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Mountain Gear

How to succeed in the Leadville Qualifying Series: Wilmington Whiteface 100

If you've got Leadville qualification on the mind, consider Eszter Horanyi's gear recommendations and trail analysis before you line up

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The first thing you’ll notice when looking at the event page for the Wilmington Whiteface 100 is that all distances are in kilometers and meters instead of miles and feet. This appears to be an oddity in a country where 99.9% of race distances and elevations are reported in English units, but being part of the 0.1% is what makes the Wilmington Whiteface a unique event.

Located in the Adirondack Mountains of Wilmington, NY., the venue is closer to the Canadian border than any major metropolitan center in the State.

Without any background knowledge of the venue, it may appear to be a fairly off the grid spot for a Leadville Qualifying Series race, but when combined with the Wilmington Whiteface Bike Fest, the race will be a high quality qualifier, and the only one held on the east coast. The 100 km race, which is actually 69 miles, is held on Sunday, June 17 as one of many bike events part of the festival.

Last year’s race saw 180 racers and this year race organizers are expecting to double that. With between 70 and 100 Leadville slots available to top finishers and through a lottery, race promoters expect to draw a field from up and down the east coast and even from Canada.

As home to the 1980’s Winter Olympics’ downhill ski competitions, Whiteface Mountain is not lacking in vertical gain and puts the biggest vertical drop east of the Rockies to good use with a series of bike races.

In addition to the 100k qualifier race, which ends with a 2,500 foot climb up Whiteface Mountain, the weekend also features a Pro GRT downhill race, and uphill race, dual slalom, and a Jump Jam and Trials competition.

Check out who’s qualified so far >>

Course description

Like the Leadville Trail 100, the WW100 features mostly dirt roads with about seven miles of singletrack thrown in to keep riders honest. And like Leadville, there is a significant amount of climbing on the out and back course.

After starting at Whiteface Mountain, the course loses a slight amount of elevation before starting on the first climb of the day up Jay Mountain, a 600 foot elevation gain about 6 miles into the course.

After a descent off the other side, racers are faced with the first major climb 12 miles into the race, a 2,500 foot slog up Saddleback Mountain.

After descending the other side, racers are faced with a series of rolling hills before turning around and getting the chance to climb back up all the elevation they just descended. As if climbing the backside of Saddleback and Jay Mountain weren’t challenging enough, the race ends with a 2,500 foot climb up the service roads of Whiteface Mountain before dropping back down to the base. When all is said and done, the course climbs over 10,000 feet in a mere 69 miles.

In its first year in existence in 2011, the course could have been described as a “road race on mountain bikes” but the addition to four more miles of singletrack than last year’s route, organizers have added more technical elements to the course.

Equipment recommendations

In sharp contrast to the Barn Burner 104, the previous stop in the Leadville Qualifying Series, the WW100 has an absurd amount of climbing. Because of this, bike weight can become a significant concern. A lightweight frame with 26-inch wheels is the lightest option, but since the course is also held almost entirely on dirt and paved roads, 29-inch wheels will help keep the momentum rolling in the absence of twisty singletrack or frequent short and steep climbs requiring constant accelerations and decelerations.

According to race organizers, this is not a race for ‘cross bikes or ultra-lightweight tires. With as much climbing as the course serves up, it’s a delicate balancing act between light tires and durable ones. A narrower tire, such as a Kenda Karma 1.9 or a Bontrager 29-1 or 29-0 (or their 26-inch equivalents) could perform well on the hardpacked dirt roads and pavement while minimizing tire weight.

Due to the nature of the course with long, steady climbs, the race will favor those who can put out a steady amount of power for an extended period of time and then recover on the long descents rather than someone good at high bursts of power for short periods. The course also has plenty of miles of fast dirt roads making it not purely a climber’s course.

Extracurricular activities

While some bike races consist of packet pickup, the race, the awards, followed by everyone clearing out of the area, the Wilmington Whiteface Bike Fest serves up a weekend of family friendly bike themed entertainment that Jon Lundin, the event’s press coordinator describes as a “party on two wheels.”

The fun starts with a beginners’ mountain clinic on Thursday afternoon. Friday brings a trials demonstration followed by live music while Saturday has a costumed “Brainless not Chainless Downhill Race,” an uphill mountain bike race, and a dual slalom race.

With over a 3,000 foot vertical drop from the top of Whiteface Mountain, New York’s fifth highest peak, the area has embraced mountain bikers of all abilities and disciplines.

They have built a world class downhill park on Whiteface Mountain with nearly a 2,500 vertical drop on intermediate and advanced trails directly from the lift. A shuttle can deliver riders from the top of the lift to mellower trails as well. In addition to the downhill park, there are a series of cross country trails in the area. The Flume and Hardy trails tend to be the crowd favorites.

After a weekend of riding bikes, there’s one more activity not to miss in the nearby Lake Placid. Most winter Olympic sports are held on courses inaccessible to the general public, but Lake Placid has opened the 1980 Olympic bobsled course for summer runs by the public. Much of the historic Olympic facility is open for tours in the summer and the recreational options, bike related or not, are seemingly endless in the area.

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.

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