Besides being the fastest man at last Saturday's Leadville Trail 100, Team Radio Shack rider Levi Leipheimer was the only member of the final top five to race a 26-inch full suspension bike.
While Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Jeremiah Bishop rode hardtail 29ers, Todd Wells opted for a full suss 29er, and Dave Wiens opted for a traditional hardtail, Leipheimer said his size small, 26-inch duallie rig was the only option he ever considered.
"I've never ridden a 29er so I was worried about the fit," said Leipheimer, who put nearly nine minutes into second-place finisher Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, and sliced more than 12 minutes off the course record set a year ago by RadioShack teammate Lance Armstrong. "And there was no way I was riding a hardtail. I would have been shelled. I just don't have the skills to do that."
What Leipheimer did have was an intricately personalized Trek Top Fuel prototype that he rode just twice before race day. The brand new bike had been shipped direct to Colorado, and built up by Trek athlete liaison Ben Coates, who said he'd been instructed by company brass not to answer any questions about the bike.
"Basically they sent it to me and said, ‘We'd like Levi to ride this and don't ask us anything else," said Coates. "We built it on Monday. He rode it a little on Tuesday and did a big ride on Wednesday and that was it."
Asked if it had been tough to please the notoriously finicky Leipheimer, Coates said it was a "surprisingly" smooth process.
"There was not too much back and forth," Coates added. "We messed with position a little, moved the saddle, changed the stem and talked about bar choice. It was the standard talk of, ‘Do you want to be a roadie or a mountain biker, and use a long stem or a normal stem?'"
The final answer was a mountain biker, as Leipheimer opted for 110mm Bontrager XXX. The other big consideration was whether or not to add a remote rear lockout for his Fox RP2 shock. Leipheimer eventually opted against it, satisfied that the XLoc lockout for his RockShox SID XX World Cup fork would suffice.
Front and rear travel were set at 100mm, giving the 2007 Tour de France third place finisher plenty of cushion on the few technical sections of the out-and-back Leadville course.
Still, Leipheimer hit the deck once, over-braking after nearly making a wrong turn, which caused him to slow down so fast that Wells crashed into his backside and mangled the front wheel of his Specialized 29er. Neither rider was seriously injured, but Wells had to take a wheel from teammate Ned Overend to avoid losing touch with the front group.
Back up front, riders got an up-close view of a Leipheimer's new bike, which was custom painted to match the logo of the King Ridge Gran Fondo event that bears his name and starts and finishes in his hometown of Santa Rosa, California on October 9.
140mm rear rotor adjacent to SRAM XX 12x36 cassette.
Originally designed by his wife Odessa Gunn, the "growling bear with double-chainring crown" logo was reproduced on both sides of the Trek's head-top-downtube interface. The bike's top tube and Avid carbon brake levers bore Leipheimer's name, and the inside of the drivetrain-side of the chainstay was inscribed "Leadville 100" lest there was any confusion as to what the bike's primary purpose was.
Technical highlights included internally routed cables that enter the front-side of the head tube and exit from the seat tube, a full SRAM XX groupset with a 2x10 drivetrain (42x28 up front, 12x36 rear), and Bontrager XXX wheels affixed with 2.1 Hutchinson Cobra tubeless ready tyres.
The only eyesore on this ultra-slick race bike? A swath of black electrical tape covering up an offending logo on the seat tube. "Apparently Levi sent Trek one of the Gran Fondo jerseys so they could get the design from it," explained Coates. "I guess the jersey had an old logo. Otherwise the bike's just about perfect."