By Gale Bernhardt

This year marked my 10th Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. My priority goals for the race were:

  1. Ride safe, stay upright and finish.
  2. Finish under 12 hours.
  3. Finish under 10 hours.

You might read the list and have questions. For example, people would hear goal number one and say, “Of course you’ll finish!”

No. That’s not a given. For this year, 2014, I had fitness equal to or slightly better than last year. My best time was last year at 10:01:19. Fitness on race morning, check.

On Thursday prior to the race, I’m aware of one racer that overcooked a corner coming down the Turquoise Lake descent, crashed and busted his arm. Race over.

I’m aware of a racer that overcooked the first right-hand corner at the race start – maybe one mile into the race. She crashed. I don’t know if she went on to finish or not.

I’m aware of racers that have left in flight-for-life helicopters on the Sugarloaf descent. Others have broken femurs, arms, clavicles and other body parts. Still others are held in medical tents at the top of Columbine mine due to Acute Mountain Sickness.

Most crashes and injuries are self-induced. Others are not. I’m aware of racers that have been taken out by another racer who is careless and selfish, looking to squeeze into a non-existent spot on Saint Kevin’s (yes, climbing) or on the Powerline descent. Karma will get those selfish folks.

Then, there could always be mechanical issues.

No, riding safe, staying upright and finishing is not given.

Because this was a special year, my 10th, I just wanted to finish under the 12 hour mark. In the best case, I was aiming to beat last year’s time. Many things must go right in order for that to occur. So, now we get to the details of race day.


The start temperature was somewhere between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. I got to the start early to get a spot at the front of the purple corral. When they pulled the corral separators down, people surged forward and got more packed.

When the gun went off, we crossed the start timing line and then were funneled into a single lane. I found out later a dangerous tree was threatening to fall down, so they had to close off one lane of traffic. People were bumping tires, unclipping and walking.

Once we were on the open road, as always it was a fast, furious, chilly descent to the dirt road leading to the Saint Kevin’s climb. The two-track was dustier than last year and honestly I was surprised. There had been so much rain in the previous week, I didn’t expect dust.

When the climb began in earnest, people were much more rude that last year. Three separate knuckleheads forced me off my bike and I had to walk/push my bike on Saint Kevin’s for the first time. I’ve had to put a foot down in the past, but this year when the dill weeds forced their way into my line it was on steep sections. I could have tried to hold the line and fend them off, but tangling handlebars was not an option for me. The only sweet revenge is I passed at least one of them on the Columbine climb. Karma.

Once off of Saint Kevin’s I knew I was off-pace for a fast time, but hadn’t given up. The road descent was sweet, as was the Haggerman Pass Road climb and the Sugarloaf climb. No knuckleheads diving for imaginary gaps.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to descend at a decent pace going down Powerline. There were times I felt I could go faster – but – probably not a bad thing that I couldn’t. Better safe than sorry. Coming off of the descent, I was fairly certain that a 10-hour race was not in the cards. I was too far behind goal pace.

I was able to get with a good group for the paceline work between the Fish Hatchery and Pipeline. This doesn’t always happen, so it was a nice treat. I rolled right through Pipeline and headed to Twin Lakes. There is a bit of singletrack between Pipeline and Twin Lakes that does get backed up. I lost some time here, but not as much as the year before last.

Waiting at Twin Lakes was Del, my husband, and friends Scott and Tammy Rees. Del knew I was off pace and asked if I was doing okay. I told him I was, but there would be no sub-10 today as I was off-pace by about 12 minutes or so.

Ever the optimist, I thought I might be able to make up some time on the Columbine climb because I have been setting PRs on some of my favorite climbs this year. The road section of Columbine went well, but holy smokes keep a head up. The racers coming down were absolutely flying. Some were passing others at bad times and taking risks that could have not only injured them, but others as well. I haven’t seen this much bad behavior in past years, I’m not sure of the cause.

When I got to the section that pops above treeline, the conga line began. What? Already? Last year I was able to ride the lower section to the first cabin. This year, no way. Between people weaving while pushing their bikes, the loose trail and racers bombing downhill coming towards me, I reluctantly joined the conga. Ugh.

At the first possible moment I got back on the bike and rode to the cabin. At the cabin, I got off and pushed the two remaining steep sections, which is normal for me. I actually ran around some slow moving pushers. People seemed to lack urgency. Strange.

Last year I was able to get back on the bike earlier on the climb, but this year I just took what the day handed me and got back on when the crowd allowed. The bottom line is the people you’re surrounded by is luck of the draw. I’ve been in great groups in the past and I’ve also been in slow groups like this year. No time to get upset, just keep moving.

After a decent descent back to Twin Lakes, I was about 30 minutes off of pace and officially gave up on a sub-10 day. Good thing because I fought a headwind solo all the way back to about a mile before Pipeline aid station. Ugh.

That written, I found one fellow that pulled me a mile into Pipeline and then I found a horse that pulled me nearly to Fish Hatchery. I pulled once. I was apparently so slow or small that he decided it wasn’t worth sitting on my wheel. I apologized, as I wanted to work and he told me not to worry about it. It wasn’t long before he was pulling a line of six or seven people. Each person we passed would throw a lung trying to get onto the slipstream. The wind was awful.

Lots of cheering spectators on Powerline, including the devil. She was encouraging and had a nice outfit. This is usually the first low point of the race for me. I pull out all self-talk, self-coaching tricks (including singing, right Gary?) to get up to the point where I can ride. Then I’m happy (in a relative way) again.

Once off the steepest part of the Powerline climb, I am determined to ride the rest of the race – which I normally do. However, due to my own mishap with my rear wheel bobbling over a rock, I was off and pushing for about 10 to 12 feet. Not a problem, just keep moving.

It was a fun descent on Sugarloaf, though it did seem more rocky. I suspect heavy rains and use have exposed more rocks. The Haggerman Pass Road is always a welcome descent for me. Whew! And a tailwind too, yeah!!!

That nice tailwind was present up the Turquoise Lake road climb – normally the second low point of race day for me. Not this year. I felt good and the wind was favorable. Not so good for my buddy Scott Ellis who was bent over his bike frame wishing he could barf. Ugh, sorry. On the upside, we ended up riding the rest of the race together, a nice treat for me.

I didn’t mention weather, other than wind. It was mostly a cloud-covered day. I got a few sprinkles of rain, but nothing like I’ve had in the past. (Can you say downpour and hail?) I’ve also had years that the Powerline push was like an oven. This year, I was grateful for good weather. Not too cold, not too hot.

A comfortable ride into the finish line with a finish time of 10:37:30. I’m happy.

I felt good, cleaned up a bit and went back to watch the finish of the race. I ran into Paul Thomas and Noreen Cary. It was good to catch up with them. I’m hoping sitting next to Paul gave me osmotic speed for next year. He was 17th overall with a 7:14 time. He’s kinda fast.

A great day to be riding a bike. I have a lot to be grateful for and I recognize more than normal on race day. Probably because I have so much time to chat with myself.

For my next post, I’ll give you some cold, hard advise if you want to train and race the Leadville 100 successfully. This is not a race for cream-puffs and if you think it is easy for roadies to be successful here, think again.