Back in 2004, Ken Chlouber had a plan to expand the Leadville Race Series from…
Dispatches from Columbine — Soaking up the Leadville Scene
By Dave Wiens and Rebecca Rusch
Leadville is an inspiring and awesome place any time of the year, but come race weekend in August, it lights up with a special energy. We asked Dave Wiens and Rebecca Rusch to share their favorite things about Leadville – the place, not just the race.
As riders who have been to Leadville time and time again, what advice to you have for riders that will help them make the most of the experience?
Rebecca: The day you’ve worked toward and sacrificed for for so long is almost here. You might be nervous about the race, but don’t be. The hard part is over and now your time in Leadville is the icing on the cake. I can tell you from experience that this location is worthy of a little exploration off the race course. For me, the stunning landscape, the local community and the cycling community are what make this event extra special, so my advice is to be confident in the work you have put in and to sit back, relax a little and soak in some of the atmosphere. You’ve earned it.
The bottom line is that bike racing is a great excuse to travel, get outside your own community and see something new. The LT100 may be what’s bringing you to Leadville, but the personality of this high mountain town will be what keeps you coming back again and again.
Dave: You’ve been obsessing and stressing for months, spending hours upon hours in the saddle pondering the start; tires; St. Kevins; training; the Powerline descent; gearing; Columbine; crewing strategy; the Powerline climb; nutrition; the Boulevard…
That’s all behind you now and it’s almost game on. But as all-important this race is, make sure you take time to steep in the atmosphere of Leadville the place as well as in the Leadville Trail 100 itself – the force, the energy, the palpable atmosphere that it creates and how it colors and flavors the entire weekend.
Last August on the night before the race, I climbed a little ways up Mosquito Pass as the sun was setting and the lights of town were slowly beginning to dominate the cooling evening sky. I sat there in the relative silence just above treeline and I could feel the excitement and energy emanating from that isolated, hardscrabble old mining town.
Where do you recommend athletes go for a spin before or after the race?
Dave: I have a few recommendations:
- The Mineral Belt asphalt trail is a great, easy spin and also has sections that are functional to get you around town.
- The trails behind Colorado Mountain College (CMC) on the east side of town have been improved and maintained by the Cloud City Wheelers, Leadville’s local trail advocacy organization.
- The Colorado Trail crosses the LT100 course in at least two places: at the top of the Sugarloaf climb, just before the Powerline descent, and again around the first switchback of the Columbine climb. It’s a classic Colorado Trail, which means awesome sections of great trail spiked with rocky, brutal, very challenging sections that may include some pushing.
- Hagerman Pass – If you’re out riding the course and have some extra time and energy, instead of turning up the Sugarloaf climb, continue on the gravel road up Hagerman Pass. You can turn around anytime and the landscape and views only get more spectacular as you get higher.
- Throw your leg over your bike and pedal around town. Leadville is unlike any town anywhere and the variety of buildings and things that you will see from your bike will be memorable for sure.
- I also spin on the Mineral Belt trail to get away from the craziness of downtown and to have a few moments to myself. This paved path weaves through the hills near town and is almost always secluded and quiet, plus it’s great for checking out some of the area’s mining history.
- Ride some of the amazing singletrack trails on the east side of town. Dave mentions this one and I echo that the trails are awesome and the local community has put in a ton of work here.
- Ride your bike around town. There are so many unique places in Leadville and I love riding the back streets and looking at the eclectic style of the houses. Wave to the locals you go by!
What are your favorite watering holes or places to grab a bite in town?
- The Grill – A Mexican restaurant, this is certainly one of my favorites in the state. I’ve been eating here for more than 30 years and the stuffed sopapillas are my favorite dish.
- High Mountain Pies – Some of the best pizza on the planet. These guys are pros and provide lunch for our Camp of Champions every July.
- City on a Hill Coffee – Excellent coffee, baked goods, breakfast and lunch.
- Quincy’s Steak and Spirits – Red meat or veggie lasagna – and good lasagna at that.
- Cookies with Altitude – Baked goods, coffee and breakfast. This place rocks!
- Pastime Bar and Silver Dollar Saloon – Authentic Leadville atmosphere. Both of these offer plenty of cold beer, burgers and typical Americana fare.
- The Manhattan Bar – My brother and I often grab a beer here the afternoon of the race. This year he’s going for his tenth sub nine in a row so you can bet where we hope to be just before 3:30 p.m. on race day!
Rebecca: Dave just about covered everything! I would also recommend having a meal at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse (different than the Tennessee Pass Café in town). Located on the Continental Divide, this rustic cabin has amazing food and a deck that’s perfect for soaking in the evening sun.
What about other diversions: Sightseeing, museums, etc.?
Rebecca: Driving up to Independence Pass is a great way to get acclimated. Take a little walk, breathe the (thin) air, and marvel at the majestic views.
Take a tour through the Historic Tabor Opera House, built in 1879 and restored and maintained in original condition. It’s a fabulous trip back in time. Or join me there Thursday night before the race (August 13) for a book presentation, party and pre-race motivation.
I also like the National Mining Museum. Leadville is rich in mining history and LT100 race founder Ken Chlouber was a miner himself. When the mines closed, it was his vision that put this place on the map for recreation economy.
One thing I’ve never done, but have always wanted to: Take the train. It doesn’t require any pedaling to see the amazing views and history in the area. It would make a great rest/recovery-day activity.
Any must-stop souvenir shops on your list?
Dave: I’m not a big shopper but Leadville has a cool downtown with all kinds of shops. If you’re looking for something cool or need to bring some gifts home, I recommend the Leadville Race Series retail store (it has all kinds of great LT100 memorabilia and gear – Craig and his crew will help you find just what you need). And Melanzana has original, functional and soulful outdoor clothing made in Leadville.
Rebecca: Mule Kick on Harrison Ave. (right across from the Melanzana store) is an authentic western thrift store and you can get some awesome cowboy boots, western shirts, and jeans here. I make a point to do a lap through this store almost every visit.
For some pre-race motivation and fun in the week before the race, join Rebecca Rusch in Leadville for Reba & Fatty’s Leadville Experience.