Friday, August 31, 2012

Trek World 2013

So one of the benefits of being a bike dealer is trade show time.  It is like Christmas for those of us adults that drool over what the bike industry will set before us each year.   Every year, they up the ante.  Think about that.  This industry every year brings us improved product and new innovative designs.  Very seldom is it C&G (color & graphics) changes.  I have to hand it to those engineers and product development guys.   No coasting is allowed.  And we are not just talking about fixies here.

I could go on and on about why "model year' is not a good thing for our industry.  It was for a time, but that time has past and gone the way of Schwinn.  The model year idea, taken from the automobile industry, doesn't stand to leave our industry anytime soon.  So...let's focus on what we can control.  It's called PERMAGRIN when thinking about all the new 2013 product.   And since we sell predominately Trek product, Trek World is Christmas for us. 

Each year Trek World kicks off with an opening address from Trek President John Burke.   Each year he tells us this year their product is the best yet.  And every year I think, how the heck can he keep telling us this year after year.  Then we go down to the showroom floor and sure as your new bedroom furniture was made in China..he is right.  This favorite was the vastly improved 29er line.  While there was a considerable amount to talk about in new product coming our way, this was my favorite.   I won't bore you with the details, as there are plenty-o-blogs that can give you that scoop.  If you're into 29ers, it is worth you time to review what others are saying about this year's industry leading line up from Trek and Bontrager.

Now let's get down to my dream and why I like living it.  This year, Mr. Burke and company decided to spoil my business (and I stress business) partner Jay Thomas and myself by putting us up at the Mansion on the Hill in Madison.  If you ever get a chance to stay in Madison, I highly recommend booking a room here.  It is right off of the Capitol square and you won't find a better place to stay in Madison, hand down the best.

I'm not sure why we were put up there. I'm very grateful we were.   I suppose it was to keep us from continuing to complain about why we couldn't stay there.  It was fun to ask other dealers (bigger than us) where they were staying.  And then not so humbly offer up we were at the Mansion.  Squeaky wheel gets the grease fellas.  Take one from our playbook. is what I think is memorable about Trek world aside from the product, the cheese and of course the beer.(we were in Wisconsin mind you).  This year, the other residents of the Mansion included Jens Voight, Bo Jackson, Livestrong team riders and coach Axel Mercx, and the para-athlete Wounded Warriors world Triathlon champion.  And of course, the aforementioned two joe-bag-of donuts riders, Jay and myself.

The most notable of encounters with the other guests revolves around Jay and Bo Jackson.  So..this guy walks into a bar...really I am serious...this guy is Jay.  Sitting at the bar is Bo Jackson.   Jay walks in and says "Who are you?"  in which Bo promptly replies "I'm Bo Jackson".   Jay hesitates, raises an eyebrow and looks at him.  "Who?".   Bo looks up at him a tad confused, and says "Who the hell are you?"  Jay responds, "I'm Jay Thomas" with some sort of authority like Bo should know.   Jay lets this hang for a moment....and then cracks a big grin and says to Bo "Don't worry, I know who you are!" 

After that Bo and Jay hit it off like old buddies reconnected.  I sat and listened to a funny story Bo told about how he left his sister at KFC 7miles from home and made her walk home.  As you follow my blog, you realize I am a lot like Forest Gump.  I tend to find myself in places and with people I have not business being with.  It just makes me smile when I find myself in these places.  Life is like a box of chocolates.....

Well.. that is enough of my dream for today.   Next stop..who knows.  Stay tuned and I'm sure it will be something interesting.  Never a dull moment here in dreamland!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Leadville 2012 - Somewhere in the middle

So why does one go back for their 6th “Race Across The Sky”…. to get 10 of course.   That is how this addiction starts you know?  You do one race…and then before you know it the savvy promoters have you hooked on doing 10 to get your 1,000-mile buckle.  Now you may have seen the nice NFR style belt buckle (NFR stands for National Finals Rodeo for those of you with less humble beginnings) you get when finishing the Leadville Trail 100 under 12hrs.  However, the 1,000-mile buckle is nothing short of a WWF buckle.  One can only imagine the hush that would fall over the room when one would don this buckle on his belt and walk in with swagger. 

Ok, truth be told, I have no idea where I would wear this buckle, should I earn it…besides the rodeo of course.  But even then, I think the bull riders would sniff me out, toss me in a barrel with cut off overalls and suspenders and gym socks pulled up to my knees and see if I could make my way back to the grandstands alive.

So…beyond the buckle, lay the real reason I am drawn back each year.  It is the LT100 family reunion.  And with this reunion each year comes new goals, new achievements and the satisfaction, and sometimes regret, of goals obtained and goals unattained.  

Our crew before the start.  Steve had his THOR wings on!

I am often asked, “Who are you racing against this year?” inquiring of the big name riders who might be at the start line.  I honestly didn’t even know this year until I was at the start.  Turns out current World Marathon MTB Champ Christoph Sauser was on the line along with Hall of Famer Tinker Jaurez. 

Start line photos.  You can see Tinker just over my right shoulder

If you have read my previous posts, this race for me is a race against myself.  To better myself, to push through the pain cave and see where I end up on the other side of the finish line.  This year was neither my best nor my worst finish time.  It was somewhere in the middle. 

With 3,000 registered athletes and I believe around 1800 starters, there were all 50 states represented along with 38 countries at the start line.  The field has more than doubled since I started doing this event as well as diversified.  A comical example of this was a rider from the Dominican Republic with a facemask on at the start.  Why? Because 40 degrees is the dead of winter where he comes from. :-)

Overall, the race was fairly standard for me.  I had been nursing a low back injury going into the event that I was hoping would stay dormant.  As it turns out, it decided to flare up on the Columbine climb and I had to shut it down and lightly spin the pedals to the top.  I knew I had lost about 20 minutes on that climb so I decided the best way to make some of it up was to hang it out on the descents.  Outside of passing a four wheeler on a two way traffic descent at high speed threading the needle between it and the line of racers climbing up…I managed to escape coming close to any serious accidents and was able to pass quite a few folks coming down. 

As I headed back from Twin Lakes to the Power line climb, the winds and really picked up gusting 30-40mph.  I could tell I was well off pace of a PR and my back was still seized.  I looked over my shoulder and saw a female rider form Topeak “Sonya” who was hung out without any other riders to pull into the wind with.  Knowing my PR was lost, I decided to let up until she bridged up to me and then pulled her in the wind across to the climb of Sugar Loaf.  She was grateful and it reminded me how different MTB racing is compared to road.  We are all out there cheering and pulling for one another.  I enjoyed seeing her finish so well at the end of the day.

Knowing PR was lost; I decided to re-adjust my goals.  My IT band was on fire and the thought of pushing my bike up a portion of Powerline did not amuse me.  So…I decided one victory I could have for the day, in addition to setting my PR’s on the descents and not crashing…was to climb and clear Powerline.  For those of you not familiar with this climb…very few riders including the winners clear it in the race.  3/4th of the way up, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms it wished my IT band would take one for the team.  I’m fairly used to catch 22’s, so cleared the climb I did. 

The downside to this is that I had not noticed due to the 25%+ grade that my nutritionals had slid out of my feed pouch attached to my top tube.  Kevin Bratetic was at the base of Powerline and gave me a life saving bottle of water.   As I headed down the descent I knew I was in trouble without fuel and only water.  As things go in Leadville, the bottle found a way to eject from my back jersey pocket without me ever taking a drink and I was descending way to fast to consider trying to stop and hunt for it.  There was quite a bit of race left, and despite my fantastic support crew lead by my main hand off man, Dmac, I was out of fuel and water.

        Pictured here are Dmac in fine form and my nephew Brian having just executed a great hand up.

Let me take this opportunity to say how much our sag crews have meant to us over the years.  While it goes without saying we couldn’t finish with out them, there is nothing more exciting when in the middle of this suffer fest, than to come in and see a familiar face, excited and cheering you on.   This year I as fortunate enough to have my sister and her kids along for the first time, accompanying my oldest two children who were the seasoned veterans of this years crew.  DMac does the musette bag hand ups and E does the tweeting and texting to keep all informed of our progress.  Over the years we have had several people sag for us, those that come back more than once are inducted into Sainthood.  Our Sag Queen Kerri Peterson was unable to join us this year, but coached from the sidelines to make sure our logistics were solid.  Combine that with my Sis’ efforts, and help from sag crewmembers Jason and Don, solid they were.

As I started up the final climb of the day, there in the distance were the Strava “Angels”.  Was it true, could it be a mirage?  Were they really there handing out cans of Coca-Cola?  Sure enough they were.  I was so happy to see them I almost proposed marriage right there on the spot.  Off I went with a can of coke knowing I might just make it to the top of St. Kevins without cramping or bonking. 

Well, at least the cramping was avoided.  When I arrived there, neutral support filled my bottle with water and gave me a Gu packet.  I was bonked at this point, so I took the Gu and washed it down with what turned out to be some form of Herba Life drink mix.  Do not try this at home.  My system was so confused.  Happy for the calories and fluids, but felt like I took a cement mixer shot at the local bar.  I figured I could gut it out to the finish though and took off to set my PR on the final descent. 

As I made my way into town, I realized this year was one of success and regret.  I had failed to break my PR, but had some small victories along the way.  I suppose that within 10,000 miles you can’t set a PR every time….or can you?

The highlight of this trip for me was seeing my longtime friend Lowell Petersen set what was once again a PR for himself in this race.  What was particularly exciting was watching him break the coveted sub 9hr mark to win the BIG Buckle with only a couple minutes to spare.  As I sat with Ellie and Dillon at the start line (rather laid in the grass fighting cramps), I heard them announce his name just under the wire.  I jumped up and told Dmac to go grab his bike and we all  “high fived” in celebration. 

To top off the day, Jim Maaske who had missed his buckle last year by a mere couple of minutes, finished this year with 20+ minutes to spare.  And not to be out done racing the shotgun, Kevin Galinsky came in with a couple of minutes to spare to claim his sub 12hr buckle.  The rest of our crew all came in somewhere in between, all with stories of overcoming and persevering through mechanicals, cramps, vomiting and the like.  What else could one ask for?

This year’s finishers and buckle winners with our Flatlander crew (from L to R) were: Ken Peterson, Jim Maaske, Lowell Petersen, myself, Kevin Galinsky, Chris Peterson, and Steve Jarrett, along with Kevin Limpach and Jason Schuster- (not pictured) 

Our crew after the race.  Smiles all around!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Leadville 2009 – A Regular Joe’s Perspective

I won!  Now I know you’re thinking the altitude has truly gotten to me this time.  You’ve probably read in the post race reports, that in the re-match of Armstrong vs. Weins, Lance won and did so by a large margin. 

But I am here to tell you I won.  That’s right, a regular ol’ Joe, a flatlander, in fact won at Leadville.  Now before you chalk this up as the ramblings of a delusional and probably still hypoxic participant, let me give you a short disclaimer.   This recap is full of delusions, surreal experiences, and romanticized accomplishments.  It is with this basic understanding, that you can begin to understand the attraction, no, rather the addiction, of the Leadville 100. 

So how did I win you ask?   Well, you see, for most of us, racing the Leadville 100 is a personal battle, one that is fought between the rider, the course, and our goals.  For some the goal is to finish, for others to finish within a certain time.  For Lance, it was to beat a certain rider like Dave.  For me, I set a goal to beat myself…….. and I won.

 I had what I felt was a very good ride the year prior, breaking 8hrs and finishing 18th.  I decided that I would measure my goal by improving my time.  By doing that, I was not sure I would finish with a higher placing, but at least I would know that I had improved.  The level of top riders was rumored to be deeper this year so a higher placing was not guaranteed.  However, I knew I would have beaten the only rider I had a debt to settle with, and that rider was me.  To win, I would have to turn myself inside out and back in again.  I chuckled when I filled out the survey at registration: Average hours per week trained = 6   Altitude trained at = 800ft….clearly I was prepared. (-:   Without going into detail, this year has been one of the toughest years of my life personally.  For me, Leadville was to be a release of much of that.  No training needed.

At 4am the alarm sounded.   I hadn’t been able to sleep much due to the excitement and anticipation of what the day might bring.  I opened my balcony door to get a feel for the temperature and much to my dismay it was raining and I could see my breath, the worst possible combination of elements.  I began to have flash backs of one of the most miserable races I have ever done racing up and over the Tourmalet 2yrs ago in the Etape du Tour.  I don’t mind cold, but adding in rain and starting a 100+ mile day off with that type of weather is about the worst way you can start a day.  I knew this was going to be a difficult year.  I began to doubt that I was going to be able to beat my time from the previous year.   I had heard the day before that the course had been lengthened by a couple of miles due to a necessary trail re-route.   Add in wet muddy conditions and things did not look too promising.

As we drove into town for the start, I was staring up into the sky, watching lightning flash across the mountain peaks above the tree line.  “That is where we are headed.   This is going to be more difficult than I thought” I said to myself.  Just then a shooting star shot across the sky and I began to get excited about the challenge. 

As I sat in the start gates, the rain had stopped and I was hopeful we might have a dry day after all.  In the distance, a double rainbow developed through the clouds as the sun rose up over the mountains.  As I was standing there, a camera man waiting on Lance to show up, asked if I would be willing to do an interview.  I set my bike down and answered a few questions about what it was like for an average joe like myself to be in a race with Lance Armstrong.   I was then asked if I had changed my strategy as a result.  Clearly this gentleman didn’t know who I was.   Apparently he thought I might actually contend against Lance Armstrong.  Only he and one other person were that confused.  The other was my 7yr old son who came up to watch me race and work the Twin Lake sag crew for me. 

I call it the “Forrest Gump” effect.  If you look at the start line photo, you will see one of the world’s greatest cyclists.  And then, conversely, off to the left, you see me.  In the old sesame street way of presenting the oddity, I offer up:  “One of these things is not like the other”.  However, in my mind, at that moment, I allowed myself to slip into the delusion that I did.  In my mind I was on the start line of a race with over 5 million worldwide watching.   As the helicopters hovered over the start line, I was interviewed by a camera crew, flash photography was everywhere, Lance was there.  I smiled.  I felt like I was getting away with a masterful heist.  Just like Forrest Gump, I was there, somehow, even though I didn’t belong.  My ipod was playing Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” and that is just what I did.  I was lost in the moment and couldn’t help but smile like a kid at Christmas time.

You can see me (Forrest Gump) just to the left of Dave who is
pointing out the rain clouds ahead to Lance. 

As the sun lifted and the clock counted down the crowds began to fill the start area and you could feel the excitement in the air.  To top off my excitement I was feeling good.  My legs felt good and I knew I was going to have a solid ride if all mechanical things held up well.  The helicopters hovered over the start area. The television crews were all across the start line.   Lance and Dave had made their entrance.  A friend, Travis Brown, had lined up just to the left of them, but it was too loud for me to get his attention and say hi.  He was a last minute entry that I had not expected to see. 

The countdown from 10 began and the race started at the sound of a shotgun blast. As we headed out of town you could see rain clouds beginning to reform and a double rainbow appeared through the clouds.

 I surged forward and found myself right on Lance’s wheel.  After rolling for a while there, I decided I had something to say to him and I might not ever have the chance again, so I pulled up beside him. 

“My Dad called me last year from his chemo treatment room at the hospital and asked me ‘What’s it like to race against the “Big Number One”? I said.  Lance turned, looked at me and smiled and chuckled at the comment.  “I lost him this past April to small cell liver cancer” I said.    His smile quickly turned to a grimace; he sighed and said “I’m sorry to hear that, that’s tough!”   “It is” I said, “And the reason I tell you this, is that despite what you do on the bike, please don’t ever retire from the fight against cancer.  We need more survivors like you and I.”   More than his accomplishments on the bike, I admire his work and passion fighting cancer through his Livestrong organization and felt compelled to tell him so.   “You’re a survivor?” he said.   “Yes, and I just wanted to thank you for all you do to fight it.  Don’t ever retire from that.”  He smiled.  “Well, good luck today”   “Thanks, and good luck to you on setting the new course record.” I said.  We then continued to talk about the onset of the looming weather, the difficulty in setting a course record in such conditions, the chances of hail, lightning or even snow at the top of Columbine Mine.  As we neared the gravel road turn off, we wished each other luck one last time, and the race was on. 

At this point Travis Brown had gone to the front of the pack and was pulling us down the dirt road at a solid pace.  I then hear over my shoulder “I see you everywhere” as I turn to see Jason Tullous, a friend of mine from Tucson that I had ran across in a pace line while racing in France in July.  Jason is a Masters World Champion mountain bike racer from Tucson, AZ.   As we were chatting, all of the sudden there were riders shouting out and I looked up to see a small herd of cattle stampeding beside us and diving across the road in front of us.  We all had to brake to miss colliding with them as they moved across the road.  I turned to Jason “I thought we only had that type of thing happen in Nebraska”.   He laughed.  

Travis Brown leading us out..
Yes those are drop bars!

The pace stayed steady to the base of the climb.  As we took the left hand turn to start up St. Kevins, the first major climb of the day, I noticed I was sitting in 5th place right on Lance’s wheel.  I smiled once again and let my delusion continue.  Up the climb we went, the helicopters filming overhead, in my mind I could see Versus showing me, on Lance’s wheel, climbing and holding pace.  There were fans along the climb cheering.  I was having the experience of a lifetime.  Oh boy, I thought.  This is not going to help my son’s delusion if he sees this coverage. 

My son Dillon has always had the idea that I race in the Tour De France every year WITH Lance Armstrong, even though I am always doing the Etape Du Tour on the day the real guys rest.  Self confession, I have let him have that delusion, and I suppose him seeing me on the start line in Leadville with Lance only strengthened it.  But hey, your kids are only young once and I’m sure at some point I will go from Daddy “Hero” to “Zero” and I am just not ready for that transition yet.  I’m going to milk this Hero status as long as I can.

About two thirds of the way up the climb, it takes a 180 degree turn and continues to climb in a rolling fashion.   At this point I had slipped back to 10th and the top 8 riders had gradually pulled away from us.  Delusion over : Time to race.   I knew how important it was to try and not get stranded in between groups.  We had 6 of us that were coming back together towards the top and I would start the descent solo as the 5 riders caught up with me.  By this time the cold rain had started and my core temp was falling.  I decided to just ride hard and let the group come up to me as I wanted to say warm. 

As we headed toward the 2nd climb our group came together, but drafting was bitter sweet.  You could get a break from the wind, but the cold wheel spray from the rider in front of you was a high price to pay.  We all rotated through and made it to the top of the sugar loaf climb together and began the descent down pipeline.  By this time the rain was coming down hard and my glasses got so filled up with dirt I had to shed them. Not seeing the lines on the descent was more risk than I wanted to take.  However, I soon found out the trade off was sanding my eyeballs with grit.   It was a no win situation and to add to the misery the numbness of feet and hands were settling in despite the hard efforts.  It appeared to be getting colder as my breath was even more evident.  I assume it was if for nothing else, due to the gain in altitude.  I was miserable!

Our group was whittled down to around 4 riders by the time we got to the base and started making our way to twin lakes.  As we went through the feed zone I got separated from the group.  I managed to get a feed from my son Dillon who was hanging out with his cousin Connor and my aunt and uncle in the feed zone.   It was great seeing him in the feed zone, jumping up and down cheering me on.  I could see the sense of pride and excitement in his eyes and a big smile came across my face as I rode away to start the climb up to the top of Columbine Mine.   The rain had stopped and I knew I could warm up from my effort on the climb.

Yes, that is my boy in the Husker hoodie, throwing up his best Leadville Posse gang sign.  (-:
My aunt Lois and cousin Connor beside him

At this point I could tell by my splits I was ahead of my previous year’s pace despite the wet, cold and miserable conditions.  I settled into a comfortable pace and headed up the mountain.   About half way up Jason Tullous passed me back.  “Keep it up, your climbing awesome” I said.   I continued on, knowing the hardest part of the climb is above the tree line.  Just as I broke through the trees, I could feel the wind and cold air picking up.   The dark clouds were rolling in and the sleet started to pelt me.   The wind was gusting in the 20-30 mph range and I could again see my breath.   Misery loves company, and I had none.  The gaps at the front of the field were opening.

As I approached the top, down came Lance and he was focused and intent on his way by.  I offered up a word of encouragement and away he flew.   I looked at my watch, waiting to see the gap before Dave Wiens would roll by.   It was 8 or so minutes and then came Dave.   As he rode by me we exchanged words of encouragement.  If you don’t know Dave or have never met him, he is a consummate sportsman.   He probably would have shaved 15 minutes off his time if he didn’t feel he had to personally encourage all 900+ riders on his way back to the finish. 

I finally saw the turn around and was feeling good.  I had counted the riders coming down and I was sitting well inside the top 15.   All I needed to do was not come apart in the next 50 miles.  How hard could that be?  I already knew.  I turned to charge down the mountain in search of warmth and oxygen at lower altitudes.  On the way down I started to see our team guys and friends riding the race.  Words of encouragement were exchanged and I charged on.   One of the unique things you notice on the descent of Columbine is the variety of folks participating in the event.  From male to female, young to old, big and small, all types of folks take on the Leadville challenge. 

As I hit twin lake feed zone, there was my crew again, the boys jumping up and down in the road and handing me my feed. 

I was frozen coming off the descent in the sleet but didn’t want to stop and take time to put on dry clothes.  I pushed on.  The weather began to let up and I started to regain feeling in my hands and feet.  The way back was a lonely one.  I rode solo for the last 60 miles of the race.   As I went up and over the steep base of the powerline climb I was sitting in 10-12th depending on which spectator I talked to.  I ended up getting passed by two guys towards the top of Powerline.  I was bonking and knew I had gotten a bit behind on nutrition.   I started drinking and eating jelly beans for a quick sugar rush.   It took me about 20-30 minutes before I felt ok again.   I pressed on.   I could not see any riders ahead or behind so there was no ability to draft or work with other riders in the open sections between climbs.  As I neared the top of St. Kevins, I could see one rider up in the distance.   I decided to make catching him my goal before the finish, in hopes we could work together on the stretch into town.  

As we came off the final descent and headed into town I was able to catch Ethan.  He had finished 4th the year before and I offered to rotate with him.  He was not feeling well and told me to charge ahead.   I did.  I could tell by my watch that it was going to be close if I was going to finish under 7:45 which was my goal.   I had to win. 

The last 5 miles were an all out prologue and I was hurting.  I used my father as motivation, thinking about how much he suffered in his final stages with Cancer, how he pushed through it to be with us as long as he could.  I thought, I could, at the very least, suffer for a few hours to achieve my goals and win in Leadville.  Besides, Leadville was something he got excited about.  He wanted to see me race and couldn’t due to his cancer, but managed to call me last year several times wanting to know what it was like.

As I turned the final corner and looked at my watch, I needed to dig deep to win.  I gave it everything I had left and rolled in just under 7:45 finishing 13th  overall.  

I collapsed over my bike as they hung a medal around my neck.   I looked up to see my son Dillon and my Dad’s twin brother standing there with my friends with big smiles on their faces.  A sense of euphoria set in.  I had done it.  I won!  Despite the weather conditions, despite the couple mile course extension, I had set my own course record. 

My uncle behind me, Dillon to my right and good buddy Steve to my left

I turned the corner and embraced my family and friends as we headed to the recovery tent for some warm ramen noodles, coke, and some cookies.  As I sat there in recovery I thought about how special this year was.  Having my son Dillon take part in the experience, and to see the excitement and pride in his eyes was worth it all.  And even though my dad could not be there, my uncle (his twin brother) was, and I knew he would have wanted it that way. 

Well Dad, you asked “What is it like to race with the Big #1”   Well, it is an amazing surreal experience for a regular joe like me.  Especially when I win! (-:

The Rest of The Story

Ok, so that is my experience.  One of the other great things about Leadville is experiencing it with friends and family.   This year we were able to add David Renvoise to our 6 man team.  If you have read my yearly Etape du Tour recaps, you know David as our French guide who is a very talented climber and great friend to Steve Jarrett, Jim Maaske, my cousin Jon and me from our last 7 years of racing in France.  We were excited to have him on our team and he had a tremendous race finishing 26th.  I have put some photos below of friends and fellow flatlanders that did this event.  Captions tell the story.  Enjoy.

That’s right folks.  10,200 is where we started from. We live at 800.  Oh Yippy!

So, here is where I suggest we hide some motorcycles.

Our Pipeline feed zone crew.  They were not there for a good time, they were there for a LONG time.

Some of our trusty feed zone crew from Kansas and Colorado

The crew upon arrival.  We didn’t look this good leaving!

We gave Lowell a hard time about his trash bag photos from last year, so he stepped it up a notch.  He had a great finish coming in
an hour faster than last year.  Sponsorship helps of course (-;

If we only knew what we were in for!

David awaiting the start

Kevin on pace for an awesome finish coming in 52nd. 

No trash bag here and riding strong is Lowell Peterson, one of our three cancer survivors on the team.

Chris Peterson on pace to “Win” and beat his time from last year, despite two flats.  One of three cancer survivors on the team.

Steve rolling through the first feed on the way out.  He suffered from Hypothermia on Columbine and had to pull out.

If your suspension seat post is gonna break, it best be at the end!

Cousin Jon Winning! 

David Winning!

What Leadville can do to a man….Turn him into Greg Lemond!

Cousin Connor, Dillon, Me, Cousin Jon, and David

David post race with Steve. 

Scott Bigelow from Lincoln Winning!

Winners circle

What the winners got

What we got

Monday, August 6, 2012

“The Race Across The Sky” Leadville Trail 100 – 2008

“Your from Nebraska?” the gal at medical check in asked.  “Yes” Steve replied.  “So you’re taking the high altitude medication Diamox then?”  she asked.   “No” Steve replied, having never heard of it.   “Oh Boy!” she said with a tone of amazement and worry.  “Good Luck!”

“Oh Boy!” was right.  Leadville is nestled in the high mountains of Colorado and proudly bares the title ‘The highest city in North America” at 10,200 feet. We quickly found out that un-acclimated flatlanders are a sort of comical novelty in this town.  When folks find out where you’re from and what you’re doing, they give you this mixed look of positive encouragement followed by a look of sincere concern. 

This winter when faced with the opportunity to enter into the legendary “Race Across The Sky”, I asked a couple of good friends of mine, Steve Jarrett and Chris Peterson if they wanted to do it.  We had 24hrs to decide and we all decided that we would throw our names in the hat and give ourselves that needed training goal for the long winter we were enduring.  As they say….It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Two of my other good friends Jim Maaske and Lowell Petersen were thinking the same thing and threw their names in the hat.  We all got lucky….. so to speak. 

Fast forward through the dieting, training, and necessary equipment purchases, and there we were, gasping for air, flat out winded walking from our car to medical check in.  You know you’re at high altitude when a simple walk up a hill leaves you breathing heavy.  We arrived late Thursday night, for the Saturday race.  Friday would be spent getting checked in and picking up our race packets, and then doing a recon ride to check out the first major climb on the course.

“Did you know you are going to be racing with Lance?” was the subject line of an e-mail I got from a friend who had just read on VeloNews that Lance Armstrong would be racing this year’s event.  The added element of lining up in the same race as the 7 time Tour De France champion, gave everyone that attended a sense of thrill and excitement.  

Start line  with Lance, Carmichael, Yeti Rider Cody and Kent

The morning of the race was an early one.  The race was scheduled to start at 6:30am, in “Wild West” fashion, by the blast of a 12 gauge shotgun. I was fortunate enough to get selected to start in the front staging area.  I wasn’t sure what the environment would be like with Lance racing, so I decided to get there by 6am to make sure I could get into the starting area and staged in good position.

About 6:15 Lance and Chris Carmichael showed up and came into the staging area.  The fans and media went nuts trying to snap a picture of the 7 time Tour De France champion.  I realized that everyone was distracted and slid myself up into the first row while the other riders and fans were focused on his entry.

Lance entering the start gate.  I am sneaking up to the front, just to his right

So there I was, in sort of a surreal moment, on the front start line right next to Lance and his coach Chris Carmichael.  Now make no mistake, I never thought I would have such an opportunity.  I have been fortunate enough to meet Lance at a private dinner in Wisconsin for Trek’s top dealers, and have ridden beside him in the Trek 100 charity ride raising money for childhood cancer research.  I have seen him speak in several settings, but never had the opportunity to line up and start a race with him. 

I am not one to be “star struck”, but I have to admit it.   It was pretty darn cool, as the crowd counted down to the shotgun start, to look over two bikes and see Lance with his game face on.  I knew that even though it would be for a short moment, I would be racing next to one of the greatest cyclists of all time.  Sure, I was not in his league nor ever will be, but that inner child in me can still dream, and I was having one hell of a ride.

The gun went of, and the front row surged towards the pace care.  My dream had started and it was time to have fun.  For the first 7 miles I rode right beside Lance and 5 time Leadville 100 champion Dave Weins.  All the cameras were there, and even though I knew none of them were there for me, it was a glimpse into the life of a superstar.  Around every corner and bend in the road there were Lance fans cheering him on. 

Yeah, those are my arm warmer next to LA (-:

As we were riding, I asked Lance if he would be at Trek World in Madison the next week, as he usually is.  He said “no, I will be recovering from this event.”  He said he had injured his back while switching back and forth from his road to mountain bike in preparation for this event.  He had spent 3 weeks in Aspen acclimating to the altitude in preparation for this event.  He said his back was in a lot of pain and that he had never iced his back as much in his life as he had this week prior to the event. 

As we turned the corner, the pace car left us and the race was on.  It was about a 3 mile ride to the base of the first climb and I just hung right at the front of the group with Dave Weins and Lance.  One of my strategies for the race was to be at the front going into the first climb. I knew I would not be able to breathe well and wanted to make other riders work to go around me, instead of work to catch up to them. 

Off we go behind the pace car

Since it was a 100 mile race, the pace was very comfortable heading into the first climb.  As we approached the first climb, I tucked in behind Dave Weins and looked over my shoulder and there was Lance.  I knew I wanted to be upfront, but this was ridiculous, I was clearly out of my league.  As we started the climb, I looked over my shoulder at Lance.  I muttered “You might want to go around, I can’t breath up here”   and pulled to the right.  He and a couple of riders went around and I set in at a pace I could handle behind them.  I was in good position, sitting in the top 15 and riding my race at my pace.  I thought to myself, “No matter what happens the rest of the day Kent, you have had an opportunity that only a handful of folks have had.  You are riding and racing your bike with your friends in the high mountains of beautiful Colorado and you have started the day riding next to and chatting with one of cycling’s all time greats.  His greatest work, I would argue, is not on the bike, but is his work in promoting cancer research and awareness through his LIVESTRONG foundation. With three of our five man crew from Omaha being cancer survivors, and my father currently in a fight for his life battling cancer, I oddly enough was more inspired by Lance’s LIVESTRONG attire, than by his celebrity status. 

I knew no matter what we all faced today, in the end, we would be able to celebrate an event that pushed the limits of human accomplishment.  I remembered the call I received from my father on the way to the event, asking me for pictures and updates on how my race with Lance went as soon as I had them.   I could sense a bit if pride in his voice that his son would be racing with Lance and I couldn’t wait to get back to the finish to tell him about the start.  I made a pact with myself going up that climb, that I would endure whatever this event could dish out, to honor him and his daily battle with cancer. Nothing I would face today, would come close to what he endures on a daily basis.

At the base creek crossing
after the first climb

I came out of the first climb sitting in the top 30 riders and feeling fairly good despite feeling like I was breathing through a straw.  We hit the decent and I managed to pick up a few spots there.  Luckily altitude does not really affect your ability to go down hill, so I pushed the descents as best I could to make up for the lack of climbing power I had in the thin air. 

Then we hit the flats and we were off to the second major climb.  Similar to the E’tape in France, it was key to find guys to share the headwinds with between the climbs.  I found a couple of guys who were willing to work with me and we picked up some spots on the way to the second of five climbs.  We made it up and over this climb with no consequence, basically maintaining our overall positions.  As we entered the first feed zone, I grabbed a bottle from our fantastic sag crew whom my friend Chris had lined up with his buddies from Fort Collins.  These guys are our lifeblood in an event like this.  They hold all our mechanical repair equipment and nutritional replenishment needs.  They spend a long day waiting on the trail for us to come by and cheer us on.  It is a thankless job and we were truly lucky to have these guys take a weekend off and crew for us.  The race promoters make a special T-shirt for crew members that reads “Leadville 100 Crew- We’re not here for a good time, we’re here for a long time”  Very fitting!

After leaving the feed zone, I knew we had a 30 minute ride to base of the beast of this event, the climb up to Columbine Mine.  My goal for the event was to finish under 8hrs.  Based on previous year’s times, I felt that would put me into the top 25 riders, and I thought, if everything went right, I might be able to pull this off.   As we hit the base of the climb, I looked at my clock and I was right on pace. 

The climb up Columbine was a long grueling 10 mile ascent up to the mine at 12,600 feet elevation.  This climb felt very similar to the great climbs of the Pyrenees that I have ridden and raced in France.  As I was climbing, I was wondering if Lance was thinking the same thing.  I was hung out by myself on the climb with one rider hanging about 100 yards in front of me, and another rider about equal distance behind.  As we crested above the tree line, I had not yet seen Lance or the other riders returning down from the mine (which was the 50 mile turn around point).  As I got about 2 miles from the turnaround I could see the gold LIVESTRONG jersey and the green jersey of Dave Weins coming my way.  As Lance and Dave went by, I heard Lance say “Good job guys, keep it up!”   I thought to myself,  “What? This guy actually took time to encourage me while he was racing?”  I then looked behind me to the rider I was pacing with at this point and noticed he was  in Carmichael Training Systems team gear.  Ah…that made more sense.  He must have known this guy.  (-:

About .5 miles further I shifted into my lowest gear and my chain threw into the spokes of my back wheel.  I had to stop and dig it out, but luckily only lost a minute fixing the problem.  Back on the bike and up to the top of the mine.  When I got there, the check in folks said I was in 22nd.   I looked at my watch and I was still on pace for the 8 hour mark.   I filled up my bottles and off I went down the descent as fast as I could go without hitting any other riders coming up.  It was fast and fun!

I started looking for my friends and teammates on the way down.  I knew that Steve would be close behind, as he didn’t have the luck of a good starting position, but he is a great mountain biker and without any major mechanicals would have a good race.  I was desperately wanting to see each of them, Steve, Chirs, Lowell and Jim, riding up to the mine.  I knew if they were there, they were well on pace to finishing under 12 hours and earning the coveted Leadville belt buckle given to every participant who breaks the 12 hour mark.

As I descended I saw each of them, all riding within themselves and in good position.  I was excited.  I was thinking about how it was going to be at the finish, seeing the sense of pride and accomplishment on each one of their faces.  I couldn’t wait to get there.  Then I looked at my watch, only 3.5 more hours to go to the finish.  Ouch!  As I went through the feedzone I heard “Come on Kent, your doing great!”  I looked up and this woman who I have never seen before was cheering me on.  She had her start list, and was calling out riders by name as they came by.  Now this woman knew how to encourage someone.  I mean really, I have never been at a race before and have someone who doesn’t know me from Steve, and is cheering for me by name. That is just another touch that makes Leadville such a tremendous event.

As I reached the base I knew I had two more climbs to go, and the first one, was the more difficult of the two.  It was the return up the Power Line climb and is very steep, rutted and long.  Just as I started this climb, a cramp set in on my inner right thigh.  My leg locked out straight.  I jumped right off my bike and started stretching.  One of the guys I was riding with offered up kind words, “Work it out buddy!  You can make it”.   That is the one thing that is unique about mountain bike racing, you competition is often as encouraging as the spectators.    

I was quite a bit concerned.  I knew I had two very tough climbs ahead, and was not sure how I was going to make it up if my cramp didn’t let up.  I finished stretching and massaging it and jumped back on favoring my left side and giving it some relief until I reached the base of the Powerline climb.   This is notably the most challenging climb on the course in terms of steep grade.   As I started the climb, my leg felt surprisingly better.  The cramping had gone away and I knew if I could make it up this one, there was one more climb to go and I’d be home. 

I started up the climb.  Half way up I saw the riders in front of me walking.  I decided I would keep riding as long as the cramp was not setting in.  At this point, I was promising myself that I would not come back and repeat this event ever again.  My entire body hurt immensely and the fatigue and lack of oxygen were setting in.    What business did I have making deals of that nature with myself in the state of mind I was in? 

I managed to make it up and over Powerline climb and felt the rain starting to come down.  Here we go again, I thought.   As if the hypothermic E’tape Du Tour was not enough 3 weeks prior to this event.   I had left my vest in the last feed station before the finish, and was left with only my arm warmers.  It was sunny back then.  Yeah, the good old days, back at the base of the climb.  It seemed like forever ago.

As I descended, the intensity of the rain began to intensify to the point I could not see very well.  The rain was stinging my eyes and my glasses were full of dust that had now turned to mud. I opted to shield my eyes from the rain and “use the force” as they say in determining the line on the trail.  The rain kept up all the way down the descent.  As I went around the last switchback, I heard some spectator’s yell out “Go Omaha”.  Ahhhh  yes, Flatlanders are an anomaly.  Seeing one racing at the front of Leadville is kinda of like seeing an albino moose in the woods.  It makes folks stop and gaze in amusement.

I was out of fluids when I hit the last quick feed zone going up the backside of St. Kevins climb.  The support crew, at this feed station, was awesome!  They knew they were the last folks you would see before the finish line and they were handing up cold bottles, candy, whatever you wanted.  One guy looked at my buddy Steve and said, “what do you want?”  Steve startled rattling off his requests and the guy said “and how about some amphetamines?”  Steve laughed and jokingly said “If you got em”.  The volunteer joked back “I didn’t just offer you that did I?  Well, we just ran out!”

I had been keeping track in my mind and estimated I was somewhere near the top 25 when I crested the top of the final climb.  I had been pacing with a group of guys off and on and as I descended, I knew if I was to break the sub 8hr mark, I was going to need some help.  When I reached the base of the descent, I could see several riders scattered on the dirt road ahead of me. 

I set off and started to bridge up to them.  As I caught the first two guys, I commented that we had 30 minutes to get to the finish to break the 8hr mark, and if they would help, I thought we could do it by rotating.  They agreed.

Keith and I pacing to break 8hrs

Shortly into that effort I looked back and only one rider, Keith from Boulder, was with me.  He said “well it looks like it is just us”.  I said “Are you still in?”  He said “Hell yes, let’s do it”.  So, we kept rotating and came up upon another two riders, each of which hung on for a while and then slipped off the back.  Keith and I were a good match and the tempo worked for both of us.  The last guy we caught on the dirt road said to me when I asked him if he wanted to work with us to break 8 “There is no way, that is going to be too hard”.   I told him,“You are so close man, we can do it, but it’s gonna hurt, just jump on and we’ll get you there”   He jumped on and just as we hit the final paved road to the finish he slipped off.  I looked at my clock it said 7:55.  I felt we could do it for sure now, and as we turned the final corner I looked at my clock again.  It said 7:55.  Crap!  How long had it been stopped.  I didn’t know and I was hurting so bad from the last 5 mile time trial, but knew if I missed that goal by a few seconds I would not forgive myself. 

Finishing stretch, only 1 more mile!

I stood up and dug deep pulling Keith the last 500 meters to the finish.   We crossed the line and I just about puked.  I slumped over my bike and tried to not fall over from the dizziness caused by sprinting at 10,200 feet.  Suddenly, over the sound of the big negative vacuum of my lungs searching for air, I heard Keith….”Did you hear man, did you hear??!!  We did it, 18th & 19th and we had 4 minutes to spare!!”

I turned around and you would have thought we had known each other for years.  I thanked him for working with me and believing we could do it.  I knew that this was the best ride I had coughed up in a long time and he was a major part of me accomplishing my sub 8hr goal. 

As rewarding as it was, I found even more enjoyment in watching my friends and fellow teammates come down the finish stretch.  At least I hoped they were still my friends, after duping them into competing in this event.  Steve disowned me for a few hours after the event, but he came around.  He had a stellar ride and came in under the coveted 9hr mark at 8:46.  

Steve with 1 mile to go!

I was excited to see my buddy Chris finish.  I was at the line waiting and his wife called to check in.  It was 10hrs into the event and she asked “Should we be worried that he is not in yet?”  I assured her he was on his way and would be arriving shortly.  After only a year and a half in the sport, he came around the corner, out sprinting five people to finish 311th out of the 800+rider field.  He was slumped over his bike after they put the medal around his neck, heaving for oxygen.  I waited to take his pic, but he wasn’t looking up.  I told him to look up so I could take his picture.  He worked up a smile and said, “This is the toughest thing I have ever done in my life”.  Now, coming from someone who played the goon on a college hockey team and has survived cancer twice, you know this guy has had some rough days.  I asked if I could take his bike for him and he said “Not right now, it is holding me up”.  We made our way over to the medical tent, got him set up with some heat, coke, and ibuprofen and went back out to watch for Lowell and Jim.

Chris with 1 mi to go!

Chris, with his medal

I was working my way back and heard my buddy’s name come across the loudspeaker.  I was so excited.  Lowell and I go back a long ways and have spent some very long days in the saddle together after his long tough bout with Leukemia in the 90’s.  In fact the longest ride I have ever done was with him back then while raising funds for the Leukemia Society.   We have not been able to ride together much recently, and I was so excited to see him come out of retirement and bust out a fantastic finish.  Lowell came across the line with a big smile. That is something he always has and why I just flat out love hanging with the guy.  He and Chris huddled in the medical tent, by the heater and dried out their feet from the rain.  They were already laughing and telling stories about the event. 

Lowell with one mile to go. 
Love that wind vest!
Hey Pete, we sell those at the shop (-:

Lowell with his medal

I left them and went back out, knowing that a firefighter (Jim) would never be far behind the Police Officer (Lowell) and sure enough, her came Jim.  I was very excited for Jim to finish, just knowing this would ruin his “roadie” reputation.  Sure enough, Jim is now an official legend of the mountain bike.  He was so happy and excited when he came across the line, that I thought for a minute he found the shortcut I was looking for.  But after further review, Flanders had officially finished sub 11 hours and crushed his roadie status for good.

                          Proof Jim rode a mountain bike AND he had fun!

Proof he got his medal


 All in all, it was an epic experience for all of us.  We all came home with our shiny new custom belt buckles and managed to finish in front of  the “Last Ass Over The Pass” award winner, which is handed out for the last person to finish this amazing event.  Goal accomplished!   Now, what goals can we set for next year?  I think I’ll go back just to revel in being watched like an albino moose in the woods.  Now, where is that Diamox…..

The MCC wrecking crew

The coveted sub 9hr custom belt buckle