Stout field dominates Leadville 100 bike race, CB locals well represented

Jennifer Smith leads Gunnison Valley charge

Two weeks after several Gunnison Valley riders punished themselves in the Alpine Odyssey, they got back on their bikes to up the ante and compete in the Leadville 100.
The Alpine Odyssey posed a significant challenge with 60 miles of riding and over 8,000 feet in elevation gain, but the Leadville 100 takes it to another level.
The Leadville course is 100 miles long with over 10,000 feet of climbing, starts at 10,000 feet, tops out at 12,400 feet and is raced in an out and back format, making for some tricky descending.
Team Alpine Orthopaedics (AO) rider Jennifer Smith made her first trip to the event. Smith is a world-class mountain bike racer and decided to give the Leadville 100 a try this summer. While she has ridden far, she had yet to race for 100 miles.
She tested the waters two weeks ago, finishing in second place at the Alpine Odyssey behind two-time Leadville women’s champion Rebecca Rusch.
Smith learned some tricks of the trade in her Alpine Odyssey experience as she prepared for Leadville.
“One of my main objectives was find wheels,” says Smith. “Not ride by myself.”
Smith felt great through most of the race, taking the women’s lead up and over the Powerline climb before regrouping with Gretchen Reeves and Kelli Emmett for the push up to the turnaround point at Columbine Mine.
Smith pulled into the lead by the time she reached treeline but was soon joined by Rusch as they pedaled their way to the 50-mile turnaround and the course’s highest point.
“I matched her but I didn’t put too much effort in,” says Smith.
The two women turned around at the same time and that’s when Smith encountered her first trouble of the day.
Due to the out-and-back format of the course, the leaders must negotiate the downhill off of Columbine with more than 1,000 riders still riding up.
Typically, Smith is fast on the downhills but Rusch’s experience at the Leadville race came heavily into play on this particular descent.
“I hated that descent,” admits Smith. “I could not see my path through the people and was way too tense. Rebecca knew the line she wanted.”
Smith ended up losing two minutes to Rusch on the descent but was still feeling strong as she headed back to climb up and over Powerline in reverse.
“I found a pack of guys and my legs felt great,” says Smith.
Once she started up Powerline though, the bottom dropped out and, all of a sudden, Smith was suffering.
“That was the start of my lights going out,” says Smith. “I felt great and then I just didn’t.”
Smith made it up over Powerline with Reeves but got her final gut punch as she headed up one last road climb on the final approach back to Leadville.
“I totally cracked mentally and physically with 15 miles to go,” admits Smith. “I sort of just groveled home.”
Nevertheless, Smith still reached two of her pre-race goals. She cracked the top five, finishing in fourth place, and came in under eight hours with a final time of 7:39:14.
“Now that I’ve done the race I have a new respect for it,” says Smith. “It’s a beast unto itself.”
Smith teammate Tina Kempin had a strong showing in her Leadville effort, coming in 24th among women with a time of 10:17:52.
AO rider Travis Scheefer had the best finish among the men taking 34th place with a time of 7:27.
A gaggle of other local Gunnison Valley riders put in an incredible effort at Leadville as well, with AO athlete Dave Ochs covering the course in a time of 8:22:41. Justin Reiter took seventh place among the singlespeed contingent at Leadville with a time of 9:10:02.
Aaron Huckstep posted a time of 9:10:46 and Lee Cannon, the Dick Clark of endurance biking, finished his fourth Leadville 100 race shaving 20 minutes off his time last year to come across the finish with a time of 10:32:17. Mind you, Cannon is 64 years old.
Town of Crested Butte attorney John Belkin made another showing at the Leadville 100 to finish in a time of 10:55:18 and Crested Butte resident Kent Fulton put the hammer down to cross the line after 11 hours, 6 minutes and 12 seconds in the saddle.

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