was not climbing as fast as I normally do, that I sarcastically said to myself, “Well, Fatty, aren’t you glad you kept postponing getting serious about your weight this year? Now that you’re working harder to go slower, was all the garbage you ate worth it?”

(I can be a little hard on myself sometimes.)

I am happy to report, however, that between the first main checkpoint in the race (Pipeline) and the second one (Twin Lakes), I did not think this kind of thought even once

My spirits were high, my intensity was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in a race before. This may be because this part of the course is what is normally called the “flat” part of the race.

I put “flat” in sarcasm quotes because this is the elevation profile of this fifteen mile section of dirt road, pavement, doubletrack, and the course’s only singletrack:

Screenshot 2015 08 24 08 56 00

Yeah. That’s super flat. 

That said, this is the flat-est section of the course, and it clearly nets more descending than climbing (although there is still 673 feet of climbing). 

And this year, while I am heavier than I would like to be, I am also stronger than I have ever been before. I can feel it. The work I did with TrainerRoad last winter did some amazing things with what I can push out of my legs. (Now I just need them to take control of my diet in a similar way.)

I am an everlasting, hot-burning, Roman-freaking-candle,” I exulted to myself. Which made a lot more sense to me at the moment I thought it than it does now that I type it up.

My point is, I felt pretty extraordinarily powerful.

Jason — a local rider I’d been talking with about working together during this race since last April — was still with me, taking turns with me. Giving me moments of rest so I could continue pouring it on when I was up front.

“Let’s get that sub-eight!” I whooped.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Jason agreed, though in a much more reasonable tone.

“Hey,” I asked. “Have you ever wondered why you never see snakes at this altitude?”

And then I realized: I had asked him this exact question about half an hour ago.

I resolved to stop making conversation and focus on riding.

The Quantification of Love 

When you look at that elevation profile above, you can see that maintaining momentum is a huge part of racing from the Pipeline to Twin Lakes. If you can convert quick downhills into forward motion during the uphills, you can be so much faster than otherwise.

And for that reason, I was loving the Cannondale F-Si Black Inc. It tracked so beautifully on the descents, the Lefty fork soaking up rocks and bumps, with the ENVE 50-50s giving me greater confidence than I ever have had before. The Shimano XTR Di2 making it ridiculously easy for me to go to the biggest gear (just hold down the button you’ve assigned to shifting up for a couple seconds) and pedal my brains out. 

Then I’d hit the corresponding uphill, keep pedaling ’til I started to bog a little, then shift one lighter, make a quick press of a button to lock out the fork, stand up and go

The F-Si is an incredible bike.

Hey, I know I’ve shown this picture before, but I want to show it again, with the intention that this time you take a good hard look at what a beauty this bike is:


I’m not going to even try to humblebrag around it: when I do this, it is very unusual for me to not drop pretty much everyone in my zip code.

By the time Jason and I were a third of the way through this section, I noticed we had caught and re-passed most everyone who had dropped me during the Powerline descent (where my lack of skill overcame my bike’s awesomeness and I tiptoed down).

By the time we were two-thirds of the way through this section, Jason had dropped off my wheel.

And by the time I got to where my crew had set up near the Twin Lakes timing mat, I had fully eclipsed my previous bests on this fifteen mile section:

Screenshot 2015 08 24 08 55 36

I had just bettered my previous best (in 2011, the last time I rode a geared bike) by nearly two minutes.

Perfect Crew

I raced into the Twin Lakes Crew Corridor, looking for — and finding without difficulty — my crew: Lisa’s brother Scott and his good friend Kara.

The night before, I had written them a detailed list of what I wanted them to do at Twin Lakes 1:

  • ASK  if I want my arm warmers removed
  • ASK  if I’ve had a flat or other mechanicals
  • REMOVE both bottles (note: I had finished the half-bottle of half-strength CR333 I had started the race with but had only drank half the bottle of water)
  • REMOVE the empty gel packets from my center pocket
  • ADD 6 new GU Roctane gels to my left pocket
  • ADD a bottle of water in my front cage, a half-bottle of half-strength CR333 in my rear cage
  • PLACE IN MY HANDS 4 GU Endurolyte capsules and a bottle of water to wash them down / get ahead on hydration.

Scott and Kara were amazing in executing this rather uptight list, did everything I asked in the list, and had me rolling again within fifteen seconds.

Yes, no exaggeration. Fifteen seconds. Really, someone should video how efficient they are and how amazingly straight-faced they can be about taking my ridiculous sense of urgency so seriously.

Basically, let me say this: Scott and Kara handled everything perfectly.

And now I was off to do the part of the race that looms large in most every rider’s mind: The Columbine Climb.

Fresh Vs Not-so-Fresh

One week before the Leadville 100, The Hammer and I had arrived at the base of the Columbine Mine climb (having driven straight there from Grand Junction, CO that morning), and we had attacked the Columbine Mine Climb

Ridden just that climb, at race pace, just to see what it’s like to really go at it with fresh legs.

Here’s us at the summit, afterward:

Thumb IMG 3654 1024

How’d I do? Well, this ought to give you an idea:

Screenshot 2015 08 24 09 55 26

1:06:04. Which is to say, I turned in the 56th fastest time up that climb that’s ever been uploaded to Strava: one second slower than Jeff Kerkove’s best…and eleven seconds faster than Robbie Ventura’s.

And yeah, that’s nice and all (nice enough that I took the time to call it out on my blog, and you would too), but…how’d I do on race day?

Well, not bad at all…although — shockingly! — I was not as fast when riding this climb with forty miles of hard racing in my legs as I was when I was completely fresh.

Screenshot 2015 08 24 10 03 33

1:15:13 — nine minutes more. Furthermore, it wasn’t even my fastest race-day performance. In 2013, I had done this climb in 23 fewer seconds. 

Which is still not half-bad…but it was one of the parts of the race when I was giving myself a mental beatdown for not being five or seven pounds lighter.

Hi Again, Ken

As I got near the top of Columbine, nearing that 2.5-mile section where the air gets ridiculously thin and your legs suddenly have no power, I had a deja vu moment:

I saw Ken Chlouber, founder of the LT100, in the exact same place as I saw him last year.

Now, last year, this is the exchange he and I had:

With twinges of oncoming cramps in my legs, I opt to walk pretty early, and pretty often. Hey, I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.


Except there’s a guy there. Wearing a cowboy hat. Sitting on an ATV. And he’s yelling at me.

“Get back on that bike! Get back on that bike and pedal!“

It’s Ken Chlouber, one of the founders of The Leadville 100. He’s every bit as much an icon of this race as the climbs. As much of an icon as the red carpet finish, or the big belt buckles. 

And right now he’s laughing at me and telling me to get back on my bike and ride it.

I try reasoning with him.

“I’m on a singlespeed! Walking this part of the climb is a sound race strategy!”

He laughs at me again. 

“Around here, we just call that being a sissy!” (Except he doesn’t exactly use the word “sissy.”)

I’ve just been called out by Ken Chlouber, as I climb the Columbine mine. It’s like being called out by Elvis as you’re passing through the doors of Graceland.

So what am I going to do? 

I get back on my bike and climb. Obviously. Until I’m out of site of the man, anyway.

Remembering this, I know one thing for sure the moment I see Ken: this year he will never see me off my bike.

“Good to see you, Ken!” I shout. Because it is.

“Keep going!” he yells back. “Don’t quit!”

“I will,” I reply. “I’m having a good race!”

“Less talking, more riding!” he shouts. 

I tell you. That man could be a professional heckler.

The Question

I do more of the climb on my bike than I ever have before, getting off only once, because I feel the twinges of a cramp coming on and I want to head it off.

I swallow half a dozen electrolyte capsules as I push my bike up to the end of the pitch. I’m doing an incredible job of managing my food, managing my drink, taking care of myself.

I have, it seems, become an actual expert at racing this race.

I’m getting to the top of the hard part of the Columbine climb. The last mile is easier. Almost flat, really. 

I near the turnaround point. The beginning of the second half of this race.

And from many years of experience, I know: the way I ride, I can more or less count on an almost dead-even time split for my return trip. Plus or minus six minutes.

I haven’t been looking at my computer for most of the climb. It’s counterproductive: a good number might make me worry I’m going too hard; a bad number might demoralize me.

But as I reach the turnaround point, I do look down.

Four hours, and four minutes. 4:04. I’m within the margin of error for a sub-eight-hour finish at Leadville.

It’s not impossible. If I am just a tiny bit faster on the second half of the race, a 7:59:59 may just happen.

The blast of adrenaline I feel just about compensates for the near-complete lack of oxygen at 12,600 feet.

For the first time since I’ve begun doing this race, I do not stop at the Columbine aid station. I just hit the turnaround and keep going.

“Don’t you want some watermelon?” a volunteer — evidently aware of my racing tradition — calls out.

“Too fast this year!” I yell back. “No time for watermelon!”


  1. Comment by Jim Tolar | 08.24.2015 | 10:49 am

    “Too fast this year! No time for watermelon!”

    If Strunk and White had a section on foreshadowing, it would probably refer to this line…


  2. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.24.2015 | 11:11 am

    Ken shouted at me coming down. I let him know ‘I’m no cupcake!’ And kept going.

  3. Comment by bykjunkie | 08.24.2015 | 11:17 am

    These reports are awesome! I was following a few participants online during the race. My wife was asking why I was yelling “GO FATTY GO” at the computer.

  4. Comment by rb | 08.24.2015 | 12:21 pm

    “You know boys, those things are faster if you pedal them, it’s amazing” — Ken Chlouber, 8/15/15, about 10:45am at the treeline.

  5. Comment by Jim Tolar | 08.24.2015 | 12:23 pm

    Further towards my comment above, this calls to mind this scene from “The Graduate”:

    Gas station attendant: Do you need any gas, Father?
    [the empty fuel gauge fills the screen just as Benjamin drives off]

  6. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 08.24.2015 | 12:48 pm

    Saw you flying down Columbine, you looked fast and in control.
    I was about to blow up. Pre rode Columbine and I thought my 1x setup was okay, but after putting 43 miles on the legs on race day my choice of a 34 tooth front ring became a touch big for me. Evidently I should not have picked a climbing ratio based on Michigan climbing.
    Oh well live and learn I got the buckle, even if I was an hour slower than my goal. The hour I lost on Columbine was the hour I missed my goal.

  7. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.24.2015 | 2:20 pm

    Fatty “tiptoed” down Powerline in 13:23 compared with my 17:11.

    As for the Columbine climb (my first ever HC climb, I think), well, my 2:04:58 was just a shade slower than Fatty’s 1:15:13.

    @Bart, I was on a 32t chainring with 10-42 in the back. While some lower gearing wouldn’t have been a bad thing, at the high end, I was spinning out reasonably quickly on the more wide-open descents.

  8. Comment by aussie kev | 08.24.2015 | 2:28 pm

    I had a vacation in US / Canada back in March, we spent some time in YellowStone and Mammoth. I couldn’t even do the simplest of tasks without getting breathless, the altitude was killing me!, my wife however was fine.So hats off to you racing at nearly 10,000 ft.

  9. Comment by Skye | 08.24.2015 | 2:41 pm

    “No time for watermelon” is one of the saddest things I’ve read in years.

  10. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.24.2015 | 3:07 pm

    After cycling genetics (where my family tree could have done a better job), altitude genetics may be one of the strongest hard-to-fix drivers of how one does at Leadville. At least with respect to altitude, my family tree served me very well. Sure, there’s more fatigue than at sea level, but I generally don’t sense anything different.

    Oddly, while I didn’t really notice the altitude at the top of Columbine Mine, I DID notice it when I’d run up the stairs to the bedroom at the rental house.

    @Skye, your sadness is lifted–I had watermelon at Pipeline Inbound (unsalted) AND Carter Summit Inbound (salted). That probably explains the almost 2 1/2 hour difference in finishing time versus Fatty.

  11. Comment by Paul F. | 08.24.2015 | 3:15 pm

    I continue to love the multi-part write-ups of your racing adventures. I actually got on a trail (with wheels anyway) for the very first time 2 weeks ago in large part due to the years of reading your blog. Thanks.

    That being said, to nit-pic just a bit; if your margin of error for your “return” time is 6 minutes +/- your “out” time, you actually were not on track for a sub 8 finish at the turn around. As you describe it, the best you could have done would have been 8:02 (4:04 + 3:58). You would actually need to be under 3:56 (8 minutes faster). I have no idea what you did, so I am pulling for better than the margin of error.

    You’re right of course, but that kind of math eluded me while racing at 12,600 feet. It was in fact the second instance of me doing bad math (see this installment). – FC

  12. Comment by owen | 08.24.2015 | 3:17 pm

    don’t you miss the SS Fatty?

    That’s a great question. I’ll answer it in my next installment. – FC

  13. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.24.2015 | 3:30 pm

    I knew it was the watermelon @Jeff D.! Damn watermelon, I had that too. Live and learn.

  14. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.24.2015 | 3:52 pm

    @DavidH, I’m fairly certain that there’s a secret pre-pre-race meeting at which all of the fast riders convene. They brainstorm on ways to not only maintain their relative fastness, but grow it.

    Several years, one of them hit on the mother lode. (Leadville pro tip: make mining references whenever possible.) That’s right, offer watermelon (and other distractions) to the unsuspecting masses in order to slow them down.

  15. Comment by Eric | 08.24.2015 | 4:28 pm

    “I do more of the climb on my bike than I ever have before, getting off only once”

    One thing I’ll point out here is that since you started in the front and stayed there, it was easier to ride Columbine. For us slow pokes, once anybody gets off their bike on the steep top of Columbine, there’s really no way around them because there are riders descending at 20+ mph a few feet away. So once one person is walking, basically everybody is walking. I was actually running past people while pushing my bike when there was a break in the line of descenders, but that only made up a few seconds here and there in my climb. Mostly I just had to grit my teeth and wait to get back down Columbine to start trying to pass people again.

  16. Comment by PNP | 08.24.2015 | 6:13 pm

    So I’ve been thinking about taking up mountain biking (at the age of 61, which means I’m completely nuts). Anyway, you keep talking about the bike you rode, so I thought, hey, if it’s that good, I’ll check it out.

    And then I saw the price.

    When I get my breath back, I’ll let you know.

  17. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 08.24.2015 | 6:24 pm

    I love to read your race reports Fatty. It’s fantastic how you always come up with a new spin despite telling the tale of this race over 10 times!

    @Jeff D You should be comparing yourself to the 2005 Fatty at Leadville (see the archives) not the lean (despite claims to the contrary) highly trained Fatty of today! I’m pretty sure you compare favorably. Just think, after just 10 more Leadvilles, you’ll be killing it ;-)

  18. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.24.2015 | 6:41 pm

    @UpTheGrade, I like the way you think …

    @PNP, I’m new to mountain biking as well. For what it’s worth, unless you’re one of those fearless descender types, I’d consider a full-suspension alternative. I can’t really appreciate how much lack-of-technique that rear suspension made up for, but I bet it was a lot. And, most of what you’re paying for on those dream machines is weight savings. I’m sure there’s a quality bike with your name on it for less than $5k, maybe even well less than $5k. Plus, you probably still owe yourself a 60th birthday present …

  19. Comment by RobbyK | 08.24.2015 | 10:35 pm

    I’m going to start peppering “no time for watermelon” into my work place conversations. If delivered with different inflections it could mean most anything. People will have no idea what hit ‘em, and I’ll be out the door.

  20. Comment by owen | 08.25.2015 | 7:15 am

    @PNP I did it on a $800 bike. Its all in the training.

  21. Comment by Frank | 08.25.2015 | 8:17 am

    I second Jeffs notion about full suspension. For us of the more experienced generation it is a blessing to dampen the shockwaves rippling through ones body.

  22. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.25.2015 | 8:22 am

    And a full-suspension bike with a dropper post would be the perfect combination for older timid descenders.

  23. Comment by Frank | 08.25.2015 | 8:27 am

    You just described my trusted Specialized Epic :)

  24. Comment by PNP | 08.25.2015 | 3:06 pm

    Thanks for your suggestions and encouragement. I have a good road bike and a good ‘cross bike, so a mountain bike would round out my stable. I lusted after the Ripley for a long time, but what I really need to do is research!

  25. Comment by EricGu | 08.26.2015 | 12:55 pm

    I feel compelled to note – because I know how much it will bother you – that Endurolytes are made by Hammer, not GU.

    I’ll also note – with the assumption that you will care little – that they are an example of Hammer’s well-documented aversion to sodium, which makes them pretty much useless to salty sweaters such as me.

    Good catch; fixed! – FC

  26. Comment by Skye | 08.26.2015 | 3:33 pm

    @Jeff, thank you for eating watermelon when available! As a huge fruit enthusiast stuck (by choice) in a mediocore fruit state, I am relieved to know that the watermelon didn’t go to waste.
    @David, surely you know better than to pin a poor melon for your time, blame the hills! Duh!

  27. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 08.29.2015 | 1:13 am

    There’s a fair number of FoF’s who have volunteered at Leadville. Doug(wayupstateny), Carlos (BostonCarlos), Jennifer Heffel Laurita, and even Jeff himself. The more Fatties the better, let’s hope you come.


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