Leadville Race Series History Week Finale with Dave Wiens
We hope that you’ve enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane with us over this past week. The rich and vibrant history of the Leadville Race Series is truly something special, and we’ve enjoyed uncovering some of our favorite stories and memories from past years in Leadville.
In recounting our history, we’d be remiss if we didn’t speak with Mr. Leadville himself, Dave Wiens. An inductee of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, Dave had an incredible career spanning the globe racing at the highest level of mountain biking before retiring in the early 2000’s. It wasn’t long before he discovered the Leadville Trail 100 and began testing his mettle at the Race Across the Sky.
We caught up with Dave to ask him some questions about his incredible career in Leadville sharing stories from 6 astounding wins and his love for the Leadville Trail 100.
10 Questions with 6x Leadville Trail 100 MTB winner, Dave Wiens
Q: You first found success in Leadville after you “retired” from your full-time pro XC career. Tell us a little about that, what was it that brought you back into the fold in this newfound discipline of endurance MTB racing?
A: The Leadville Trail 100 had my attention pretty much from the beginning. I wanted to enter it one year in the mid ‘90s but it was full. I remember calling Merilee and trying to play the “pro card” but she would have none of that. While disappointed on one hand, that gave me a ton of respect for the spirit of this event. It’s never been about the race at the front. Fast forward to 2002 and I was keen to try again but knew better than to call the race office! I submitted my application via snail mail, just like everyone else and a month or two later, received a 3×5 rejection card in the mail. So, I didn’t line up in 2002, repeated the application process for 2003 and received the 3×5 congratulations, you’re in! card a few months later. That’s when my Leadville Trail 100 journey began in earnest.
Dave’s first Leadville Trail 100 Start in 2003
Q: As the Leadville Trail 100 gained popularity during your years, how did the race change? More fans? More media?
A: In my early years, right up through 2006, the course was essentially deserted, almost nobody out there. In 2007, Floyd Landis brought some people out and for the first time, the event received more media coverage. Since Floyd was embroiled in his legal challenges at that time and as a Tour de France champion, he brought a lot of interest and notoriety to the event. The AP even sent a sports writer, Arnie Stapleton, who mainly works the NFL, to cover the race and they put his story out on the AP wire. The number of spectators out on the course increased, as well. Then, of course, when Lance raced in 2008 and 2009, everything changed. But what I like to remind people of is the fact that once you roll out of town, the course is essentially the same. Nobody can change the elevation, the rocks, the grades, the ruts. The course remains as brutal and challenging as it ever was. And that, more than anything, is the allure.
Dave on the start line with Floyd Landis in 2007, setting up for the now infamous battle.
Lance may have brought the circus, but Dave brought the experience. Photo Credit: David Hunter.
Q: Tell us about your first couple of bikes that you rode at the Leadville Trail 100. How were they different from what you ride today?
A: In 2003 and 2004, I rode the Tomac Buckshot, an aluminum hardtail. These years saw my fastest times until I went back to a lightweight hardtail in 2007 for the race against Floyd. In 2005, I raced a Maverick ML7 with 26” wheels which was essentially a trail bike. It was fantastic going downhill but it was heavy and squishy going up. In 2006, I rode a Yeti ASR full suspension, not as heavy as the Maverick but not a svelte hardtail either. Additionally, in 2006, I left directly from the finish area and traveled to Sweden for the Adventure Racing World Championships and the Yeti was set up for that race with heavy UST Tubeless tires. My times in 2005 and 2006 were slower, reflecting my choice of bicycle. For the race with Floyd in 2007, I pulled out all of the stops to build a lightweight hardtail. I rode the Yeti ARC, a brilliant aluminum hardtail. I spend untold hours setting up an extremely lightweight Stan’s wheelset, a key part being running lightweight tires tubeless. This was before tubeless ready tires and rims and, as anyone who messed with lightweight tubeless during this time can attest, was a frustrating process. Stan was my mentor and I was on the phone plenty with him during my prep in those Floyd and Lance years. Getting the tires to hold air was the crux move and you were never sure they’d hold air for the duration of the race. 2007 was also my first year using Ergon grips. From 2008 to 2010, I rode a Rotwild R.R2 carbon hardtail from Germany. In 2008, I used Stan’s lightest wheels, aluminum brake rotors and Stan’s Crow, a ridiculously light tire. Lance had an identical wheel setup. I rode 26” wheels in all of my LT 100 races. None of the brands I was associated with offered 29” wheels.
Dave’s full suspension Maverick race bike in 2005.
Q: Of all of your victories in Leadville, does one stand out from the rest? Why?
A: Of course the race against Lance in 2008 had all of the elements and ended well for me. But I have special memories from every one of my 8 days out on that course. 2003 was all about it being new, I had never ridden the course before race day, had never been on the pipeline, hadn’t been to the top of Columbine, had never ascended the Powerlines. In 2004, I had a record pace going late in the race, only to come up on a crew of riders on horseback going my direction soon after Carter Summit in the St. Kevins area. I patiently rode behind them for minutes at their pace until I was finally able to pass them safely. I missed breaking Mike Volk’s course record from 1997 by a scant 6 seconds. 2005 was the first year my brother Brian raced, that’s an entire story on its own! 2006 was the year that the Leadville Trail 100 was but stage one (for me) of the epic adventure that was the Adventure Racing World Championships in Sweden and Norway. 2008 and 2009 were the races with Lance and my final race in 2010 was my fastest time ever on the course.
Q: We’re sure you saw your fair share of funny stuff out during your 6 victories, what’s the funniest memory you have from all of your racing at the LT100 MTB?
A: Two things stand out: First was in 2004 when the course was all but deserted. The aid station at the bottom of Columbine hadn’t even been considered and you wouldn’t see a soul between Twin Lakes and the top of Columbine. But that year, as I approached the trees from the sage brush, I saw a 1970’s model Chevy Stepside pickup painted blue with flames on the side, right from the pages of Hot Rod Trucks magazine. It was Ken’s and there he was, alone, cheering us on wearing a running singlet and a pair of orange and white stripped Dolphin running shorts. Classic! Also, in 2010 I chose to use really lightweight carbon brake rotors and they failed miserably on all of the steep descents. I had to jump off and run coming down Powerlines (it’s in the movie!) and they barely held up coming down Columbine, makes me laugh now.
Q: With 6 incredible wins to your name, what were the keys to your consistent performances?
A: First and foremost, my wife Susan has been there for me the entire way. Not just being in Twin Lakes both directions (and keeping track of three young boys!) and then hauling ass to get to Pipeline just in time for my handoff there, but also she took care of our boys, our world and me, allowing me to prepare and train properly. Also, I had fantastic support in the form of top-shelf equipment, a testament to the bicycle industry. I used all kinds of different brands, used both Shimano and SRAM, and am grateful that we have these amazing machines to ride. Crucial too, my sole mechanic, for the last 20 years, Dan Crean (Double Shot Cyclery in Gunnison) has always tuned and setup my bikes to arrive at the finish line. I have never suffered a mechanical in the Leadville Trail 100. I did have a couple of slow leaks but those were my fault for riding like a bison! Finally, I always arrived at the finish line fully prepared physically having put in the time and quality necessary to ride my best on race day and then I rode smart, for the most part. The Leadville Trail 100 is a marathon not a sprint!
Dave’s wife Susan DeMattei, a Mountain Bike Hall-of-Famer herself, was his number one supporter and a huge part of his success.
Q: The challenges of the course, the weather and the elements are part of what make the LT100 MTB so iconic. What was the toughest and most challenging moment you had battling the elements in Leadville?
A: Ironically, the only inclement weather I experienced in 8 Leadville’s was the cold rain in the morning of 2009. We got drenched descending Powerlines and my hands were barely working as we rolled Pipeline outbound. We couldn’t see the top of Columbine as it was shrouded in storm clouds. It looked to like it was snowing up there. I stopped for warmer gloves at Twin Lakes, the only time I have ever stopped in an aid station. We got lucky and, while it looked heinous up there, we got up and down Columbine in the dry. As the movie shows in dramatic fashion, those athletes behind us didn’t fare so well up there.
Dave experienced some great conditions along the course over the years. Photo: David Hunter
Q: We know you’ve participated in other LRS events like the Leadville Stage Race, Austin Rattler and Tahoe Trail 100. How do you feel those events prepare you for racing the grand-daddy event, the Leadville Trail 100?
A: Man, I loved racing the qualifiers and they were a crucial part of my training for the hundred! Wilmington Whiteface is the most like Leadville, a road race on mountain bikes, while the Tahoe Trail leans more toward a pure mountain biking course in a spectacular setting. And, there was nothing like escaping Gunnison’s cold and snowy spring and racing in the Texas Hill Country among field of wildflowers at the Austin Rattler. I also had a blast racing the Stage Race a couple of times and I highly recommend it for seasoned riders and Leadville Trail 100 curious riders alike. It’s a fantastic stand-alone event, a quality training and/or course preview event and a perfect toe in the water for those wondering if they might have what it takes to tackle the hundred at some point.
Dave takes the win at the Austin Rattler
Q: Who was your support crew on and off the bike throughout your 6 wins at the LT100 MTB?
A: My wife Susan was omnipresent, front and center and my mechanic, Dan Crean (with a cameo from Ryan Palmer) and his team at Double Shot Cyclery in Gunnison got me to the finish line each time. My folks, my brother and other family members helped for sure and race organizers Ken and Merilee, the untold number of LT 100 volunteers and everyone who has ever lined up and ridden in the event or crewed for someone were all also crucial to my success. My current equipment partners, Ergon, Canyon, Topeak, Shimano, Fox and DT Swiss were there back in the day and legacy partners, Tomac, Maverick, Yeti and Rotwild bicycles, SRAM, Magura, Stan’s, Kenda, Maxxis and others were key, too. Finally, the Gunnison Valley and the people here have always supported me and the riding and training opportunities are second to none.
The Wiens boys got to enjoy a little outdoor fun in between aid stations.
Q: What’s your lifestyle like today, are you still riding as much as ever?
A: Indeed I am. The older I get, the more I appreciate being able to get out onto our vast public lands and ride the most incredible machines on the planet.
We’d like to extend a big thanks to Dave Wiens for checking in with us and bringing us back in time to share some of the history behind his racing career in Leadville. You can follow Dave on Instagram: @dave_wiens