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How to succeed in the Leadville Qualifying Series: Barn Burner 104

Know what you're up against in the Barn Burner before you race so you can pick the right equipment and prepare for the course

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Every year, thousands of entries get sent into the lottery to race the historic Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. Every year, a percentage of those people win the lottery and line up at the most famous 100 mile race in the country.

Now, with the creation of the Leadville Qualifying Series, a set of six races spread across the country, racers get a chance to qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 based on performance within their age category or by winning a smaller lottery within the race.

Each of the qualifying races are awarded between 70 and 100 Leadville Trail 100 entries and dole them out based on certain criteria. Half of the slots are awarded to the top finishers in each of the age categories, with more spots being awarded to the larger groups, and the remaining 50% of the slots are awarded based on a lottery to anyone who finishes the race within a certain time. This selection process increases a rider’s chance to enter the Leadville Trail 100, and the more qualifying races one enters, the better the chances.

Since the courses are similar to the Leadville race, the events provide a great training opportunity as well. Each qualifying race definitely stands on its own, as well, offering unique terrain and endurance races that appeal to a number of styles.

The Barn Burner 104 put on by Red Rock Co. and presented by Landis Cyclery is the second event of the qualifying series. Held on June 2 in Flagstaff, Arizona, the 104 mile course was chosen for its similarity to the Leadville Trail 100 course by being at a relatively high altitude of 7,000 feet and consisting of mostly fire roads. With the course being relatively non-technical, with some going as far to call it a ‘roadie’s course,’ it’s an ideal race for someone’s first 100 miler.

Course and Race

Consisting of four laps on a 26 mile course in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests just north of Flagstaff, the Barn Burner is an event set up for far more than just individuals trying to qualify for the Leadville Trail 100. In addition to the Cowboy (solo) categories, there are separate categories for Loners who choose to pedal the entire course on singlespeeds, Pardner (duo), Posse (4-person), or Stagecoach (tandem) categories for those not wanting to ride the whole distance alone.

With a designated camping area on private land at the start/finish, the event has a festive atmosphere complete with Bigfoot BBQ and free beer provided by Four Peaks. Rich Maines, an Arizona native who has participated in the event multiple years says, “With it’s festival-like atmosphere situated on a private ranch, surrounded by the beauty of the forest, it’s the perfect blend of family-oriented fun with the usual shenanigans of a mountain bike race.”

The race begins with a traditional Le Mans start before heading counterclockwise around the circuit. There are two significant climbs on the course with the first one starting at Mile 12. It’s fairly gradual and gains approximately 500 feet in just under two miles. This is followed by a fast downhill with a sharp turn at the bottom that has claimed its fair share of victims. The second climb is a bit more serious, gaining 800 feet in a little over three miles.

The rest of the course is littered with short, punchy climbs to keep riders honest. Aside from these sections, the loop is mostly fast-rolling double track and fireroads with a little bit of singletrack thrown in for good measure.

Equipment choices

With a course consisting almost entirely of fire roads with only a handful of sections of singletrack, most riders will be seen on hardtails with 29 inch wheels. Full-suspension would be excessive on this course.

Because the majority of the course is fairly smooth without any excessively steep climbing, there is always the temptation to ride a cyclocross bike to save a little bit on weight and reduce the rolling resistance with narrower tires, but some of the rocky sections act as a deterrent.

Even with the mellow profile and smooth roads, the course has a history of causing flat tires, mostly through sidewall tears, so those choosing to run ultra lightweight tires are definitely running a risk. An ideal compromise would be a tire along the lines of the 1.9 Kenda Karma or a 2.1 Maxxis Crossmark, both of which are fast-rolling and lightweight but will hold up clattering over some rocks.

Riding a bike without front suspension would also be an option for this course to save a little weight, but due to the length of the race and the fatigue caused by the rockier sections, Maines says that “There are enough bumps over 104 miles to merit front suspension for most folks.”

Flagstaff Riding

The Barn Burner is located approximately a 40 minute drive north of Flagstaff, which happens to be home to some of the best trails in the state of Arizona. The Arizona Trail, which stretches from the southern to northern borders of the state passes directly through the town. Because of the high elevation that Flagstaff is located at, there exists a perfect microclimate for mountain biking not seen in other parts of the state. South of town, the trail traverses rolling terrain through ponderosa pine forests and north of town, the trail goes along the east rim of McMillan Mesa with spectacular views. From there, it heads north through Buffalo Park before continuing on to the Grand Canyon.

Situated high enough to escape the worst of the Arizona summer heat, riding in Flagstaff is possible throughout the hot summer months and much of the spring and fall. When the snow does fly on the higher trails, Flagstaff residents head an hour south to Sedona for their winter riding fix. Many mountain bikers have chosen to make their home in Flagstaff because of the riding and a cycling community committed to building and maintaining trails.

Be sure to check Singletrack for more of Eszter’s recommendations for How to succeed in the Leadville Qualifying Series


Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO.  She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past.  She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.