Leadville's Race Director expects that the shorter daily rides in the stage race will allow athletes to go all-out and post really low times.
Leadville's Race Director expects that the shorter daily rides in the stage race will allow athletes to go all-out and post really low times. (Photo: Glen Delman)

Leadville Turns to Stage Racing

The Race Across the Sky adds a three-day option for novice mountain bike racers and those looking to qualify for the LT100.

Leadville's Race Director epects that the shorter daily rides in the Stage Race will allow athletes to go all-out and post really low times.

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The country’s highest and arguably most famous mountain bike race, The Leadville Trail 100 MTB (LT100), became a little more accessible last week as owner Life Time Fitness announced a new three-day event on the renowned course.

The Leadville Stage Race (July 24-26) will follow the exact same course as the LT100. But rather than slamming through it in one day, which can take riders up to 12 hours, it will spread the race over a more civilized long weekend trio of stages. Day one will see riders roll 42 miles from town over St. Kevin’s and Sugarloaf passes to Lost Canyon, just past Twin Lakes. Day 2 is only 16 miles long but makes the out-and-back trip to the 12,424-foot Columbine Mine. And Day 3 returns racers back to Leadville the way they came.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the famed LT100 course to athletes in a completely new format,” says Leadville Race Director Josh Colley. “Rather than needing to idle back slightly and pace for a longer day on the bike, now athletes can go all-out from the gun each day. We are excited to see what kind of pace can be done while going a little harder out of the gate.”

(Courtesy of Glen Delman Photography)

The LT100 has won acclaim for its difficulty and altitude, taking in over 12,000 feet of elevation gain in a day, the majority of it at least as high or higher than the 10,152-foot starting point in the old mining town of Leadville, Colorado. The appearance of several celebrity cyclists, especially Lance Armstrong in 2008 and 2009, helped to solidify the event’s prestigious reputation. After Armstrong attended, demand to participate in the race skyrocketed, with applicants now rumored to exceed the 2,000 racer slots on offer by tenfold—though Life Time won’t confirm those numbers. “The LT100 lottery totals are proprietary information,” Colley says. “But I can tell you that the idea of allowing more access to the Leadville experience is absolutely correct.”

The hope is that the new event will appeal to a wide spectrum of riders, from those who were turned away by the lottery to newcomers who aren’t quite ready for the one-day push, and perhaps even seasoned Leadville racers looking to push themselves in a new format. “With a large lottery, there are always a lot of people who get the dreaded, 'We regret to inform you,' message,” Colley explains. “The Stage Race will allow anyone to enter and get a taste for racing this course.”

In its inaugural year, the Stage Race will be limited to 300 athletes on course at once, and Life Time has divvied that up between 270 solo racers and 30 team entries. Teams will consist of either two or three riders, with each racer taking on a separate stage (or, in the case of two-person teams, one racer doing two stages).

Scheduled three weeks before the LT100, the inaugural Leadville Stage Race will not only offer more racers a chance to try out the high-altitude course, it will also function as a qualifier for those who didn’t get into the LT100. Twenty-five entries to the LT100 will be awarded to the top age-group finishers in the Stage Race. Any racer that rides any of the three stages faster than the split set by course record-holder Alban Lakata will also gain an entry.

But it’s not only about qualifying for the marquee event. “The LT100, with the addition of the LRS qualifiers and their easier and not so technical courses, has had a positive impact on the popularity of mountain biking. These events have taken the hardcore edge off of the sport and made it welcoming to those new to cycling, to road riders, and to triathletes that otherwise may not have given mountain biking a go,” says Dave Wiens, six-time winner of the LT100 and one of the few men in the world who can say he beat Lance Armstrong. “The Stage Race will bring this format to a much broader audience. And it could be a great stepping stone to doing the big race in subsequent years.”

Registration for the Leadville Stage Race is open now, with solo categories going for $425 and team entries for $675.

Lead Photo: Glen Delman