(Part two of our trip following several Arkansas mountain bikers to Leadville, Colorado to cover their attempt at one of the most difficult races in the world. If you haven’t read it yet, please read part one.)
We woke up early to a beautiful day. The temperature was in the low 40’s, cold by Arkansas standards for August but not as bad as it could have been. The rain was gone. Our plan was to move fast and hit as many of the big climb/downhill areas as we could in the morning and then see what the afternoon brought. We made our way to the starting line about 15 minutes before the start. Riders are “corralled” by number from the starting line on 6th Street, across Harrison Avenue and on up the hill. At close to 1800 riders the task of finding Arkansans was daunting. We knew they were spread out throughout the start based on how they got into the race. Pros first then previous finishers, than qualifiers, and finally the rest of the lottery winners. We did find a few of our guys just before the National Anthem was sung.
We then moved quickly down to the starting line. This race is started with a fast but neutral start that goes for over a mile before everyone is let loose on the dirt roads. The countdown and then the shotgun blast gets everyone going. The perfect song is played as they take off, “For Those About to Rock” by AC/DC. You’ll see that many of the riders use this opportunity to improve their position.
As the riders head out of town to circle Turquoise Lake, Cliff and I headed out to our first photo spots. I dropped Cliff off at the Pipeline Aid Station where he would hike up Pipeline while I headed back to Powerline to find a spot to photograph riders coming down the massive hill.
From Robert –
“Most things went as planned, some better some worse. I always worry about the descent down Powerline, but it went awesome. It’s amazing how fast we were flying down near the front, last year I was still in some slower traffic at Powerline which scared me. When you come up on a slower rider and they panic, it gets scary.”
Racers first face Powerline as a descent at about the 20 mile mark. It’s a fast, rutted jeep trail that goes in and out of a shaded area. The pro riders seemed to arrive pretty quickly and they were flying down the trail as the powerlines overhead buzzed and popped. Very little braking going on by the pros and other leaders.
As more riders showed up, I was starting to smell the burning brakes but they were still moving quickly.
I saw a few riders almost get caught in some of the rutted areas in a turn in the woods and one guy did an endo (flipped over the handlebars) while making the turn but he was up and riding again quickly. Once I was confident that all the Arkansas riders that I could recognize were through I headed back out to the truck. As I was getting my equipment together to leave I heard a cyclist shout that it was time to start forming up a paceline. Shortly after Powerline, riders would hit a road section where it would really pay off to share the pull. Just before the road they had to negotiate a small bridge and some mud.
The next several miles are mainly road to the Pipeline Aid Station so a lot of riders had already come through by the time I arrived to pick up Cliff.
Cliff had hiked a ways to get some great shots on the Pipeline climb and as I waited for him to get back to the aid station I talked with Faith McDaniel at the CARVE tent. Faith was helping support Arkansas Cycling and Fitness racer, Chad Cragle and several of the other Arkansas riders. She told me that Chad had proposed to her the day before. It seems riding in one of the toughest 100 mile mountain bike races is just not enough excitement for Chad. Congratulations to them.
From Faith –
“One of the hardest parts about doing support is the lack of control over the situation. There’s a reasonable amount of investment on my side-I’m constantly working to improve nutrition strategies, and streamline the logistics of such a large race. But then there’s the emotional investment too. So as the day goes on there is a latent anxiety that slowly builds and builds, until I realized while waiting at the finish line that I would cry if I greeted him as he finished. Just from the amount of emotion and intensity of the event.”
From Chad –
“I really wanted to quit when I got back to the the pipeline aid station (~74 miles I think). Usually, my philosophy is that the memory of having quit is more painful and longer-lived than the pain you feel during the race. However, I had decided this rule no longer applied. I had stopped having fun hours ago, and I still had to haul myself up two more big climbs (one of which I knew I would be walking a significant portion). So, when I got to the aid station, all it would have taken was one person telling me “yeah, you’re right, call it a day”. However, Faith told me that if I finished I wouldn’t have to do the race again. When she said this I though “she is right, I was stupid enough to sign-up for this, I am probably stupid enough to sign-up for it again”. So, I kissed Faith and got back on my bike.”
When Cliff got back we headed over to the Twin Lakes Aid Station. This was where the bulk of the spectators were. This aid station is at the base of the 10 mile climb to the Columbine Mine at over 12,000 feet. It’s a great spot to cheer on racers since they come through twice relatively quickly.
We wanted to get away from all the crowds so we headed up the course. Cliff, having just had a pretty good hike, stayed near the bottom for a while while I went up about a quarter of a mile to watch the riders head down the mountain at ridiculous speeds. Eventually Cliff went on up even higher to get some more photos. Since we weren’t able to go to the top of Columbine to watch the turnaround I’ll share a post from FatCyclist contributor, Doug Bohl, who volunteered at the aid station.
From Scott –
“During the Columbine Climb I was in a very dark place emotionally. The only thing that lightened my mood was the sound of James Gaston talking between gasps of air! When I got to the Twin-Lakes #2 Aid Station at 60 miles I seriously considered pulling out (for about 30 seconds). I took one look at my crew and told them to empty my bottles and replace them with more Water and Coke. I had to face reality and admit that a sub-9 finish was out, but decided that I absolutely had to complete this journey for the sake of Myself as well as My Family, Crew, and Team. I’ve always had a fear of quitting and that it would be habit-forming. I’m not about to take that chance.”
After all the Arkansas racers passed by, it was time to head back into Leadville to get ready for the finish, one of the most incredibly emotional finish lines I’ve ever witnessed. That story and photos tomorrow.
Links to a mountain’s worth of photos below: