I moved to Colorado because of Leadville – the actual town, not any of the ultra-endurance races that sometimes get shortened to the same name.
Usually Aspen or Telluride or Boulder take the cake in the ‘why I moved out west’ story, places more pretty than gritty. But I was 13, away from home with my friends from school on a Habitat for Humanity service trip, and I fell in love with the big, bulbous purple mountains stretched like a mural between the framing of the house that we were putting up.
Twenty-five years later, I have even lived in those ‘prettier’ places, but coming to Leadville (which is far less gritty than it used to be) still feels like a homecoming. I’m here to participate in Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, the endurance race that has become one of the biggest dates on the calendar for global endurance mountain bikers from across the globe.
I’m a first-time competitor, and what I know about the race has trickled down from the various friends who have competed in it, and the countless stories posted in magazines and online. My first impression of the race came Friday afternoon, when Leadville Race Series founders Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin made things official in a pre-race announcement: “To the first-timers, Welcome Home,” Chlouber boomed. “And to the veterans, Welcome Back.”
Even though this is my first Leadville Trail 100, I’ve been touring the gravel race circuit rather than the mountain bike scene this summer. You may have read some of my dispatches from the Dirty Kanza 200 back in June.
Let me tell you: the scene in downtown Leadville, at 6th street and Harrison – in the town they call “Cloud City” – feels extremely familiar. Many of the same riders, race promoters, and personalities from the gravel scene are also here, to cheer on their friends and race in the lung-busting thin air. It seems as though the traveling circus that now moves from gravel race to gravel race has embraced the Leadville Trail 100 as well.
I got another hug from Bobby Wintle (lucky me, my second this year!), the promoter of Oklahoma’s Land Run 100, when I caught him wandering around the race expo with his kids.
The professional roadies from EF Education First posed for another picture with me, and I told Lachlan Morton that I wanted to nail him down for an interview before he heads off to ride the Colorado Trail.
I met the brother-and-sister duo Roman and Florencia Urbina, who organize Costa Rica’s La Ruta de los Conquistadores stage race. I witnessed a sweet moment as they shook hands with brother and sister duo Payson and Lily McElveen after their recording of McElveen’s podcast The Adventure Stache in the Lake County High School gym.
Kristi Mohn from the Dirty Kanza organized another edition of the Women Ride the World panel here in Leadville. The gathering is where four-time Leadville winner and world champion Rebecca Rusch announced that she had been inducted into the International Mountain-bike Hall of Fame.
Spend enough time at the gravel and endurance mountain bike races, and this scene with its familiar personalities begins to feel like family. And here’s the best part: Every year this family becomes more and more mixed. Hardcore gravel riders and WorldTour pros from the Tour de France mingle with World Cup mountain bikers, entrepreneurial race promoters, and passionate weekend warriors like myself, who come from the 50 states and, by the latest count, 23 different countries.
Despite our different background or beliefs, everyone travels to everyone’s Airbnb or condominium here in Leadville, depending on who is hosting is potluck. If this is the home that bike racing is building, I’ll definitely be there to help hammer the nails.