It Sounded Like A Good Idea: Leadville Stage Race Day 2

Ed. Note: It Sounded Like A Good Idea is a new semi-regular column by Olympic track racer Bobby Lea and endurance mountain bike racer Ian ‘Big DiRtY’ Mullins who have teamed up with plans to race Cape Epic, Breck Epic and the Leadville Trail 100 next year. But, this isn’t just another story about some guys going to some race. It’s going to go much deeper and possibly become more polarizing to you, the reader, because of its honest look at some difficult subjects. Read on and find out why


Words by Bobby Lea

Photo courtesy of ATHLINKS

“It goes up, then it goes way up, and then it goes straight up.” That’s how Leadville Series founder Ken Chlouber likes to describe the climb up to Columbine Mine.

Stage 2 was short and sweet: 10 miles straight up to 12,500 feet and then 10 miles right back down. Like yesterday, it was another mass start bike race and also like yesterday, it quickly turned into a mass start time trial as everyone tried their best to climb into a dark hole and wait until it was over.

We had only been going uphill for a few minutes when I found myself alone. Peyson scooted away with one other rider in tow and the rest of the field disappeared into the fog and rain behind me. I learned my lesson from yesterday, kind of (my bike computer still isn’t reading miles, being a road racer I have it seemingly permanently set to kilometers), so I cruised around on Strava to see how long I could expect to struggle up this damn climb. I used a very complex algorithm factoring in how much time I dropped to Payson yesterday, multiplied by how much faster Todd Wells is than me, divided by the number of days spent over 10,000 feet, and then adding 10-percent to account for the rain. After all that, I came up with a nice, round 75 minutes that it would take to make my way up the climb.

I’d love to report that I had some deep, crystallizing thoughts on life, the world, the universe and our place in it while I was noodling up the climb but that would be bullshit. I was, however, bored as hell for a good chunk of it and trying very hard to stay focused on the task at hand while not getting completely overwhelmed by the fact that I still had so many more minutes left of this suffering. I wavered. At times I was focused and steady, at times I was incredibly ambivalent and at times I was just so tired of plodding along in such a small gear at such a limited intensity.

Here’s the thing about racing at this kind of altitude when you are straight from sea level. You can’t ride hard, even if you want to. It’s like riding with a restrictor plate while breathing through a straw. Go too hard and you go into the Red Zone. Once in the Red Zone you don’t come back.

I was stuck in limbo. The racer in me wanted to “crush” the climb because once at the top the race was essentially over. The rational athlete experience with altitude said “you can’t do that.” So there I was, plugging along at a very controlled pace, which essentially resembled an endurance ride at LT heart rate, watching the minutes tick by like hours and waiting to hear the sweat sound of the KTM lead motorcycle telling me the leaders were on their way back down and telling me I was almost there.

Eventually I made it to the top. The descent was rippin’ fast, totally worth the climb and I even won the prize for “most unsafe down Columbine” so that was cool. It’s not often that anyone accuses me of going overly fast down a hill.

Speaking of quirky awards, this race does a fantastic job of mixing it up every night and making the awards dinner a good time. Some of the awards handed out over the first two days include, “most safe down Columbine,” “last ass over the pass,” “the hare” for the person who went the fastest through the first time check but lost the most places after, the “tortoise” for the person who went the slowest through the first time check but passed the most people after, the fastest to 5 hours cumulative time and the fastest to 7 hours cumulative time. They also gave awards for the top male and female on each day, but meh.

Tomorrow we tackle the final 42 miles and close the loop on the 100 mile course, and with the infamous Pipeline climb on tap it promises to be one for the books. In the meantime, I’m going to allay my anxiety by joining my brother in arms, Ian Mullins, and plot the next entry, post-Leadville, in our blog series.

Catch you tomorrow!

Read the introduction to this trip if you missed it.

Day one can be found here.