Leadville Preview: Breaking the Six-Hour Barrier
For the first 13 years of the Leadville 100, the men’s winning time drifted between 7 and 8 hours. Only once did a rider come truly close to breaking the 7-hour mark. That was in 2004, the race’s 11th running, when Dave Wiens carded what at the time was an…
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For the first 13 years of the Leadville 100, the men’s winning time drifted between 7 and 8 hours. Only once did a rider come truly close to breaking the 7-hour mark.
That was in 2004, the race’s 11th running, when Dave Wiens carded what at the time was an eye-popping 7:05:51 winning time. It was nearly two minutes faster than his winning mark from the prior year, and almost five minutes faster than anyone else had ever gone on the 100-mile, out-and-back course. You figured it was only a matter of time before the 7-hour wall came crumbling down.
But two more years came and went without a breakthrough, though it was Wiens winning again both years, bringing his career total to four.
Finally in 2007, when de-frocked Tour de France champion Floyd Landis showed up in America’s highest incorporated city, things changed. With course conditions fast, and an epic mano-a-mano battle unfolding, Wiens finally broke the barrier, slipping across the line in 6:58:46, two minutes ahead of Landis.
Oh how things have changed. Just four years later, what once seemed nearly impossible has become almost pedestrian. In the three years since Wiens’ historic ride, the 7-hour mark has been eclipsed 11 times, including twice by Lance Armstrong, three more times by Wiens, and once by defending champion Levi Leipheimer, who smashed the course record in 2011, stopping the clock in 6:16:37. That’s more than an hour quicker than Wiens’ winning mark in 2005.
So now the obvious question: Can someone go under six?
“A few years ago I probably would have answered differently, but now I’d have to say yes,” said Wiens, who owns six Leadville titles, but has opted to sit out this year. “It will take a really special race, with a strong group at the front and perfect course conditions. Then it could happen.”
Wiens points to 2010, when seven riders came in under seven hours, as an example of how the six-hour mark could fall.
“Last year the course was about as fast as it gets,” said Wiens, who finished fourth with a career best time of 6:33:54. “It rained some leading up to the race, so traction was good. And then you had tons of people pre-riding and packing the course down, so there was basically a ribbon of organic pavement. There was also a decent tailwind on the way back that helped.”
To get under six, Wiens guesses you’ll need a replay of the 2010 conditions combined with a strong front group that stays together deep into the race, or works hard for one rider.
“It will have to be an orchestrated effort at the front to deliver someone deep into course,” added Wiens. “Last year, it was just two guys working together after (the halfway point at the top of) Columbine. But what if instead of two it was five or six guys? That’s what it will take. I did 6:33 at age 45 and was alone for a lot of that time, so certainly a fast pro with a working group could find 30 minutes out there.”
Whether this is that year remains to be seen. As of this writing, there were no Tour de France-level pros on the start list. Leipheimer’s opted to not defend his title, instead lining up at the on-going Tour of Utah. Armstrong has since re-retired, and said he had no ambitions of coming back to Leadville any time soon.
But the 2011 field does have more top mountain bike pros that in years past. Last year’s third place finisher Todd Wells (Specialized) is back. So to is fifth-placed Jeremiah Bishop, who will be bolstered by three Cannondale teammates, Alex Grant, Tim Johnson and Tinker Juarez. Other potential big hitters on the preliminary start list include reigning world marathon XC champ Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon), two-time Olympic medalist Bart Brentjens, longtime Team Giant rider Carl Decker, and two-time Leadville winner Bryson Perry.
“I think its possible,” said Wells, who spent much of his Leadville lead-up training at altitude in Silverton, Colorado. “It seems like every year it gets faster. If you have teams driving it, that’s how it will happen.”
Bishop concurs, adding that a little prize money would serve as extra incentive.
“If there was a big prize purse, you’d have major teams racing here, instead of just individuals,” said Bishop, alluding to the fact that right now pride is the only thing on the line. “I think it is time for something like that. It’s obvious the event is making money, so there’s no reason they couldn’t provide at least some token prize money as motivation. It would make it a bigger, more prestigious event.”