Lance Armstrong's record-setting ride at the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race last year pushed the already-popular Colorado race into the stratosphere. On Aug. 14, Levi Leipheimer did his Team Radio Shack teammate one better, besting the 7-time Tour de France champ by a full 12 minutes by finishing the brutal 100-mile course in 6:16:37 and calling it "ridiculously hard."
The Leadville 100, which has been held every August since 1994 in the Rocky Mountain town of Leadville, is also known as "The Race Across the Sky," and the name fits. The race climbs a total of 14,000 vertical feet, and its lowest point is 9,200 feet, climbing up to a staggering 12,600 feet along Hope Pass.
The race features mostly amateur cyclists - only 15 pros were among the 1,320 who started. Somewhere behind Mr. Leipheimer, four of our very own locals completed the grueling race.
For 45-year-old Mill Valley resident Jeff Taylor, who has tackled Leadville three times now, experience only went so far.
"In my experience, assuming you've trained properly, how difficult the race is depends highly on the altitude, the weather, and your experience at this event," he said. "That said, at the end of the day, it's a brutal event under any circumstances. Almost everyone is humble before, during, and after…racers are very supportive of each other, as most of us are racing the clock, rather than each other."
Taylor covered the 100 miles in 9:21:34.9, but said he was a bit disappointed, as he felt he had a sub-nine hour ride in him. How does one prepare for such an epic event that Taylor describes as "brutal, beautiful, and exhilarating"?
"I approach training for Leadville by building up mileage in May, then training very hard in June and July. Since I'm a dad and have a job, I can't ride much above 15-18 hours a week max," Taylor said. In June and July I do two 4-6 hour long hard rides a week, with a recovery ride and a couple of shorter, more dedicated interval rides. I race a little leading in this summer to keep the mindset, but try and get most of the fitness through hard training."
Three other Mill Valley locals completed the 2010 Leadville Trail 100: Herb Bool (10:23:54.5), Will Vanderwerff (10:50:30.1), and Kerri Kazala (11:40:26.8).
Much of the training that these competitive mountain bikers do is actually on the road, and around here, that means a good amount of time riding through Sausalito, the major cycling thoroughfare connecting San Francisco, the Headlands, and all points North. What better place for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition to hold their first Cycle Fest, under their Share the Road program? The coalition partnered with the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce and the Sausalito Police Department, providing a "pit stop" along Bridgeway and giving away coffee, bagels, Clif bars and water to cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists who stopped. There was also the opportunity to enter a raffle and speak with coalition members and police officers about bicycle safety and rules of the road.
"It's been an extremely successful day, even with less than the usual numbers of cyclists out for a sunny Sunday," said Peggy Clark, the coalition's project and scheduling coordinator. "And a lot of people are stopping even though they didn't know we were going to be here. These [Cycle Fests] are going to get even more popular as they continue."
Cycle Fests are the evolution of coalition's bike path Checkpoints, which were not always the most popular with cyclists more interested in continuing on their rides. The Cycle Fests are completely voluntary stops, with more to gain than an earful of education.
"We all thought 'what would get a cyclist to stop in the middle of their ride?'" said Clark. "And we came up with: coffee and free stuff!"
When I arrived, Sergeant Veveiros of the Sausalito Police Department was standing on the sidewalk, excitedly waving and shouting for people to stop and enjoy the offerings. It turns out bicycle education and safety is a real priority for the enthusiastic Veveiros.
"The majority of cyclists we encounter here are law-abiding," he said. "Sometimes people don't realize that these cyclists are riding perfectly within their rights. But when we do have to stop them, our main goal is education, rather than issuing citations. We try to use the stopping of a few cyclists to hopefully reach many through word of mouth."
But a word to the wise: don't take this to mean the police in Sausalito, or any other Marin town, are soft on those who do break the rules of the road. Citations are issued on a regular basis, and the fines can often be upward of $300.