A new Wells conquers Leadville

LEADVILLE, Colo. (ST) — Todd Wells is a different rider than he was last year. Eight pounds different to be precise. And that's not including a lighter bike.

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LEADVILLE, Colo. (ST) — Todd Wells is a different rider than he was last year. Eight pounds different to be precise. And that’s not including a lighter bike.

A year after slotting third in his first crack at the famed Leadville 100, the Specialized rider returned to America’s most famous endurance mountain bike race lighter, wiser — and now its winner.
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Wells pounded out a steady pace all day, especially late in the race, shedding Topeak-Ergon’s Alban Lakata with about 20 miles to go. From there it was just a matter of holding on, which Wells did without incident, stopping the clock in 6:23:38, 4:19 ahead of Lakata. Alex Grant (Cannondale) snagged a surprising third, 11:54 behind Wells.

“I didn’t really eat different, just less,” said Wells, adding that he weighed 173 pounds in 2010, but just 165 this year.

Combine that with a switch from a full suspension 29er to a hardtail 29er, which yielded two more pounds, plus an intense high altitude training camp in Silverton, Colorado, during the lead up to the race, and Wells said his preparation was essentially perfect.

“A race like this, with the altitude and all the climbing, you have to be really specific on how you prepare,” he added. “Everything came together right.”

Indeed, Leadville is unique. Though light on singletrack, and heavy on road tactics, the 10,152-foot starting elevation provides a challenge few other races have. Mix in the trip to 12,550 during the out-and-back run into the Colorado Rockies and back, and there’s no denying the difficulty.

That difficulty began in earnest about 20 miles into the race, during the trip up the St. Kevins climb when Wells and Lakata rode off the front and no one responded behind. Before the gap got too big, though, Lakata suffered a rear puncture, leaving Wells alone at the front.

With no interest of riding an all-day, solo time trial, he sat up and was soon joined by Grant, Jay Henry (Tokyo-Joes) and Greg Krause (juwi-Solar), who was second to Lance Armstrong two weeks ago at the Leadville qualifying race in Crested Butte.

Seeing opportunity to put immediate pressure on the rest of the field, the quartet worked well together, though Grant said he was rolling through rather than working too hard, knowing that teammate Jeremiah Bishop was somewhere behind. But it turned out Bishop was further back than Grant realized.

Like Lakata, Bishop flatted early, then took a wheel from teammate Tinker Juarez looking to minimize the damage. “But the brakes didn’t quite match up, so I had to stop again and try to adjust them,” lamented Bishop, who ended up fifth, the same place he finished last year.

Teammate Tim Johnson paced Bishop back up to the main chase, but that was as close as he ever got to the front. Meanwhile, Johnson suffered a trifecta of flats, sliding all the way to 16th at the finish.

Back at the front, the front-running four drove it hard across the course’s long flat section between the base of the Powerline descent and the beginning of the infamous Columbine Mine climb, a 10-mile grunt that reaches well above treeline. Once on the climb, it was every man for himself. Initially the MAN was Wells.

But not long after Wells dropped his breakaway companions, Lakata came charging up along side. The Austrian long-distance specialist had hit the climb in fifth, riding alongside Bishop and Gerry Cody (Team Herbalife). But once the road tipped up, Lakata twisted the throttle.

“The guy just went storming away,” said Bishop. “At one point I got a split to Wells that was four minutes, so basically Alban shut down four minutes on the climb. It was impressive but I think maybe he went a little too hard.”

Wells was equally impressed — and initially a little scared.

“For him to bridge on that climb, that got me a little worried,” admitted Wells. “When he caught me, I knew he was going really good because I saw him get the flat.”

Wells and Lakata rode together down Columbine and back across the flats. But things started coming apart for Lakata on the short singletrack climb before the Pipeline Aid station at mile 73. Without ever really attacking, Wells cracked a small gap that Lakata couldn’t shut down. It was around 30 seconds at the base of the Powerline climb, then ballooned further from there.

“I had some problems with hydration,” said Lakata, who was racing in Leadville in part to replace former Topeak top dog — and six-time champ — Dave Wiens, who decided after last year he’d accomplished all he could at Leadville. “It’s also not good to flat just 10 miles into a race. I had to do a lot of extra work. I was really struggling at the end, getting chills. At the end I was just happy to finish. It was longest race ever I’ve ever done and it’s not easy to pace yourself for such a long distance. Next time I will be more prepared.”

Meanwhile, Grant spent the entire second half of the race alone, but still managed to hold third. It was arguably a career-best effort for the 31-year-old from Salt Lake City, who figured to be working for Bishop, but ended up leading his team.

“Given the competition here this year, this is huge,” said Grant, who was eighth here last year. “I’d been feeling good the past couple weeks, and I could tell early the legs were good. When I made the break with Jeremiah behind, I didn’t work too hard. That probably saved some energy.”

Race notes:

Solid Day for Team Herbalife

Team Herbalife rider Nate Whitman had a career-best day time wise, crossing the line 19th in 7:06:48. The significance? It was Whitman’s best ever time by some 19 minutes, and marked his 10th finish at Leadville, earning him a place in the exclusive 1,000-mile club.

“It was a dream ride for me today,” said Whitman, who spent the better part of the last month living in Leadville, while running the on-site Herbalife24 Basecamp. “To ride on the wheels of guys like Tinker, Alban Lakata and Carl Decker was an amazing experience. Leadville just seems to bring out the best in me. But it was a crazy day. I was in the chase group early, and everything was nice and smooth. But when Alban got back into the group after he flatted, he was so much stronger that it just shattered everybody else. Then it was just every man for himself.”

Whitman’s teammates Gerry Cody (10th) and Nate English (20th) gave Herbalife a day’s best three in the top 20.

Bart-man back in the USA

By his account Bart Brentjens’ last trip to the U.S. was 2001 for the world championships in Vail. The Dutchman finally returned this year, to race Leadville. And the 1996 Olympic gold medalist still has game. He finished sixth, 22:35 behind Wells.

“I won my category, so it’s a very good day,” said a smiling Brentjens, still sporting his trademark pony tail. “But for sure I could not ride at the front. This morning when we hit the first climb, maybe 50 people pass me. I don’t race so much anymore, but this race is very well known even in Europe, so it was great to give it a try.”

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