Training as a road cyclist sucks. It’s an austere existence with tight margins for diet, regimented intervals, and constant travel from one training camp to the next. You rarely see your friends. Good luck if you have a family.
That’s why there was enormous relief when I retired in 2015 after a ten-year run in the pro ranks. Don’t get me wrong: I still love cycling, the community, and the atmosphere. But after a decade of racing, I was happy to trade pro life for one with a little more freedom.
Case in point: this year I finally had the time to race the Leadville 100. I never had the chance before because it overlapped with the USA Pro Challenge, and when you’re a roadie, team races always trump personal interests. (Ironically, the Pro Challenge was canceled this year.)
Starting at 10,200 feet, the Leadville 100 tops out at Columbine Mine, which sits at a skyscraping 12,464 feet above sea level. It’s a bucket-list item for many cyclists, myself included, and I found that it’s well suited to road riders. Unlike a traditional mountain bike race, where 100 or so competitors duke it out for a couple hours in tight, technical conditions, some 2,000 riders showed up for Leadville and immediately spread out over the long climbs and wide-open fire roads. Roadies aren’t known for their deft bike-handling skills: expansive and straight terrain is more our jam.
Unlike my old road races, where my team managed every detail, this was a throwback to my amateur racing days, when I had to sort out all my own logistics—a challenge I enjoyed. I worked with my sponsors (Cannondale, SRAM, Velocio, Speedplay, POC, and UnTapped) to source all the requisite gear, then I packed my own food(!) and had it handed up on course by my girlfriend.
And instead of cash, bragging rights and belt buckles were the awards.
This year, I wasn’t the only pro, or former pro, roadie to show up. Dutch climbing phenom Laurens Ten Dam and Coloradan Alex Howes were fresh from the Tour de France. As were Lachlan Morton, Timmy Duggan, Craig Lewis, and Joe Dombrowski, a former teammate of mine on Cannondale Pro Cycling, who I’m guessing was the only Leadville participant to squeeze his start between the Tour of Utah and the Vuelta a Espana. His fitness is right on track: Dombrowski finished second in his first stab at the race.
We weren’t the first pro roadies to ride the Leadville 100, but I do think these nontraditional races are only going to get more popular with our skinny-tired community, just as they become more popular with everyone else. I can’t speak for other racers, but I’m filling my calendar with events (Grinduro in Quincy, California, is next) because I appreciate the sense of adventure and because I get to race for racing’s sake, not because my job depends on it.
Oh, and here’s the best part: instead of reaching for a traditional recovery drink, like we did after road races, recovery drinks in Leadville were spelled I-P-A.
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