TELLURIDE, Colo. (VN) — The hardest of hard mountain bike races is this weekend, and it boasts a deep field and the threat of thunderstorms above timberline. It must be time for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
The 100-mile odyssey, made infamous by its legions of racers and fans, and further elevated by names like Dave Wiens, Lance Armstrong, and Levi Leipheimer, takes place on Saturday in the small Colorado town of Leadville, once a bustling mining town, now known in the cycling sphere for its brutal 103-mile slog in the thin Colorado air, with nearly 13,000 feet of elevation gain.
Past champions will line up in the silvery pre-dawn with some 1,800 other racers, but will be part of the race at the front, very different than the race in the middle or back of the dense field.
Reigning men’s champion Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon) will come to defend his crown, according to race director Josh Colley. The indomitable Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) will also kit up.
“We’ve got Rebecca Rush back to try to complete a five-peat,” Colley said. “She’s won five years in a row and she’s the current women’s course record holder. [Specialized’s] Todd Wells is also back.”
Durango, Colorado-based Wells won Leadville in 2011, the same year he won the grueling Costa Rican stage race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores. His teammate, Christoph Sauser, a UCI World Cup champion in cross-country in 2004 and 2005, and four-time Absa Cape Epic winner, will also start.
But all eyes will be on defending champion Lakata. The Austrian flatted in 2011, the year Wells won, and was victorious last year, besting Sauser by a bit more than two minutes. This year, “the Albanator” is the man to beat.
“The pro field is strong as always,” Colley told VeloNews.
One man missing from the field will be eight-time winner Dave Wiens, who said after his win in the Tahoe Trail 100 in July that he would not line up on Saturday.
“I am not racing in the Leadville Trail 100 this year,” Wiens said in an interview published on July 25 on the race’s website. “I have had eight amazing days there and I’m very satisfied just being there and supporting the Topeak-Ergon Racing Team as well as everyone who is out there.”
On the women’s side, Sally Bigham is hoping to take advantage of that Topeak support when she challenges Rusch in a rematch from last year. Rusch won by about six minutes in 2012, the same year Bigham led the UCI marathon points standings and won the Craft Bike Transalp.
The race begins at 6:30 a.m. MDT on Saturday. The temperatures are expected to be relatively cool, with a high of 62 F, and a 40-percent chance of thunderstorms.