LEADVILLE, Colo. (VN) — Maybe she’d have won last year, without that wrong turn. It’s one of those unanswerable questions now, the truth buried somewhere under miles of Colorado dirt roads.
But thankfully, Sally Bigham (Topeak-Ergon) doesn’t have to wonder what could have been any more. She thrashed the Leadville course and her competitors on Saturday in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB’s 20th edition, taking the course record from the woman who beat her last year, Specialized’s Rebecca Rusch, by more than 10 minutes. She finished in 7:17:01.
“This year, I knew that I could have been at least five minutes faster. But after being sent off course last year, it really stressed me out,” she said.
“I stopped drinking and got stressed and panicked trying to make the time back up. By making that mistake — on this course you can’t stop eating and drinking. It’s disaster. Last year wasn’t good for me because of that.
“This year in my head I knew I could go at least 10 minutes faster. On my course profile, I marked the split times of where I wanted to be at what time … I wanted to be 10 minutes faster than last year, which would have broken the course record. But in fact I was quite a lot faster than last year. I was ahead of schedule at all of the splits, so I knew everything was going well.”
That’s not to say Saturday was without problems. The altitude affects Bigham strongly. If she tries to do intervals here in training, she gets nosebleeds; on the Columbine climb, up to 12,500 feet, she got blurred vision.
“On the descent, I couldn’t see properly, which is not so good when you’ve got riders coming up toward you. And I had a really bad rock strike. And punctured the tire, but because I was running tubeless, I still had some air in, but maybe only 12-15 PSI. I had to ride with the tire a little bit flat. And for some reason — I think in this race you don’t think straight sometimes — I didn’t actually bum the wheel until Carter Summit … which was when I finally bummed the wheel. I put some air in.”
She didn’t think to stop because she was a bit off mentally, and didn’t know how many people were behind her.
“In hindsight I did have some time, and I should have dealt with it a little bit sooner. But I think in a race like this you don’t think quite straight,” she said.
With about an hour left in the race, she had more than three minutes on Alison Powers (Herbalife24-NOW) but never felt like she could sit up.
“I was riding pretty hard, because I was worried she might be in a group of riders coming from behind. It wasn’t until the long straight into town when I looked over my shoulder and saw nobody coming,” Bigham said.
And though she won big, it’s a race that has its particular challenges for her.
“I think the two things that make it really difficult are firstly the altitude for me … it’s crazy to deal with. To see the physiological effect on my body. I train with power, and to come here and see how low the power is and how high the heart rate is — it’s really disconcerting,” she said.
“I’ve been here for two weeks. Whenever I try to do intervals, to ride at threshold, I get nosebleeds. It’s really crazy. So for the last two weeks, my training’s been endurance-based. I’ve not been able to do any intensity at all.”
But she could on Saturday, and that’s when it mattered.