Qualifiers for the Leadville 100—at last

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Beneath Mt. Elbert at mile 35 on the Leadville 100 MTB Race.

When national health club chain Life Time Fitness, Inc. purchased the Leadville Race Series, many lamented the passing of these events from quaint, small-scale races into the fold of a monster corporate money-making machine. With the announcement this week of a new series of qualifiers that will let would-be racers earn a spot in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race, it has to be said that, far from destroying the event, Life Time is actually improving it.

The truth is, even before Life Time Fitness got involved the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race had become a behemoth thanks in no small part to the PR generated when Lance Armstrong raced it in 2008 and 2009. Slots have always been filled by a lottery system, but after Lance, the event's popularity soared and spots became tough to come by, with upward of 8,000 entrants reportedly vying for around 2,000 spaces.

I have a love-hate relationship with Leadville. It was my first real endurance event, in 2007, and though I suffered mightily I learned a lot and came back to crush my time the following year. I was a Leadville fanatic and probably would have done a few more of them, but I didn't pull a lottery spot for it in 2009. Fair's fair, but when a whole slew of racers I knew received last-minute entries outside of the lottery system, my opinion of the race soured. It's one thing to have a strict lottery system; it's another to be an exclusive club that grants favors to buddies. On principle, I vowed not to do the Leadville 100 again.

The mass start out of downtown Leadville.

But Life Time's new six-race qualifier series (they debuted the idea last year with a smaller set of races) means that should you want to race Leadville and you're fast enough, you're aspirations are no longer tied to the capriciousness of the lottery. Between 70 and 100 qualifying slots will be up for grabs at each qualifying event, starting with a yet-to-be-named dirt century in Austin, Texas on April 21. If you make the cut, you still have to pay the entry fee ($275 plus $15), but you're guaranteed a chance at Leadville if you want it. The best part, in my opinion, is that even if you don't want to ride the LT100, Life Time's new series means there's more great mountain bike races to go around. Here's the qualifying line-up:

– April 21: Name TBD, Austin, Texas
– June 2: Barn Burner 104, Flagstaff, Arizona
– June 17: Wilmington Whiteface 100, Wilmington, New York
– July 14: Silver Rush 50, Leadville, Colorado
– July 22: Tahoe Trail 100, Tahoe, California
– September 15: Alpine Odyssey 100, Crested Butte, Colorado (qualifies for the 2013 race)

So will I line up at one of these qualifiers and try to return to Leadville in August? I'm not decided, but probably not. Leadville is a particular type of race, with big crowds and lots of road miles, and my interests run more to small-scale, backcountry events these days. But if you've never tried it, the Leadville 100 is definitely worth a look, especially now that the odds of getting in are a little bit better.

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