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10 women to watch at the Leadville Trail 100

Life Time Grand Prix athletes make up the majority of the pro start line, with Sarah Sturm, Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Crystal Anthony, and Rose Grant as some of the favorites

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The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race returns on Saturday with an ever-deepening field and the same relentless 13,000 thousand of feet of climbing.

This year, the 105-mile race is the fourth event in the Life Time Grand Prix series, and has thus brought even more riders to the start line.

Most of the pro women’s field at Leadville this year is also competing in the series, where the gap is quickly narrowing between top three riders Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Haley Smith, and Sarah Sturm.

It will be Gomez Villafañe and Smith’s first time racing in Cloud City, but Sturm has two podium finishes there already. Will she oust two-time defending champ Rose Grant for the top step?

Victory at Leadville is never predictable, but incredible racing is always a guarantee. Here are ten women to watch, and as always, one to remember. Moriah Wilson was second at Leadville last year, and in memoriam, we think of her every time we make a ‘women to watch’ list.

Crystal Anthony (12th, LTGP) — Anthony has been putting in a ton of training for this race, and it would be incredible to see her efforts pay off. After a solid fifth place at Crusher in the Tushar, the 42-year-old headed to Colorado for some high altitude acclimatization. She’s been putting in mega miles and vert in the mountains and recently finished first in the Leadville Stage Race, a good preview of things to come on Saturday.

Sofia Gomez Villafañe (first, LTGP) — Not much to say about this one because the proof is in the pudding. Gomez Villafañe is a force to be reckoned with in the endurance off-road scene, and her wins at Rule of Three, Unbound, and the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder prove it. Oh, and she (and Haley Batten) also won that race called the Cape Epic. This will be the former XCO pro’s first time at Leadville, but living in the Utah Rockies should have her acclimated to the altitude. Only two points separate Gomez Villafañe and Haley Smith in the Grand Prix, and this woman is COMPETITIVE.

Haley Smith (second, LTGP) — After a breakout ride at Crusher in the Tushar, Smith is now on the radar. The Canadian MTB pro is one of the busiest athletes in the Grand Prix, still dipping into the World Cup scene when she can. However, she’s shown that she has the legs and lungs for endurance racing, and it will be interesting to see how she does at altitude. A good result — and perhaps a bad day for Gomez Villafañe — could have Smith move to the top of the series standings.

Sarah Sturm — (third, LTGP) — There is only one step on the Leadville podium that Sturm hasn’t stood on, and it’s the top one. After second in 2019 and third last year, it would be sweet for Sturmy to complete the trifecta. And, it’s entirely possible — the 32-year-old from Durango is a specialist at this type of high-altitude, long effort racing. Although she might beg to differ, Sturm has had an incredible 2022 season, with stellar performances at Unbound and the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder after an early season of lingering illness.

Hannah Otto (10th, LTGP) — Otto is an experienced gravel and endurance mountain bike racer, and Leadville probably suits her more than any other race. However, along with Haley Smith, Otto is balancing a World Cup schedule with the Grand Prix this year, so the only question is whether her top end is enough for 100 miles. Her fitness certainly is.

Melissa Rollins (6th, LTGP) — Rollins was basically born into the Leadville Trail 100 — her mom and stepdad have a combined 40 finishes between them. 2022 will be Rollins’ sixth Leadville herself, and she’s hopeful for her best result yet. With sixth place finishes in both 2019 and 2021, Rollins has since gone semi-pro with Team Twenty24 and finished an impressive 5th at Unbound Gravel.

Rose Grant (seventh, LTGP) — Although Grant told me that she is not really enjoying the Grand Prix series (too much gravel), she is definitely looking forward to Leadville. The defending and two-time champ excels on the high-alpine course which she knows like the back of her hand.

Alexis Skarda (17th, LTGP) — Skarda will be an interesting one to watch at the race. So far in the series, third at Sea Otter has been her best result. Like many riders, she suffered from a mid-season bout of Covid. However, if her fitness is back the marathon national champ should do well at the mother of all marathon MTB races.

Kristen Legan (eighth, LTGP) — Legan is one of the only riders in the top ten of the series who doesn’t race fulltime as a pro. However, she’s one of the most solid all rounders in the bunch. Her 10th place finish at Unbound was especially impressive, and she recently took the second step at the Leadville Stage Race, a three-day event that gives riders helpful insight into the 100 miler.

Ruth Winder (23rd, LTGP) — Unlike in the men’s field, Ruth Winder is the lone WorldTour retiree in women’s series. While she retired last year to spend more time at home in Colorado, it wasn’t that she wanted to quit bike racing altogether; in fact, last winter she told me that Leadville — and more mountain bike racing in general — was on her bucket list. While Winder has seriously dialed back her training and dialed up her fun levels, fourth place at last month’s Crusher in the Tushar showed she can still turn it on — when she wants to.

*Erin Huck (wild card) — At five months post-partum, Huck says “seriously, my goal is to finish.” We know better.