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Dispatches from Columbine

By Dave Wiens

If you have never competed in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB before, you had better buckle up because you are about to experience a ride unlike any other. Read on to learn what you can expect and where you should keep your focus as you “race across the sky.”

Depending on your seeding or staging corral, you may be near the front or you may not even be able to see the front. Here are a few tips for getting it right at the start:

Tip #1
The fewer riders there are in front of you, the sooner you will cross the finish line. If you have been placed in a starting corral with an estimated finish time that is about where you think you belong, you should just ride with the flow. If you think you are faster than your corral, your plan should be to move up during the race. (Want a better starting corral next time? Click here to check out how you can earn a better position by racing a qualifier. Your finish time this year can also be used to advance your starting position next year.)

Tip #2 
The race starts very fast. The lead vehicles are generally driving faster than the leaders are riding, so it’s pretty much an all-out race from the gun. This makes it difficult and dangerous to try to move up in the field during the cold, slightly downhill start on pavement. Recklessly trying to move up in the field is dangerous to you and the riders around you. Additionally, you may use valuable energy trying to move up in the beginning of the race, only to falter later on because of these early efforts. If you are a skilled pack rider, you have a safe window to move up and you understand the potential consequences of going out too hard, go ahead and consider taking advantage of those opportunities — just respect the riders around you by riding safely and predictably at all times.

Tip #3
Many riders are not experienced bike racers, especially as you move back in the pack. What they lack in experience, they make up for with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this is not a favorable mix of attributes and it means that many riders go out too hard. If you try to keep up with the “flow” of the race at the beginning, you may be compromising your ability to achieve your goals. Know your pace and stick to it, regardless of how many riders pass you at the beginning. I guarantee that if you are fit, having a good day and stick with a smart pacing strategy, you’ll pass many more riders as the race wears on.

My best advice for the start is this: ride smart and as safely as possible. Once you get to the dirt, things settle down somewhat. Pace yourself carefully and don’t let the speed of riders around you influence you to ride harder than you should. Don’t stress if the race bottlenecks in front of you and you have to walk or even stand in place momentarily. Be thankful for the rest because it won’t be long before the field will be sorted and you’ll have no option but to pedal your bike. Patience and a relaxed attitude at the beginning will equate to minutes gained later in the race. If you freak out, are less than kind to the riders around you (who are in no way responsible for the bottlenecking) and generally are a stress case, you’ll likely pay in minutes later on. Just chill and enjoy the experience.

The aid stations become busier every year and can be in chaotic, unpredictable places. Here are some good things to remember:

Tip #1 
The aid stations are filled with crews, friends and families of all riders. These are not professionals and many may have never done anything like this before.

Tip #2 
As you approach the aid stations, please be extra aware and prepared for anything: kids suddenly jumping out in front of you; riders suddenly veering over to meet their crew; riders coming back against the flow to get to their crew; and so on. Have your head on a swivel as you approach and ride through. The Twin Lakes aid station is the busiest of all; a small town pops up out there on race day. The Columbine station is increasingly popular and sees the most two-way traffic, so there is stuff happening from all directions. Please be aware.

Tip #3 
Spectators are common, especially on the lower pitches of the Powerline climb inbound. They are typically just fun and will run up alongside you, yelling about two inches from your ears. Embrace this. You’re going slowly and they are not impeding you, at least not physically. This is as close as we’ll get to being Tour de France riders climbing up through a sea of spectators on one of the classic climbs in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Great stuff!

At a certain point in the race, riders will be coming back on the course and suddenly what was solely a one-way affair becomes a two-way street. More than likely, you will get notice that the leaders are coming when you hear the cheering from outbound riders up course signaling that they are near.

Keep your head up at all times and stay to the right. Be prepared for quick action in case something unpredictable happens. Sometimes riders will use lines on the other side of the trail to overtake another rider, just because those lines are smoother and momentarily clear of oncoming riders. Acute awareness, focus and decision-making are critical once two-way traffic commences.

The finish is relatively slow as it’s on a gentle incline and most of us are pretty toasted by this point. However, there are a few sprints and riders who have enough left to power across the line at a pretty good clip.

Watch for kids running up to greet a parent who is finishing, riders who stop right at the line or any number of other unpredictable actions that might take place as you wrap up your great adventure. Don’t let your guard down until you’re safely in the domain of Merilee and she’s greeting you with a hug and your finishers medal. The last thing anyone needs is a careless crash right at the finish.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s not just about the Powerline descent, Columbine or the singletrack section. As an LT100 MTB rider, you need to be focused and aware the entire time you are out on course, especially during the sections noted above. Enjoy the remainder of your training, and we look forward to seeing you in Leadville in just a few short weeks.

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