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U.S. national cross-country champion Todd Wells (Specialized) and British marathon champion Sally Bigham (Topeak-Ergon) were crowned winners of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race Saturday.
Though they came about their victories quite differently, both riders have won in Leadville before; Wells won in 2011, while Bigham was the 2013 winner and defending champion.
Wells won after a tight battle with defending champion Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon), and an extremely close, late chase by his Specialized teammate Christoph Sauser, who overcame a five-minute deficit to come within 18 seconds of catching Wells. The winning time on the day was 6:16:26. The all-time fastest Leadville performance belongs to Lakata, who went 6:04:01 last year.
Bigham led from start to finish, with a winning margin of 43 minutes over Jennifer Smith (Stans NoTubes). Her winning time was 7:23:57. The women’s record of 7:17:01 belongs to Bigham, who also posted that time last year.
Two women who might have been expected to challenge Bigham did not, for different reasons. Nina Baun (Stans NoTubes) finished third, 51 minutes behind Bigham.
Four-time Leadville winner Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) announced last week that her focus had been on launching her new book at the Leadville event, rather than on training for it.
“Given the dedication that writing a book took, my training has slipped,” Rusch wrote on her blog. “I know everyone wants me to come back and race this thing again to see if I can win it for a fifth time. I am curious about that, too, and there will be a time for that kind of intense performance based focus. However, this is not the year for that.”
U.S. national road champion Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare), who finished second to Bigham at Leadville last year, flatted twice, crashed once, and did not finish.
The race, known as the “The Race Across the Sky,” began at 6:30 a.m. with crisp, clear weather conditions, though moderate winds kept the overall speed down compared to previous editions.
At the bottom of the long, rutted Powerline descent, Wells was in the lead with Lakata, a two-time Leadville winner and the defending champion, as well as Czech rider Kristian Hynek (Topeak-Ergon). Sauser was about five minutes down, due to a flat tire.
Alban, Hynek, and Wells were first through the Pipeline aid station at mile 25; Bigham was the first woman to pass through.
After the mighty Columbine climb, which climbs to 12,500 feet and serves as the midway point at mile 50, Hynek held about a one-minute lead over Wells while Lakata fell back to Sauser’s chase group.
Bigham was the first woman off the Columbine climb.
On the way down Columbine, Hynek’s gap had opened up to four minutes over Wells, with Sauser another four minutes back.
At the Twin Lakes feed zone at mile 60, Hynek’s lead over Wells had dropped to one minute, with Sauser and Lakata another five minutes back.
Into the final climb of St. Kevin, at mile 90, Wells led Sauser by 1:45. The Swiss rider mounted a massive chase, but was unable to close the gap, finishing just 18 seconds down.
On the winner’s podium, Wells brought his six-month-old son Cooper. He later posted the photo on Instagram, writing, “So stoked to win the #lt100 today! Huge thanks to the whole #iamspecialized team for the amazing support and everyone else that supports me. Coop is really enjoying these podiums.”
Former Garmin-Sharp rider Dave Zabriskie entered Leadville for the first time, just a month after his participation in the Race Across America. Zabriskie, who told VeloNews he’d suffered a parasite after RAAM and had been “laid out pretty much for two weeks,” finished 37th, in 7:36.
Editor’s Note: VeloNews Tech Editor Caley Fretz finished a very impressive 22nd overall, in 7:19, after spending much of July on the road at the Tour de France.