Behind almost every rider in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, there’s a crew — a person or group of people who support riders by giving them much-needed fuel and supplies along the course. Behind LT100 veteran Ricky McDonald, there’s his wife Debbie.
In 2012 Ricky presented Debbie with a 1,000-mile buckle of her own — in front of a transfixed audience at the awards ceremony at Lake County High School — as an expression of gratitude for her 10 years of crewing.
Here, Debbie shares her secrets of a successful crew.
How many years have you crewed for Ricky?
This will be my 11th year. Last year, after 1,000 miles of crewing, he presented me with a 1,000-mile belt buckle.
What advice do you have for someone who is crewing for the first time?
Have a crew meeting the night before, and make sure all the packs and Camelbaks are marked for each aid station where you’ll be. Carry extra food, water and supplies. Make sure your riders always have rain gear with them. Make sure everyone understands at which aid stations you are going to meet. If possible, go out to the spots beforehand so your rider knows exactly where you will be.
We fly a pirate flag at Twin Lakes. It is easier to see than trying to spot you in a large crowd.
In your opinion, where is the best spot along the course for a crew to wait for their rider(s)? Do you crew from one spot or multiple spots?
The biggest spot is Twin Lakes. One of the first spots outgoing is the Pipeline aid station. I wait for Ricky to cross the creek and I check his time, and if he needs something at Pipeline, he will let me know, and I race to Pipeline. Otherwise, I go to Twin Lakes and wait for him. Ricky’s dad, Fred, will be waiting at Twin Lakes with all the gear (enough for Ricky to rebuild his bike if needed).
What are the most important responsibilities of a crew person?
Know what your rider needs at each station and have it ready at least half an hour before they are expected to arrive. You never know — they may come in faster than you think. Make sure you get to the aid station well before they do, and have some snacks ready for them to eat while you are greasing their chain and changing out packs and Camelbaks. Know their times so you know when to look for them. It is crazy crowded at Twin Lakes and hard for your rider to spot you.
What are Ricky’s must-have items that you bring to give him on the course?
Well, he likes salted watermelon, small candy bars, salt packets and that GU stuff. He drinks Gatorade and we make ice cubes with it as well to put in his Camelbaks. Right before the finish line, I wait on the top of the hill (during his 1,000-mile race he asked me to marry him on this exact spot. He rode 100 miles with the ring in his pocket) and I give him his stuffed Simba (from the movie The Lion King) and he rides across the finish line with it. Oh, and of course all his bike parts.
What’s your favorite thing about the Leadville experience?
I would have to say the people. Some remember seeing us in Race Across the Sky and stop us in the street. Rick’s brother, Randy, and I sit at Hagerman Pass (which is where the riders come out of the woods back onto pavement before the last aid station and the finish line) and give out bottles of water and lots of encouragement. The excitement of the whole day.
How do you pass the time while waiting for Ricky to come through?
I knit or read and clap and cheer riders on.
Anything else you want to mention?
This will be Ricky’s 20th race — 2,000 miles. I have never really seen him cross the finish line since I am always at the top of the hill. It has changed a lot since it first started. I have seen changes in the years I have crewed.
It is a long day for both rider and crew, so just go out and have FUN. Dig deep.