By Sasha Underwood
Merilee Maupin and Ken Chlouber started the Leadville 100 to help revive the community over 35 years ago… they have since created a Legacy Foundation, a non-profit that provides, among other things, $1000 to any kid who graduates high school in Leadville to use for any type of higher education. This year, with the 25th year of the mountain bike race their goal is to raise enough money to provide a $2500 scholarship for each student.
I signed up for the Stage race to get a chance to preview the course and ride with a friend and what I got was 350 new siblings and one of the best-run races and race experiences I’ve ever had. When Merilee says we’re family she means it and I truly felt it. This is a race that I will absolutely do every year.
When I signed up for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race I was looking at all of the races in the Leadville Race Series. Several caught my eye but when I looked at the Leadville Stage Race I felt like the timing of it being two weeks prior to the 100 would be a good training ride, and offer the chance to preview the entire 100 course over three days. As the Stage Race was getting closer I discovered my friend, Jason Romero, was contemplating doing the race too largely for the same reasons l was. Jason is legally blind, he can see approximately 5 feet ahead of him and does not have any peripheral vision see here to read more on Jason http://www.relentlessromero.com/. He is a very accomplished athlete and is going for the Leadman title this year, needing only the Leadville 100 mountain bike, the Leadville 10k, and Leadville 100 run to secure that title. I called him and asked if he’d like me to tag along and ride with him for the Stage Race and he was just as excited as I was to have a friend to race with for the weekend.
Day 1: 40 miles
We put his gear (one back pack and a camel pack) in my car and bike on the rack and headed to Leadville. I mention the one back pack because I on the other hand had a huge bike bag full of all of my bike gear for winter and summer plus extra tubes and bike tools and equipment, camel pack, suitcase, two jackets and two hoodies, two bags of groceries, two gallons of water, and of course my bike.
The race started at 9am and we arrived around 7. I was expecting there to be some chaos and a ton of riders in the check in area at the Rodeo. Surprisingly it was a super relaxed atmosphere with no lines for race packet pick up. We immediately met my new boyfriend, Ken Chlouber – Just kidding but man that Ken is a smooth talker and my cheeks were hurting from smiling so much in the few minutes we spent together …and Merilee Maupin and Ken gave me the biggest hugs as soon as I met them it seriously felt like I’ve known them for years. Oh and by the way Ken was just inducted into the MTB hall of fame.
We lined up in the back of the pack, listened to the National Anthem, heard the sound of Ken’s famous shot gun and took off. My goal was to preview the course, not to race it. It’s so hard for me to hold back but having Jason there made it much easier to reign in my race nerves. We bottle necked a bit as we turned onto the dirt path then up St. Kevins we go. That climb is entirely rideable but as some of the riders became fatigued and stopped it created a domino effect (note to self: it’s going to be much worse during the LT100MTB with 1000+ more participants!) So we walked for a short bit then hopped back on our bikes and climbed up Sugarloaf to the top of the famous powerline descent.
Having never ridden powerline before, and I’ve come out only once to watch riders come down it a few years ago, I was nervous about that descent. Now having the responsibility of keeping Jason safe was also in the back of my mind in addition to myself. This was our first time riding together and initially it was a bit more challenging for me as a guide since he rides independently compared to when I’ve guided other blind athletes on a tandem bike – I don’t have to think of where they are on the tandem. He slid out at the top of the descent once. We stopped briefly and I gave him a couple of pointers that I learned from coaches and experience and we made it down the remainder of the 4 mile descent without incident.
Day 2: 20 miles
Day two was the big climb up Columbine from 9500 ft elevation to 12,500 feet elevation in about 8 miles. I was curious how my legs were going to feel. Definitely not fresh but not fatigued either. I climbed better than I thought I would and what surprised me even more was that the altitude didn’t seem to affect me too much. Once above tree line the trail was off camber and rocky, and it became two-way traffic as riders were starting to come down from the top. We saw a couple crashes as we were picking our lines up the trail. There was a good section that we hiked until it flattened out a bit then we rode to the turnaround at the top.
We made it and then started the 10 mile descent back to Twin Lakes. Jason did not crash once on that descent. Once we made it past the rocky section and loose gravel back to the road Jason told me to go because he wanted to ride that section by himself. So I would go to the next turn and watch to make sure he made the turns ok. We got to the bottom where we took a left back to Twin Lakes and finished five minutes before a massive storm came through.
Day 3: 40 miles
I didn’t realize there was a cutoff to receive a buckle for the Stage Race. I just thought we got medals. So when I learned the cut off was 11 hours and that we would be close, Jason and I decided to try and make it!
Leaving Twin Lakes took us immediately into a pretty sustained climb for the first couple miles. Pretty soon we were on the straightaway road which I was hoping to get a tailwind, but we got the opposite. Jason and I kept taking turns pulling every 20 seconds but Jason was hammering so fast I had to pedal as hard as I could to keep up. I knew I’d blow up if I kept that pace so when we turned on the road right before Powerline I told him I needed to take it down a couple notches; not to mention the fact that despite our effort, we were only going 13 mph because the headwind was so strong. I didn’t want to burn all my matches with more than 20 miles to go and a ton of climbing left.
Powerline looks really daunting from the bottom. We pedaled as far as we could then we walked for a bit. It was during the walking sections where we had some good banter and conversations with other racers and as Jason said, “…we raced for 3 days the other riders morphed from being indifferent to curious to supportive and encouraging.”
We made it to the top of Powerline finally! Next was the Sugarloaf descent; a rocky downhill section which seemed like an eternity until we finally reached a road. I felt like it should have been all downhill to the finish line but that was not the case. We started climbing on the road by Turquoise Lake. I think it was only for about 4 miles and I enjoyed it and passed several people along the way. We’ll see how I feel several hours into the race on Aug 11th. At the top of that climb I drank some Pickle Juice – I really do love that stuff… and Jason said we were pretty close to the cut off to receive our buckle. I hadn’t been keeping track of our total time that we needed to finish and by then I guessed there was about 10 miles left. We pushed it pretty hard at that point. Surely, I thought, it was all downhill from there. Nope. There was quite a bit of uphill (or so it seemed) and then we finally made it to the finishing chute where Jason and I were telling each other to ride the red carpet – it reminded me of the cartoon chipmunks “Oh, I couldn’t! … after you!” “No, I insist… you first!” “THUNK-you!”.
So we both rode on either side of the red carpet into the arms of Merilee where she was welcoming in all the racers, as per usual ☺ We finished with a total time of 10:40:54… and we got our buckles.
Ken and Merilee were at every turn it seemed. They started the races and finished every night at dinner with Merilee telling us that we’re family and Ken saying, “You’re better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.“ They were on the course cheering us on as we descended Powerline … They were at the finish line each day to bring in each and every participant and welcome us “home” with their hugs and congratulations. Every night we feasted on amazing food, had great big belly laughs and at times commiserated recanting the days’ course. I signed up for the Stage race to get a chance to preview the course and ride with a friend and what I got was 350 new siblings and one of the best-run races and race experiences I’ve ever had. When Merilee says we’re family she means it and I truly felt it. This is a race that I will absolutely do every year.
Merilee and Ken started the Leadville 100 to help revive the community over 35 years ago… they have since created a Legacy Foundation, a non-profit that provides, among other things, $1000 to any kid who graduates high school in Leadville to use for any type of higher education. This year, with the 25th year of the mountain bike race their goal is to raise enough money to provide a $2500 scholarship for each student. The Leadville Legacy Foundation is funded through generous contributions from the LT100 runners, bikers and crew. Anyone interested in learning more about the Legacy Foundation and making a tax-deductible donation may visit the website at www.leadvilletrail100legacy.org. The Leadville Legacy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity.