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How a schedule headache helped the Leadville 100 and SBT GRVL launch “LeadBoat”

When the Leadville 100 MTB and SBT GRVL races were scheduled on back-to-back days, organizers decided to create a new endurance event called the LeadBoat Challenge.

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What was initially an “Oh no” moment for organizers of the SBT GRVL and Leadville Trail 100 MTB races quickly turned into an “Aha” one. Now, the gravel and mountain-bike communities have a new endurance challenge to target in 2020.

On Thursday, SBT GRVL and Leadville 100 owner Life Time revealed the LeadBoat Challenge, an event comprised of completing the 2020 Leadville Trail 100 MTB and then the SBT GRVL’s 144-mile “Black” course the next day.

The invite-only challenge was birthed earlier this year when SBT GRVL organizers learned that the 2020 Leadville 100 had been moved back a week from its 2019 date to fall the day before their 2020 race. SBT GRVL organizers initially worried that the schedule might force riders to choose one race or the other.

“Our first reaction was to see if we could move the date, which is a pretty big ask,” said Amy Charity, one of the co-owners of SBT GRVL. “We quickly learned the answer was ‘no’ for either event.”

Rather than stress over the scheduling conflict, teams from both races organized a conference call to brainstorm ways to collaborate. According to Charity, it was Kimo Seymour, Life Time’s senior vice president for events and media, who proposed the idea of combining the two events into a single challenge.

Both teams jumped at the idea.

“It was cool to collaborate with a totally different company,” Charity said. “I think it shows the attitude of the gravel and mountain biking communities that we wanted to find a solution.”

The question then became: Would riders actually want to complete the two races in consecutive days? Steamboat Springs is just a two-hour drive from Leadville. But completing both races would require riders to manage gear, nutrition, and their physical strength.

“Is it even possible to do both?” Charity said. “Could you even finish Leadville, get in your car, and be at the start in Steamboat Springs at 6 a.m. — it’s not even the same bike.”

According to Charity, about 20 people competed in the 106-mile mountain bike race and 144-mile gravel race in 2019 (including the author of this story) when the races were separated by one week. Charity called one of those riders, Liv-Cycling rider Kaysee Armstrong, to gauge her interest in completing the two in successive days. Armstrong’s enthusiasm helped convince Charity that the idea would work.

“I was like, ‘I have this crazy proposal for you, to race both Leadville and SBT GRVL back-to-back,’ and she was like ‘Yeah, sounds great!'” Charity said. “I was like, ‘You’ll have 12 hours to recover,’ and she’s like ‘Yes, I get it. Sign me up.'”

For the first year, organizers have decided to make the LeadBoat Challenge an invite-only affair for 50 total riders. Organizers reached out to 12 veteran gravel and endurance mountain bike racers (six men and six women), and will give the remaining 38 spots to riders who apply to complete the challenge.

“We believe that this is an incredible opportunity to offer to a few hearty, passionate souls,” Seymour said in a release.

The period to apply for the LeadBoat Challenge opens this coming Monday, November 18, and hopeful applicants will need to answer a questionnaire. The form asks riders to list their motivation for competing, proudest accomplishments, past experiences, and opinions on parity in cycling. Organizers will split the 50 spots equally between men and women.

Charity said the equal gender representation was an idea that organizers from both races felt strongly about.

“We all feel strongly that we want women to know they’re invited, they’re included,” she said. “We want them on the start line. We’re confident we’ll have a lot of men, as well, but we want equal representation. From my racing background, it’s really good when you get 30 percent women at a race, but we want to change that.”

The initial group of invited riders includes a smattering of gravel and mountain bike riders, such as Peter Stetina, Amity Rockwell, Laurens ten Dam, Payson McElveen, and Alison Tetrick, among others.

Tetrick, winner of the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200, said the 2020 Leadville 100 MTB will be her first mountain-bike race.

“I thought, sure why not, it will be a challenge, that’s for sure and a bit daunting, but that feeling of the anxious unknown and a huge physical accomplishment was intoxicating,” Tetrick said.

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