By Dave Wiens
I still vividly remember laying down my bike in the middle of the street at 6th and Harrison in the 5 a.m. darkness of an early August morning in 2003, the day of my first Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Being a seasoned veteran of mountain bike racing, I fully understood the benefit of starting as close to the front as possible.
But times have changed. The field of racers in Leadville is much larger now, you’re no longer allowed to leave your bike unattended at the start, and you must start in one of the eight color-coded corrals you are assigned to.
All who are racing the LT100 for the first time are automatically placed in the white corral, which is the last one. However, you can improve your corral position in a few different ways. First, by racing a LT100 MTB qualifier. Second, through participation in Camp of Champions taking place July 1-4 (Camp 1) and July 5-8 (Camp 2), you gain access to the blue corral. And third (if you are racing in subsequent years), you can qualify for a corral upgrade one to two years following your last LT100 MTB.
Why does starting position matter? It depends on your goals, but generally speaking, the closer you start to the front, the faster your time. This is simply a product of traffic; the less traffic you have in front of you, the faster you’ll finish the race. These precious minutes (and I’m not talking about one or two; I’m talking about differences being in the double digits of minutes, 10 or more, for the same effort) could make the difference between getting in under nine hours and earning the big buckle; getting in under 12 hours and earning the small buckle and a finishing time; or any other goal you may have set for yourself.
The remaining qualifiers this year include Fire Road in Cedar City, Utah (June 27); the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville (July 11); and the Tahoe Trail at Northstar, California (July 18). Not only can solid times in these races move you up to a more favorable corral, but these are also fantastic training opportunities as you prepare to take on the LT100 in the middle of August. Each of these races is similar to the LT100, and the distances, while shorter, are still long enough to be challenging and to give you the kind of training effort you can only get when you put a number on your bike.
Racing a qualifier is also an opportunity to work on everything that you’ll need to have dialed for the LT100, including:
- Bike Setup – Wondering about whether to ride a hardtail our fully? Tire selection and pressure? Gearing? Use a qualifier to work on your bike setup.
- Nutrition – The competitive situation of a qualifier allows you to fine-tune your meals the day prior to the race, your race-day breakfast, and your in-race nutrition and hydration strategy.
- Pacing – This is, in my opinion, one of the most important factors determining success at Leadville.
- Strengths and Weaknesses – Preparing for and racing a qualifier in the same manner you plan to prepare for the LT100 will show you where your strategy is strong and where it may need some work. Better to find out in one of these races than in the Race Across the Sky.
I’ll be riding in the Tahoe Trail in California in July. Hope to see you there.
Enjoy the ride!