CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. (ST) — A pair of past Leadville 100 champions scored impressive wins at the final Leadville Qualifying Series Race here Sunday. And about 100 wannabe Leadville 100 racers scored golden tickets, earning the right to contest the iconic 100-mile cross country race, slated for August 13th, by either earning an automatic berth or winning a lottery held after Sunday’s race.
On the women’s side, it was two-time defending Leadville champ Rebecca Rusch overcoming a late-race deficit in the 60-mile, fire road-heavy race that started and finished at the base of picturesque Mount Crested Butte.
The men’s winner was a surprise last-minute entrant who’s better known as the 2009 Leadville 100 champ — and cycling’s only seven-time Tour de France winner. Indeed, Lance Armstrong reached out to race officials around lunchtime on Saturday, asking if there was room for one more on the start line.
Of course the answer was yes, and America’s most famous cyclist delivered yet another hallmark effort, overtaking eventual second-place finisher Greg Krause in the waning moments of the race to win by just 3 seconds, with a final time of 4:32:31.
Third place went to Crested Butte local Travis Scheefer, who rode much of the race with the top two before ceding about 90 second at the finish.
Armstrong was trailing Krause for most of the second lap of race that included two mammoth climbs, first up Slate River Road, which is ominously dubbed Slate d’Huez, and then up Washington Gulch Road, which gains just as much altitude, albeit at a more gradual pace.
Total climbing for the day was 6,354 feet according to the race bible, though recorded totals in excess of 7,000 feet were commonplace amongst the field of 201.
Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t on either of the long fire road climbs were Armstrong brought Krause back. Instead, the newbie-29er rider pulled even in the short singletrack section that punctuated each of the race’s two laps.
Armstrong said he was cramping badly coming over the top of Schofield Pass the second time, but after “guzzling a bunch of water” it stopped. “That allowed me to come back on the singletrack,” he said. “I think (Krause) had about a minute at the start of the (six-mile) section. At the top it was about 20 seconds and I got that back on the downhill.”
Krause, who rides for Boulder-based juwi-First Solar, and is primarily a road racer himself, admitted he never expected to get beaten by Armstrong on what he dubbed a “super D” course.
“On the second time up, I knew I had to put time into him, because he climbed faster than me the first time up and he was better in the singletrack,” said Krause, who was 63rd overall at last week’s Cascade Cycling Classic. “I had about two minutes at one point, but Lance reeled me in at the top of the climb. Then I led the singletrack all the way to the super D course, but he got by me there. It’s funny to think that it all came down to a super D race, but that’s where he got me.”
Rusch (Red Bull-Specialized) didn’t wait quite as long to make her winning move, instead reeling in eventual second-place finisher Jenny Smith on the grinding false-flat climb between the Town of Gothic and Mount Crested Butte.
Smith (Alpine Orthopedics-SRAM-Breezer) had led since early in the first lap, but ended up riding solo for much of the second half, while Rusch hooked up with a group of five guys, and by sharing the workload was able to pull the Gunnison-resident back.
“I was off the front and catching people,” said Smith, who estimated she was seventh overall at the end of the second major climb, but slid to 10th at the finish as second female to cross the line. “When Rebecca rolled up on me after Gothic I was done. I tried jumping on the train, but they left me in the dust. I didn’t have anyone to ride with and sometimes that’s just circumstance. I don’t expect to end up in the same situation in Leadville.”
Rusch, meanwhile, was fifth overall, and one of only 15 riders to break the five-hour barrier, stopping the clock in 4:51:37. Third place in the women’s race went to Crested Butte local Jari Kirkland.
Now with less than two weeks before the big show in Leadville, most of Sunday’s competitors will begin final preparations. Well, most of them. When asked if he planned on returning to Leadville, Armstrong was emphatic.
“No. That’s too much for me,” he said. “I’m too old. I’m retired.”