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Leadville 100-Mile MTB Stage Race recap by Jeff Grebner

As 11 years of triathlon-specific training and racing were winding down in late 2017, I started to sketch out a schedule for 2018 with the singular goal to breathe new life into stale legs and an uninspired workout routine. Thanks to great friend and Salsa Ambassador extraordinaire Tom Morgan, I got off the paved roads and onto gravel, snow, and single track MTB trails. It started with riding the NOW Bikes and Fitness 2017 Green Acres’ Gravel Fundo Half Hundo and recently concluded July 29th after completing the 100-mile, Leadville Stage Race (same course as the legendary Leadville Trail 100 MTB but spread over 3 days). While there are much better training guides, race reports, and videos (e.g., 2009’s “Race Across the Sky”) to guide you through a successful Leadville 100 MTB race, here are a few highlights that have me already planning a return trip to Leadville in 2019 to race the 1-day signature event.

Readying: I am about as comfortable and efficient on trails as a giraffe on a unicycle. This was routinely on display during falling/walking/riding a handful of winter fat bike races. Prior to the Stage Race, trail riding was limited to a few days at Elm Creek, a weekend trip to Crosby, MN to ride the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, and a singular 2-lap Thursday Night Buck Hill race. Endurance training included readying for several 70.3 Half-Ironman races and chasing elite athletes Sean Cooley, Hanna Grinaker, and Tom Morgan over a 60-mile, paved Minnetonka loop a number of weekends from December 2017 through May 2018. (#WTAP).  

Rig: 2014 Salsa XL Beargrease Carbon XX1. My Salsa saw very little action until late 2017. It still has the original build including the SRAM Fatbike 2x 22/36t crankset. Thanks to repeated encouragement from Rich, Ambrose, and the great crew at NOW, the original Rolling Darryls and Dillinger tires/tubes were replaced with HED. B.A.D rims and 45NRTH VANHELGA 26 x 4.0” tires set up tubeless. ESI Extra Chunky grips were an inexpensive but vital addition before shipping the fat bike to Colorado. In spite of my limitations as a rider, the Beargrease handled the rocky terrain, rooted sections, sandy corners, steep climbs and fast descents without a single hiccup or mechanical failure.

Race: The race is an out-and-back format stretched over 3 days of approximately 40 miles on Day 1, 20 miles on Day 2, and 40 Miles on Day 3. The first day begins with a challenging climb up St. Kevins followed by a fast, paved descent before ascending Sugarloaf Pass. After a technical ride down Powerline, the stage ends at Twin Lakes. Day 2 is a loop beginning and ending at Twin Lakes where riders climb steadily up Columbine to the summit (elevation ~12,500ft). I hiked-a-bike a lot going up the last mile. It took me about 2 hours to get up to the turnaround and about 20 minutes to get down to the finish.  Day 3 starts at Twin Lakes and finishes at the Lake County Rodeo Grounds. The return trip includes an equally challenging climb/hike-a-bike up Powerline.  Fortunately, between the climbs you will find some incredibly fast, fun descents to give your legs and heart rate a rest.  For average riders like me, each stage is likely to take between 2.5 and 4 hours, so you can carry all nutrition and hydration with you from start to finish.  There are a few aid stations on the course during each stage if you need a little extra fluid.  

Rest and Recovery: Because the race is much smaller than the 100 MTB race at less than 300 participants, lodging is not an issue. My friends and I arrived the day before the race and stayed at a VRBO about 1 mile from the race start/finish that provided stunning views of the mountains.  It was also just a stone’s throw away from the local Safeway and provided the perfect recovery location. The 9AM race start time each day allowed for pre-race avocado/fried egg toast and energy drinks for everyone. To close each day, Tom served up his signature TABASCO® Tommies (Coor’s Light and TABASCO® sauce) to help take the edge off the muscle fatigue and thin air.

Roundup: Race entry starts at $425. While not cheap, the value for your money is incredible. Each stage is unique and kicks off with the national anthem and a Ken Chlouber, “dig deep”, shotgun start. There is an equally festive finish line and awards at the end of each day. Additionally, you get a well-prepared free dinner and beverages after each stage. Free race photos are available courtesy of Athlinks. And then there’s the race swag… it’s not just a T-shirt and finisher’s medal (see swag photo). Perhaps the best reason to race this 3-Stage event is the lottery to gain entry into the coveted 1-Day Leadville 100 MTB Trail Race. With odds at about 33%, Tom and I threw our race numbers in the drawing and both of us won an entry into the 2019 signature event!

Recap: To say I was nervous heading into the Stage Race is an understatement for many reasons: inexperience on MTB trails, unsure of effects of altitude, limited knowledge of the course/ terrain, and choice of bike. However, when I picked up the Beargrease before leaving Denver to drive up to Leadville, Andy – owner of Pedal Bikes in Littleton, CO - offered a simple, calming reminder, “What’s to worry about? You get to ride a bike.” I think that sums it up nicely. If you are looking for new terrain or a new challenge to spice up your routine, consider the Leadville Stage Race.