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Dispatches from Columbine — Spin and Bear It (or How to Tackle Columbine)

By Dave Wiens

Columbine. That one word will make riders who know anything at all about the Leadville Trail 100 MTB shudder. It’s big, it’s burly and all of it comes before you hit the halfway point in the race. Other than racing for the Twin Lakes cutoff time, Columbine is the first significant challenge of the LT100 that you can tick off the list once you top out. It’s also the longest climb of the day that gains the most vertical and takes you to the highest elevation.

Columbine: A Breakdown
I break Columbine into two parts: the lower moderate section and the upper steeps. Once you turn right toward the aspen forest from the sagebrush country of the Lost Canyon aid station, you are on the climb. As you get up into the trees and are heading south, there is one little stinger where the grade increases. Don’t get discouraged by this slap in your face that hits just as you’re trying to get your groove on. Gear down and spin. The grade will let up quickly and remain constant, not too steep and with a fairly smooth surface for a long time. You could drive a Toyota Celica up this part, no problem. Switchback after switchback, higher and higher… just keep up that nice steady spin.

Columbine: The Training
The goal with these workouts is to give you the athletic ability and necessary fitness to efficiently conquer these varied sections and types of riding. Practicing the following will also ensure you arrive at these sections mentally confident as you approach each one, as opposed to demoralized. To excel on Columbine, I suggest focusing on the following types of training:

  • Moderate climbing that goes on forever. This can be done on the road and will prepare you for the lower half of Columbine.
  • Steep, nasty, loose climbing on your mountain bike. You cannot simulate this any other way than to find something similar where you train and get comfortable and strong doing it.
  • Pushing your bike up steep hills. Between conditions, other riders and simply how tough this climb is, I suggest that everyone pushes their bikes up some steep, nasty hills for training. If the first time you push your bike up a hill is during the race, how do you think your body and mind are going to react?


Columbine: The Race
To me, Columbine is all about being steady, cautious and conservative. Here’s my advice for a successful climb to the top:

  • Begin the Climb Conservatively – How you begin the climb up Columbine can end up defining your entire race. If you go too hard, you may end up blowing before you get to the top or using up precious and finite energy reserves that you will need to complete the 50 miles still waiting for you after you achieve the top of Columbine.
  • Use Caution to Determine Your Own Pace – Don’t get caught up trying to hang with someone who might be faster than you or possibly going to hard themselves.
  • Spin to Win – I’ll choose a gear I think I can ride and then go one or two gears easier if I have them. It may seem kind of silly, but late in the race when you can barely turn over your smallest gear, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Breathe Through the Steeps – Take a few deep breaths as you come out into the open and the character quickly changes to rough, rocky, technical and steep. Again, go too hard down below and you’ll pay for it here. You’ll need some juice now because this is the steepest, nastiest part of Columbine and it goes on for a while. There are respites here and there but for the most part, you’re on the tip of your saddle, just hanging on, draped over your front wheel, or you’re off and pushing your bike.


When you finally crest the final steep bit, you’re not done yet! In classic Ken Chlouber fashion, you’ll still need to negotiate a rock-pocked, often puddle-laden, rutted road up and over a crest and down to the turnaround, where, your reward for making it to the top is to climb back up for a few hundred yards again before your friend gravity truly shows its face.

Work hard on these elements, add in some work on the flats, and you’ll be a well-rounded bike rider on race day poised to attain or exceed your goals.

Enjoy the ride,

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