LEADVILLE, Colo. (VN) — Alban Lakata built everything upon smashing Levi Leipheimer’s course record at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. He succeeded, and in the process defended his crown from last year, overpowering Christoph Sauser by little more than a minute.
Temperatures were around freezing as the gun blasted at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning in this tiny Colorado mining town, nestled among the Rockies at 10,000 feet above sea level.
“It was very cold at the start. I had a lot of stuff on. Wind vest, wind jacket, shoe covers, arm warmers. Everything,” Lakata said.
“I went straight into the lead. I have a power meter on my bike, and I could really pace myself. I looked all the time at the split times, the course record. Because that was my goal.
“I was really lucky that I had two other strong competitors with me, like Christoph Sauser and Todd Wells. They helped a lot. Still, I wasn’t sure if I could beat them at the end. But I knew that Christoph Sauser was very well prepared. He looked strong, especially on Columbine. Last year he struggled there. This year, he was up with me. And what I said: The important thing is to look at your power and to pace yourself right, no going into the red zone.”
Lakata used a different nutrition plan this year, like his Topeak-Ergon teammate Sally Bigham, who also broke the women’s course record. The riders tried to eat more solid food, rather than rely only on gels and drink mixes, as is par for the course in shorter races.
“Bananas, bars. Not so much gels. Last year, my stomach was really bad at the end. This worked out really well. I drank a bit more water to absorb it,” Lakata said.
He kept his foot on the gas and worked with Specialized riders Sauser and Wells in the headwind on the long flat sections headed back toward Leadville.
“I knew that it’s important to have at least two or three other riders coming with you to break the course record,” he said. “On the way back, there was headwind. It was not so bad, but still it’s better to circle a little bit in a smaller group of riders to save your energy for the last bit, because the Powerline climb is very tough. It can take everything out of your body.”
It was on the infamous Powerline that Lakata made his move, dropping Sauser, the remaining threat.
“I did it the same as last year. I went first into the climb, I went into it at my speed, let’s say 100 percent of threshold. It was enough to get a gap again on Sauser. … I tried to keep that gap like last year into the finish, but this year the gap wasn’t very big. It was just 20, 15 seconds sometimes. Maximum it was a half-minute.”
Sauser chased furiously, but Lakata held enough advantage to keep him in the wind, working just as hard as the leader. Being chased by the world champion is “not a really nice feeling,” said Lakata. “But I knew I could push to the finish line. I gave everything that I could.”
When he crossed the red carpet and the finish line into downtown Leadville, the relief hit him. He’d broken the record by more than 10 minutes, crossing in six hours, four minutes and one second.
“I was really happy. Goose bumps. Pressure off me. Because I told every media last year already that I would break the record,” Lakata said. “Because I knew, because last year we made a wrong turn, [costing] about 6.5 minutes. If we took that off, it would have already been the course record.”
He credited preparation, and adaptation to altitude.
“This year, I adapted quickly. I think the body learns from this. The body gets used to altitude. But still, you have to pace yourself different in this kind of race,” he said.
“I was really well prepared. Not as well as Specialized, maybe. They did some wind-tunnel testing and whatever. But I stick to my plans from last year, and put some more effort into getting the timing right, getting the nutrition right. And feeling good and getting more sleep the day before … maybe sometime we can go sub-six hours.”