Todd Wells took the Leadville Trail 100 MTB win for the second time this past August. We caught up with him to talk Leadville, bikes, the Olympics and winter training.
How did it feel to beat your record time this year?
It always feels good to improve on my previous performances. The time is a little hard to quantify because each year is so different with the number of racers in the group, the wind, the terrain, etc. That said, whenever I go faster than in the past it’s always gratifying.
During race season you often need to leave one race and travel right to the next. How do you adjust to the differences in distance and elevation with little relaxation or training time between?
This is one the hardest challenges I face as a mountain bike racer of multiple disciplines. It isn’t a set field or time like in other sports, so every event is unique. Generally when I am going race to race there is no time to really adapt and prepare specifically for the next event. I am basically trying to recover from the effort of the previous weekend and make sure my body is still opened up and ready for the effort ahead. I try to target the event and distance I am really looking to do well in and focus on that type of training leading into the racing block for that event. When I’m in the block I can sometimes sacrifice one event for another, but there isn’t much time to change course in the middle of it.
We heard you mention that the race was especially brutal this year with the headwinds. What motivates you to push through these conditions?
Yes, this year it seemed like there were a lot of headwinds on the way back between Pipeline and Powerline, and I was alone. When you can’t see anyone in front or behind you it’s easy to let yourself lull into that comfortable zone. In mountain bike racing anything can happen, so I just try to keep pushing knowing that the race isn’t over until I cross the line. This year it worked out because I was able to get the victory by a narrow margin. Christian blew up really bad so I was able to pass him, but then my own teammate, Christoph Sauser, nearly caught me from behind at the line. That’s a perfect example of how unpredictable mountain bike races can be, especially Leadville because it’s such a long distance at a high elevation.
What did you focus on in your training this year? Did you do anything differently than when training for the 2011 or 2013 Leadville races?
My training this year was very similar to when I won in 2011. When I have a good race and perform how I am hoping to, I try to simulate that same preparation in the future when preparing for the same event. This year I did a little bit less volume than in 2011 because the past few years I have felt a little tired heading into the race. I was also unable to get to the same weight as 2011, but that is always something I strive for. Finally, this year I had the chance to spend the three weeks leading up to Leadville in Breckenridge with my Specialized team. In the past I would commute back and forth to Silverton from my home in Durango to get the proper elevation training. I couldn’t have asked for a better lead up with the team fully supporting me and Sauser with a soigneur and mechanics the whole time. It was perfect. All I had to do was ride, rest and try not to eat too much – that was the hard part.
What was it is like representing the United States in the Olympics three times to date?
Being able to represent my country in the Olympics has been amazing. I never imagined growing up that I would ever be part of the biggest sporting event in the world. It is a real honor and a truly humbling experience. Mountain bike racing has brought me places I never could have imagined.
The love of biking seems to run in your family. What is it like competing with your little brother? Do you ever train together?
It definitely runs in the family. My brother, Troy, and I raced BMX together when we were growing up. We both switched over to mountain bikes and cyclocross from there. I moved out to Durango to pursue cycling and Troy came out to go to school. We train together whenever we can. His focus is more cyclocross and mine is obviously mountain biking so we aren’t always in the same place at the same time, but when we are we always train together. I’ve been trying to get him to have a crack at Leadville, but so far I haven’t been able to persuade him.
How many bikes have you gone through over the years? Any favorites?
That is a really good question. I would have to say more than 100 for sure. That seems like a big number, but when you’ve been racing as long and as many disciplines as I have, it adds up fast. Just in one year I am racing mountain, road and cyclocross, so that is a pretty big number right there. All my bikes have been good to me, but I am amazed every time I ride my S-Works Epic 29. The bike is so light and the suspension works so well I am always blown away. Bicycles have progressed a ton over the last 10 or 20 years, and that bike is a culmination of all that progression.
Do you have a favorite racing memory or favorite competition year?
2008 was a very good year for me. I had a horrible Olympics, but I finally broke through on the World Cup and started cracking the top ten on a pretty consistent basis. Up until then I was had always been in the 20s. I also got on my first World Cup podium since the start of my career. It was the time that I finally felt I had arrived at my potential and deserved to be there. 2011 was also a very good year for me. I won the National Championships, the PROXCT, Leadville, La Ruta and got 7th place at XC World Championships. It was like everything clicked and I couldn’t help but do well. I won across all disciplines and really showed that I was a well-rounded rider. Those years and races are few and far between, so I try to savor them when they roll around.
How do you plan to spend your time this winter?
I spend my winters in Tucson, Arizona where I went to college. I have been training there in the winter for nearly 15 years because the weather is almost always perfect. I’ll take a little time off the bike and just be with my family, but then I’ll be logging in the miles all around Tucson on the road and mountain bike. I’m also doing my first ever mountain biking camp with The Cycling House in Tucson this January. I’m looking forward to showing some new faces my favorite desert trails under that brilliant Southwest sunshine. It is a short winter with the racing season starting up in early March, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.