With most of mountain biking's cross country stars in London for the Olympic Games, it's top endurance riders were on hand in Leadville, CO for the Leadville 100. CFR riders Jeremiah Bishop, Tinker Juarez and Alex Grant lined up with a very strong field that included multi-time world champion Christoph Sauser, past marathon world champion Alban Lakata and multi-time La Ruta winner Federico Ramirez.
There was some discussion prior to the race among the top contenders about trying to break Levi Leipheimer's course record, set in 2010. This would be no easy task but if there ever was a field assembled to do so this was it.
Saturday morning at 6:30 am sharp almost 2,000 racers left Leadville to the sound of a shotgun. After a few miles on pavement, the course turned to dirt and thoughts of a course record quickly became questionable as heavy rains the night before had left some mud and large puddles on the track. It dried out once the race hit the climbs and after an hour of hard racing a lead group of seven riders had formed at the front, including Bishop, Grant, Sauser, Lakata and Ramirez. The lead group was trading work well and seemed to be distancing themselves from the field.
That's when the unexpected happened. A mis-marked turn sent the leaders well off course, and they climbed a fire road for almost 15 minutes before realizing that something was wrong and turned around. As they descended it became evident that other riders had followed suit and soon enough a large group of riders was backtracking. At one point the course became visible across a field, and a small group of riders hopped a fence and ran through a river to gain the course. Most riders continued back to the point where they went wrong and continued on, including Bishop, Grant and the rest of the previous lead group. There was chaos on course though, as the riders that had taken the short cut gained almost eight minutes over those who went back. It was a messy situation, but once the dust settled and the chase began in earnest the heavy hitters came to the front, though thoughts of a course record were long out the window.
Jeremiah Bishop proved to be on exceptional form and made it over the infamous Columbine Mine climb with Lakata and Sauser. He would ultimately stay with them until mile 75 where Alban Lakata made a move that even Sauser could not answer and solo'd in for the win. Christoph finished second while Jeremiah turned in a Leadville personal best of 3rd place! Bishop was happy with his ride. "All those nights in the altitude tent worked! That's the best I have felt at altitude. It was a good ride, I am happy" he remarked at the finish.
Behind the leaders Grant had a hard time regaining focus after getting so far off course but rode a steady race to finish inside the top ten. After finishing 3rd here last year he was hoping for another top five but it wasn't to be. "I felt great early and made the lead selection, but going so far off course took a lot of the wind out of my sails. At least Jeremiah was able to assume my 3rd place from last year" said Grant.
Juarez was also on a pretty good day, making one of the first chase groups after the early climbs. During the chaos that ensued around the mis-marked turn he was one who had taken the short cut to get back on course, and was therefore in the first group on course for the middle portion of the race. After the race played out, and the officials delegated a seven minute time addition to all riders who had taken that route, he still ended up with a 14th place finish. Ever the competitor, Tinker said that he had wanted a top ten but it was not his day.
All three riders chose the Flash 29 with a Lefty fork, citing that as the perfect Leadville setup.