Written by: Steve Frothingham
Dave Wiens pulled away from Lance Armstrong in the final ten miles of Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado, winning the race for the sixth time, in record time.
“The guy that I raced today was not the guy who won the Tours,” the modest Wiens said at the finish.
Armstrong accelerated on the Columbine climb — which tops out at over 12,000 feet elevation at the halfway point of the out-and-back race — and broke up a group of ten that had formed in the first half of the race. Wiens matched Armstrong’s pace and in a few short miles the two had a five-minute gap over third place, which grew to more than 20 minutes at the 80-mile mark and more than a half hour at the finish.
Despite the huge gap, the two rode together like road riders on a long distance breakaway, sharing the work on the smooth sections. Surprisingly, Armstrong was often the stronger rider on the descents, while Wiens, a two-time mountain bike world cup winner, was more conservative, wary of flatting or crashing.
Wiens said the drafting — as well as relatively cool, overcast conditions and a tacky surface on the climbs from recent rains — contributed to the record time. Wiens won in 6:45:45, about 13 minutes faster than the record he set last year when he was being pushed by Floyd Landis. Armstrong finished at 6:47:41.
Armstrong also showed technical ability on the ascents. As the two approached the Powerline climb, a steep, rutted monster in the final 20 miles of the race, Armstrong asked Wiens if he planned to ride or push.
Wiens said he had always pushed, but invited Armstrong to give it a try and the Tour champ rode the entire climb, with Wiens on his wheel.
Soon after that climb, however, Wiens suspected that Armstrong was weakening. With about ten miles to go — mostly uphill on pavement — Armstrong conceded.
“He said, ‘I’m done, go,’ ” Wiens said. Wiens briefly tried to encourage Armstrong to continue, but then accelerated slightly and pulled away. “It wasn’t like he just stopped pedaling, though,” Wiens said. “I’d look back and he’d still be there.”
Armstrong said he simply didn’t have the miles in his legs for such a long race.
“At the end I realized I was totally cooked … I haven’t done a 7-hour ride in four and half years.”
Armstrong called the race “a blast,” even though he finished with some scrapes after crashing in the final miles, after Wiens pulled away.
“I just overcooked it into a soft corner,” he said.
Wiens had his own excitement, when, with Armstrong still close behind, his rear tire went soft with less than a mile to go. He managed to nurse the squishy tire to the line.
Manuel Prado of Lake Forest, California, was third about 35 minutes behind Wiens