Putting his Tour de France fitness on display for all to see, Levi Leipheimer (Team Radioshack) completed the Leadville 100 in 6:16:37, bettering the course record set by his team-mate Lance Armstrong 12 months earlier by 12 minutes.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek), who battled Leipheimer for over 80 miles, finished second and also beat the Armstrong record by 3:30. Todd Wells (Specialized) suffered a major mechanical and finished third.
Dave Weins (Topeak-Ergon) nosed out Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) for fourth place as Bishop, who was still dealing with a nasty cold, took fifth.
"That was ridiculous," said Leipheimer after the race. "I don't know if I've ever suffered that much before. JHK was super strong and I was worried because I was suffering on Columbine. I'm just not that used to the altitude and he was hanging tough.
"But I guess that the distance and the fitness from The Tour was enough," he continued, adding, "Although we don't go this hard in the Tour." Whether he was joking or not was unclear. While Leipheimer has made his fame on the road, he loves riding off-road with his buddies back home. "I've been riding my mountain bike a lot the last 10 years."
Nearly 1400 racers from 20 countries departed the normally sleepy town of Leadville at 6:30 AM sharp. A neutral start through the town on the way down to Turquoise Lake was an impressive sight as the sun came up on the Rocky Mountains. Riders had a 12-hour time limit to complete the event.
Starting at 10,152 feet, the race reached a maximum height of 12,550 feet. Opening with a loop around Turquoise Lake, the course then took them over Sugarloaf Pass at 11,071 feet.
The pace had been blistering through the first hour. Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe's) said of the speed: "The pace was really high. I was in a group that included Weins that got dropped. Weins then slowly clawed his way back and I was able to re-join the lead group."
Near the top of Sugarloaf Pass there was a major mishap, as Leipheimer explained: "I crashed near the top of the Sugarloaf climb. I shouldn't have been leading. All of a sudden I thought there was a right turn and I hit my brakes. Todd Wells hit me from behind. I haven't been hit that hard in a long time."
Wells added: "I crashed too and wrecked my front wheel and flatted. My team-mate Ned Overend gave me his wheel so that I could catch back up." Overend managed to limp into the next Aid Station where he borrowed a wheel. Wells finished the race with blood oozing from his knee, but neither he or Leipheimer seemed to be seriously hurt.
On the incredibly steep descent down Powerline, Horgan-Kobelski opened a few seconds' gap while the mayhem behind him sorted itself out. Surprisingly, 10 riders including Matt Shriver, Bishop, Alex Grant (Cannondale), Weins, Jay Henry, Leipheimer, and Hogan-Kobelski all managed to re-merge into a big group. On the short pavement section of course before the rolling hills at Box Gulch, there seemed to be a truce as all riders sat up and took on food and liquids.
On the trip to the base of Columbine Mountain, several riders including Shriver, Leipheimer, and JHK ramped up the pace. As they started the climb, the lead group had been reduced to five. Shortly thereafter, the whole race shattered as riders headed up the mountain. "You just have to ride your own pace on that mountain," remarked Jay Henry.
Horgan-Kobelski and Leipheimer got away on the mountain. JHK later saying of the break: "I was really happy to go over a climb like that with him... to stay with a Tour de France podium guy." But JHK then descended like a madman, opening a 500-metre gap on Leipheimer as they reached the bottom.
"I felt pretty good until we hit the Powerline climb," added JHK. "I really turned myself inside out on that climb thinking I might be able to catch back up on the descent. But it was pure suffering from that point on."
Wells ended up riding much of the race alone in third place, later joking that it might have been better if he had pulled out after destroying his wheel.
The race for fourth place was nearly as exciting as the race at the front. Weins reached the bottom of the Columbine descent a full minute behind Bishop but managed to reel him in on the long traverse back to Powerline. "If Weins had given it even one go he would have left me behind," said Bishop. Instead the two stayed in contact until the final climb up the pavement into the town.
In the women's race, Rebecca Rush (Specialized) and Amanda Carey (Kenda-Felt) put on an impressive display of power. Riding just behind the top 20 men the whole race they made it to the Columbine climb together.
"I knew that Columbine was the make or break so I just put the hammer down there. I think I got five minutes on the ascent and a few more on the descent. Then I didn't look back and started to think about the course record. I was cramping... I left it all out there.," said Rush.
"I can barely stand up. It was one of my most painful days on a bike." But, she had a new course record and was jumping for joy as it was announced.
Full results, report and photo gallery to follow.
|1||Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)||6:16:37|
|2||Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek)||0:08:44|
|3||Todd Wells (Specialized)||0:13:54|
|4||David Wiens (Topeak Ergon)||0:17:17|
|5||Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale)|