Success at this Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 MTB race high in the Colorado Rockies will require a mix of good legs and good luck. The famed high altitude 104-mile out-and-back XC race will also feature a fascinating cast of characters at the sharp end of the 1,500-rider field, with former winners Howard Grotts and Todd Wells (both very much mountain bikers) facing off against a host of current and former WorldTour pros such as Peter Stetina, Ted King, Alex Howes, and Lachlan Morton. VeloNews caught up with several of these potential podium contenders leading into the weekend to find out what gear they’ll be running, how they think the race will be won, and more.
VN: What bike and gearing are you riding?
Todd Wells: I’ll be on a Scott Spark RC with 100mm travel front and rear. I thought about a hardtail, but I feel like I’m more efficient on the full suspension and it’s only a pound and a half heavier and I can lock it out whenever I need to. For gearing I’ll be on SRAM Eagle with a 36t chainring.
Alex Howes: I’ll be on a Cannondale Scalpel with the Lefty Ocho fork, 100mm travel front and rear. I have a 34t chainring on it right now, but I may go up to a 36t. It’s a tough call. Last time I did the race I was right on the edge of not making it back up the Powerline climb.
Peter Stetina: Trek Procaliber hardtail with a 100mm fork and SRAM Eagle with a 36t chainring. It’s crazy light, around 18 pounds.
Ted King: I’ll be on a Cannondale FS-I High Mod. It’s a fast and efficient hardtail with the new Lefty Ocho 100mm fork. It’s foolish how light it is. For gearing I’m running a 34t chainring with SRAM Eagle.
VN: Any other Leadville specific equipment choices?
Wells: I’ve used aero bars in the past, but that’s when I was more serious. But I always use road pedals and shoes because they have better power transfer. There are really only two places where you might have to walk — the top of Columbine and the bottom of Powerline — but the leaders usually ride it all. Hopefully that’ll be the case for me.
King: My set-up is pretty much full stock, but I am going to have a bell for coming down Columbine where there’s two-way traffic. Last time I raced Leadville, I whistled if someone was drifting into the way, but that got a little tiring. The bell should be a better option.
Stetina: I’m going with Bontrager XR2 tires with a slightly burlier sidewall and I’ll have a dropper post. I figure I’m not worried about a few extra grams on the climbs, but I’ll need all the help I can get on the downhills since I don’t ride mountain bikes all the time.
Howes: I’m still sorting out tires. Right now I think I’m going to run a 2.25 Vittoria Mezcal in the front and a [more gravel oriented] Vittoria Terreno Dry in the rear. It’s probably a risky move, but it’ll definitely roll fast. And I still may change my mind, we’ll see. I’ll probably also wrap some tape on the inside of my bars so I can rest my arms and get aero on some of the flat sections.
VN: When will you know if you’re on a good day?
King: Based on my one race of prior experience, it’ll be how I feel going into Columbine. It’ll either be stay status quo and I’m firing on all cylinders or I’ll fall apart and limp home. It’s pretty straight forward.
Stetina: I’ve never done the race before, so it’s hard for me to say. I just know my advantage — if there is one — will be on the climbs. And I figure I need to start the descents with as much of an advantage as possible, because the true mountain bikers will probably be putting time into me. I mean we’re stepping into their world. There’s no follow car. You have to fix your own flats. I’ve been practicing with the Dynaplug. Hopefully I won’t need it.
Howes: It’s tough to say. The Columbine climb will obviously show a lot. But I’m really just excited to get on a new mountain bike. I just picked it up this week. I love riding and racing mountain bikes. I spend a lot of time riding dirt near where I live [in Nederland, Colorado]. So getting a new bike has made me all giddy. The race will be cool for sure. But I’m more just fired up to have a great excuse to get on the mountain bike and have some fun with my buddies.
Wells: Well there are basically four critical points in the race. It starts with the first big climb, which can be super fast and shed a lot of guys. Or maybe the front group goes easier and 10-15 people will get over that together. And if you make it over that, then you’ll probably make all the way to the base of Columbine, though it seems like usually a few people get dropped coming off the Powerline descent or on the rolling terrain after that.
But if you can make it to Columbine and then stay even within 10-20 seconds of the front, you can usually come back on the descent. There’s always a regrouping coming back down. Then that group stays together until the Powerline climb, and that’s where the race happens. Yeah, there’s a short road climb after that and cramping can be a factor. But basically if you get over the top of Powerline alone you’ll probably stay away to the finish. I’m not really worried about all that, though. I’ll be happy to finish and not ride alone all day. If I can make it to Columbine with the front group, that’ll be a success.
As for the road guys, it’ll be tough for them. I mean Joe Dombrowski came in 2016 and he’s an amazing climber. But after the race he told me that the cadence in this race was so much slower than what he’s used to, and he felt like that hurt him. The guys who do well at Leadville are the ones who don’t slow down all day. They never lose power. That’s the key to this race.