Race and course
Part of the popularity of the Leadville course lies in its combination of accessibility to many riders coupled with the extreme challenge it serves up as a high-altitude race with copious climbing.
The out and back race begins and ends in downtown Leadville, elevation 10,152 feet. Although the route begins by descending, the low point of the entire course is only 9,200 feet.
The high point at the Columbine mine at the midpoint is at a staggering 12,424 feet above sea level, an elevation that puts even the most acclimatized riders into difficulty. In between, riders pass by seven well stocked aid stations to restock on calories and water.
As an out and back course, Leadville racers get to preview all the climbs and descents on their way from Leadville to the Columbine Mine before turning around and riding it all in reverse.
The race format also allows riders to see where their competition is, both in front of them and behind them as each racer gets to see every other racer out on the course.
There are three major climbs, Powerline, St. Kevins, and the 3,000 foot grunt up to the Columbine Mine with countless other small climbs in between. St. Kevins and Powerline come early and late in the race, with the 10-mile ascent to Columbine smack in the middle.
The course follows mostly dirt roads, allowing for two-way traffic as long as racers stay on the appropriate side of the road and keep their eyes up. The roads are no walks in the park and many of them, especially on the climbs and descents, are covered in the loose rocks that characterize high alpine riding in Colorado.
Flat tires are commonplace as the wide open roads lend themselves to high speed descending and lightweight tires take a beating over the sharp rocks.
The final miles of the course are a long, gradual uphill drag that keeps the town of Leadville and the finishing line in view. With a time cutoff of 12 hours, many racers find themselves racing up the straightaway in the final minutes of the race with the finish line in sight but still far away.