After winning the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race six times, you’d think Dave Wiens would roll up to the start line this year without much trepidation.
That’s because Wiens’ main competiton from 2008 and 2009, Lance Armstrong, isn’t racing this year due to injuries suffered during the Tour de France. But even without Armstrong, the butterflies in Wiens’ gut will do their thing come Saturday morning.
“I’ll be nervous, but I’m nervous before every race,” said Wiens, winner of two World Cup races and a national cross-country championship in the 1990s, plus a national marathon championship in 2004.
And there are more than a few reasons to be anxious about this year’s LT100. Their names are, among others, Levi Leipheimer, Matt Shriver, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Jeremiah Bishop, Todd Wells and a handful of strong riders looking to make a name for themselves.
So how does the 45-year-old father of three plan on competing against guys at least 10 years his junior? If the Bailey Hundo earlier this summer in Colorado is any indication, it’ll be tough, as Horgan-Kobelski beat Wiens by a dozen minutes. But Wiens is up for the challenge.
“I know how I match up against JHK,” Wiens said. “He just killed me at Bailey.”
In 2006 when a then-retired Armstrong mentioned he was considering Leadville, Wiens said his motivation was cranked up a few notches. But it was actually Floyd Landis in 2007 who first proved a challenge at the LT100, which tops out at more than 12,000-rarified feet.
“That was fantastic,” Wiens recalled. “That’s the most pain I’ve had in the race — with Floyd.”
In 2008, Armstrong finally entered the race, instantly sucking Wiens into the “Lance Vortex.” But the attention and notoriety didn’t slow down Wiens, who went on to win the race.
Of course, Armstrong returned in 2009 with a mission: To not only beat Wiens, who at that point had won the race six consecutive years, but to stomp the course record to pieces. After finishing third at the Tour de France in his comeback that July, Armstrong returned to Leadville in August with a posse of pace-setters and took care of business.
Which means this year Wiens will be riding with something other than the number-one zip-tied to the front of his bike for the first time in many years.
“Putting on the number-two plate, there is some character-building aspect in that,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been training hard.”
That said, considering the deep field Wiens is realistic about 2010. He said his goal is to run with the young bucks as far as possible.
“I’m going out there and trying to stay with the leaders,” he said. “At the bottom of St. Kevins those guys are going to go hard. You’re either going to stay with them or not.”
Whether he does or doesn’t isn’t really the point for those who have followed Wiens’ career. It’s about what he represents: approachableness, family and riding the hell out of a mountain bike.
As the old war horse who’s gone up against the likes of Armstrong and Landis — and won — said, “I’m still here. I can go pretty good for a 45 year old.”