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10 riders to watch at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race

From national champions to WorldTour pros to veteran Leadville podium finishers, the 2021 race is stacked with contenders.

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On Saturday, 1,600 riders will battle the thin air, lung-busting climbs, and fierce competition of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Now back for its 27th edition, the legendary cross-country race boasts a more competitive field than ever.

From road pros to XC stalwarts to gravel privateers, riders of all stripes are eager to return to Leadville’s oxygen-deprived start line. The addition of LeadBoat this year has dangled an extra carrot: victory at both Leadville and the 144-mile SBT GRVL race the following day.

If 2021 is the year that records are broken, the times will need to be very fast. Both men’s and women’s course records were set in 2015 —  with Austrian Alban Lakata going sub-six hours (5:58:35) for the men, and Annika Langvad narrowly escaping seven (6:59:24).

Here are just a few of the many riders who could factor into the pointy end of the race.

Women

Rose GrantGrant is the reigning champ of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Her 2019 was chock full of other solid results, including her fifth marathon mountain bike national championship title, and second place at the Epic Rides series overall. This year, she put in a solid effort at U.S. MTB nationals for a 3rd place finish.

Savilia BlunkBlunk is one of XC MTB’s up-and-coming stars. The 22-year-old has had a banner 2021, making a sweep of the U23 Pan Am XC MTB title, as well as the U23 U.S. national championships. At nationals, she also claimed the elite short track title. Blunk trains hard and high with some of the world’s best in Durango, Colorado.

Sarah Sturm Another one from the mountain bike haven of Durango, Sturm had a strong second-place finish at Leadville in 2019, and although she’s one of the crazy ones racing LeadBoat, the 31-year-old has all eyes on the mountain bike race. Earlier this summer, Sturm won the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder and is just off a strong second place finish at Iceland’s Rift.

Katerina NashIf you’ve been following domestic bike racing in 2021, you know this: Nash is back. Not that the former Olympian was ever gone, but the 43-year-old has come storming into 2021 following a collarbone injury in early March. In late July, she won the Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego and took second at the high-alpine Telluride 100 nearly one month ago.

Kaysee ArmstrongAfter an unlucky crash that took her out of contention at Unbound Gravel, the two-time winner of Rebecca’s Private Idaho and TransAndes Stage Race is back in action. The Liv Factory Racing rider has been training at altitude; watch out for her in both Leadville and Steamboat.

Other riders to watch: Moriah Wilson, Hannah Finchamp, Kristen Legan, Andrea Dvorak

Men

Keegan Swenson – The 2021 U.S. national champ is in flying form this season. After he missed the Olympic bid, Swenson switched gears to focus on long endurance events like Leadville and the Telluride 100, which he won three weeks ago. Expect a showdown between Swenson and his longtime friend and rival Durango legend Howard Grotts.

 

Howard GrottsAlthough Grotts stepped away from full-time racing in 2019, the three-time and reigning Leadville champ knows the course like the back of his hand. An Olympian and multi-time U.S. national champ, Grotts was fourth at this year’s MTB nationals.

Pete StetinaThe gravel privateer is on a tear this year, collecting wins at major races like Belgian Waffle Ride and the Crusher in the Tushar. Although he wasn’t at MTB nationals like many of his Leadville competitors, Colorado-bred Stetina has singletrack in his DNA. In 2019, he narrowly missing the Leadville podium for 4th.

Russell FinsterwaldLike many XC MTB’ers Finsterwald is dabbling in the gravel. After an exceptional 3rd place ride at this year’s Belgian Waffle, Finsty will be back to his roots in long-distance mountain biking at Leadville. The 2019 marathon mountain bike national champion excels at distance and vert; he, Swenson, and Grotts should make an exciting-to-watch trio.

Lachlan MortonThis weekend will be the denouement of Morton’s alt-TdF experiment. If his hands and feet have healed, the miles in Morton’s legs might just buzz him to a first-place finish. In  2019 at Leadville – and that was sans an epic bikepack to Paris – the Aussie climbed to third.

Other riders to watch: Payson McElveen, Alexey Vermeulen, Alex Howes, Laurens ten Dam