Cycling: It Begins and Ends in Leadville
By Kathy Bedell, Leadville Today ©
For the record, it was Leadville that formed the very first cycling club in Colorado. It was 1889 and an organized group of male cyclists was established. By May of 1893, bicycling had taken its place as a leading sport.
In the early years of cycling in Lake County, it was a men’s sport, but the ladies did not allow that haughty attitude to persist for long. By the early 1890s, a local journalist reported “the cycle craze broke out with something like a fury, affecting all grades and conditions of men and extending in somewhat milder form to the fair sex.”
It was further noted that locally, there were five types of cyclists. “The good and the very good, the bad and the very bad, and the incorrigibles. Have compassion for the kindergarten pupils, however, who are doing the best they can and do not deserve to be shot at. . .”
Since then, cycling, like Leadville’s mining heritage, has seen its share of boom and bust times. Today, it’s safe to say, that the popularity of the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, has contributed to the explosion of cycling in Lake County. Not only to the sport but also as an unmatched economic variable in this small mountain community. It was in 1994, when the Leadville Trail 100 added a cycling race to its already popular 100-mile run.
But in late 2006, that race would be changed forever when Lance Armstrong announced that he would be competing in the Leadville 100 in 2007. While Armstrong wouldn’t race that year, his interest had pulled in controversial cyclist, Floyd Landis, and the field at the front of the competition was ramped up significantly. Along with the pros, came the press, and suddenly Leadville found itself on the world stage again, this time for cycling. The following year, Armstrong made it to the start line and has credited the Leadville 100 for re-igniting his competitive juices after his announced “retirement” in July, 2005.
Rolling out Leadville style in 2009. The elite riders start out on the 100-mile journey. Photo: David Hahn.
But the first year the professional road racing cyclist put his tire to the start line, it was mountain biker Dave Wiens of Gunnison who would win his sixth consecutive Leadville 100 title. However, Armstrong would come back in 2009 and crush the course record with a time of 6:28:50 – on a flat tire no less! The seven-time Tour de France Champion won round two of the Leadville 100 battle against Wiens or as Dave often jokes: “This year, Lance is coming off the Tour (de France). Last year, Lance was coming off the couch!”
Six-time LT100 MTB Champion Dave Wiens makes it a family affair! Photo: David Hahn.
While 2010 race held out hope that Armstrong would return to defend his title, it was teammate and road racer Levi Leipheimer who outlasted a talented field of mountain bike pros to win the 2010 Leadville Trail 100. To date, Levi continues to hold the record for the internationally renown race with a time of 6:16:37, which he etched into the record books during his only LT100. In fact, 2009 & 2010 are often noted as the years the roadies dominated the Leadville dirt!
However, like the early years of cycling in Lake County, the ladies of the sport have not allowed the men to dominate the headlines of cycling news, at least not in Leadville. Enter 4x Leadville 100 Women’s Champion Rebecca Rusch. On August 11, 2012 Rusch won her fourth straight Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race. In fact, it was her first attempt at the Leadville 100 in 2009, that the accomplished female mountain biker shared the podium with Armstrong.
Female Champion Rebecca Rusch crossed the LT100 MTB finish line for the first time in 2009. #High5Victory. Photo: David Hahn.
Rusch is the current World Champion for Masters XC mountain biking, the 2011 National XC single-speed champion, 3x 24-hour solo mountain bike World Champion, and a three-time national champion in 24-hour team mountain biking. It’s easy to see why Rusch has been profiled by Sports Illustrated, Outside Magazine and Adventure Sport Magazine. Rusch has earned her place at the top of the list of elite female athletes – internationally. Tomorrow the champ will be hasing down her fifth Leadville victory.
And while the elite cyclist have brought a different kind of buzz to the event, most agree that the heart and soul of the race is still the average, everyday rider. The one who is in a race with him/herself, just trying to make it to the next aid station before cut-off time, trying to get across that finish line for that belt buckle. Or as it was reported by another Leadville journalist nearly 125 years: “The good and the very good, the bad and the very bad, and the incorrigibles.”
So when you head downtown tomorrow morning for the 6:30 a.m. race start, as this small mountain community hosts the 20th Anniversary of the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, just think of it as another feather in the historic cap of Leadville: where cycling in Colorado begins and ends! At least it will for the 2,200 cyclists reported to be at the start line tomorrow. . . . we’ll see you at the finish line.
Publisher’s note: Throughout the weekend, Leadville Today will be reporting race happenings and results through our social media platforms. Stay Tuned for all the local insider info for the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race. Good Luck Racers!
Happy 20th Anniversary! For the Love of The Buckle! Even this version of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB belt buckle is one for the history books!
LT100 MTB Celebrates 20 Years Tomorrow!