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Whether your goal is outright victory, a sub-9-hour time, or simply to finish the race inside the 12-hour cutoff, there are definitive tactics for long-haul racing that can tip the scales of success in your favor.
Singletrack.com rounded up a panel of pros — plus one very famous cycling coach — to find out what they think will separate the contenders from the pretenders, and finishers from DNFs, at this Saturday’s Leadville 100.
But before diving into those details, it’s best to start with the annual advice from Leadville 100 founder Ken Chlouber. Each year since the race’s inception back in 1994, the former state senator has exhorted race participants with an evangelical speech that goes something like this.
“Inside each of you is an inexhaustible well of grit, guts and determination,” he says. “And when the time comes when you are suffering and want to quit – and that time will come – you will reach deep inside that well of grit, guts and determination and find the will to keep going. And to do that remember that you are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.”
Now onto the pro tips…
Dave Wiens: Six-time Leadville 100 champion
On the lead-up to race day
“You need to start thinking about the race the week before and adjust your training,” says Wiens, who is not contesting Leadville this year. “You don’t want to completely rest, but the typical structure is two days out, you should have a rest day or very easy ride. Then on Friday, do a little more to open things up a little. For me that meant climbing St. Kevins, then going up and down Powerline, and then heading back around to Leadville. I’d do that at an ultra slow pace, granny gear all way. Now obviously this is a super personal thing. Some people will rest the day before. But that is what always worked best for me.”
Nate Whitman: Team Herbalife24, Nine-time Leadville Finisher
On finishing in the top 20
“To flirt with a high placing you need to use the pack mentality and try to get over St. Kevins with the lead group,” says Whitman, who owns a personal best time of 7:26 and is director of the Herbalife24 Basecamp. “If you can do that and make it up Sugarloaf, too, there is a big benefit to working with a group on the flats during the lead-up to the Columbine climb. That applies no matter where you are in the field. Find people to work with on the flats. It’s the same thing coming off Columbine, you are hoping to find a rider or two to work with on the way back to Powerline.”
To win the race
“I think you need to be at least top five going over Columbine with no more than a couple minutes of separation. It’s possible someone could get reeled in by a pack after Columbine, but we haven’t seen that yet. So if you are first off Columbine you are probably going to win. Tactics pretty much end at the base of Columbine.”
Todd Wells: Specialized, third place in 2010
On the real race beginning at the base of Columbine
“That’s the way it seems like it always goes down,” he says. “Last year it broke up some during the first few smaller climbs, but it would always come back together. Then on Columbine you either are going well or you’re not. You can’t hide on that climb.”
On the importance of being light
“It’s super-high elevation, and as you go up in elevation you lose power. But it’s a bigger drop for a big guy than a skinny guy, so you want to be as light as possible. That’s why I tried to lose a little weight coming in and opted for the hardtail over the full suspension.”
Rebecca Rusch: Specialized, two-time defending champion
On the real race starting at the base of Columbine
“That’s the great eliminator,” says the women’s course record holder. “Either you get into a rhythm or you get blown out back. That’s definitely where the race starts. If you feel bad on race day, don’t write yourself off. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Chris Carmichael: Founder Carmichael Training Systems, sub-9-hour Leadville finisher
On the tactics at the front of the race
“I think we’ll see different tactics than the last few years,” says Carmichael, who will be chasing his third sub-9-hour belt buckle this year. “Recently it’s been really fast right from the beginning, but I think you’ll see a little more gamesmanship this year. I think you’ll see more guys together later in the race. But once you hit Powerline on the way back, it’s a big wake-up call because you’re four hours in and have at least two to go. The guys who have done Leadville before know that and will understand that you have to preserve for those last two hours. If you start too hard, you will pay the price at the end.”
Tactics for the fast mid-pack racer
“Even though it’s a 100-mile race, the start is really important, because if you fall too far back at the start you can end up losing precious time on St. Kevins because you get caught up in the masses and have to walk. So if you are gunning for that 9-hour time, you need to start fast enough to stay in front of the fray.”
“You also need to be in group to ride with from bottom of Powerline to the Twin Lakes aid station. There is a lot of flat and rolling terrain, so you don’t want to get caught out alone in the wind. If that happens, look back and see if anyone is coming. If there is a fairly large group and they are just a minute or so behind, I would probably sit up and wait for them. It will save a ton of energy if you follow wheels. That is really pivotal, because you want to be able to hit Columbine and have the energy to ride Columbine at a hard pace.”
On negative splits
“To go under nine hours you need to be around 4:30 at the top of Columbine (the race’s halfway point). Then if you negative split coming back, so 4:30 to the top and assume 15 minutes faster coming back, then that gives you an under-9 time with a little cushion. At the same time, if you hit Columbine at 4:40, don’t start sprinting because you’ll just blow yourself up. Ride within yourself, because even at 4:40 you still have a chance because you will negative split and come in right around 9.”
On making the 12-hour time cut
“You really want to be careful and meter your expenditures. Ride a consistent pace and be very consistent with your eating. Know in advance the number of calories you will be taking in, and in what form you’ll be taking them. So how many gels, how many bars, how much fluid. Understand what you need each hour. Also be dialed in with your aid station plan. Know exactly what you are going to want to eat and drink, and know how you are going to get it.”
“Also remember that the downhills are great, but chances are you don’t want to take big risks on downhills because the time made up is negligible – and you don’t want to crash. At the same time, take advantage of the momentum. You can tuck on the rollers on way back from Columbine. Make sure to grab all that free speed, and don’t be an inverted wedge riding down the road.”