Name: Mat Gilhousen, Tradewind Energy Cycling Team
Event & Category: Leadville 100, Open-Geared Bike
Brief event/course description: The Leadville 100 mountain bike race is arguably the top endurance mountain bike event in the country with nearly 1,400 entrants ranging from those who simply want to finish to top professionals. The course starts in Leadville at an elevation of 10,200 feet topping out at 12,600 at the top of the Columbine Mine climb which is also the halfway point. The course really does have it all, massive climbs, technical descents; road and gravel, the combination of which brings out both road riders and hard core mountain bikers. At the end of the day the combination of 5 massive climbs and an overall distance of 103 miles (nearly all of which is at over 10,000 feet) makes for a long but extremely rewarding day.
How’d the race go down for you? This was my 3rd attempt at the event with my goal being to finish under 9 hours which gets you the coveted “big buckle”. For whatever reason I really wanted to prove to myself that I could finish under 9, I think somewhat due to having seen good friends of mine I ride with (Dan Hughes, Brian Jensen, Trent Newcomer) all finish well under 9 in prior years. Having finished roughly 9:55 the prior two years in a row I had to shave a full hour off my time and new I had my work cut out for me and honestly didn’t know if it was possible, certainly not in the one year I had leading up to this years race. As opposed to prior years I told myself I wouldn’t race Leadville again unless I got in through a qualifier which for me was the Lutsen 99er, alternatively you can get in through the race lottery system. Fortunately my finish at Lutsen was good enough to get me a “gold coin” entry into Leadville which put me in a good starting corral for the race.
I knew going into the day that I would be on the margin for a 9:00 finish but the question was would it be sub-nine. I told my girlfriend (and support crew for the day) that if I didn’t hit the time split of 4:35 at the top of the Columbine climb that I would pull the plug as I just wasn’t mentally prepared to go home with a 9 plus hour finish, I think I was just trying to take some pressure off myself as the mental side of the race is pretty daunting. Starting in the top 200 of the field made it such that the first big climb, St. Kevin’s, wasn’t as crowded as in the past but I still ran into some traffic but nothing that was material relative to prior years. In past years it was nearly at a standstill as people make mistakes or hit their limit which causes a ripple effect down the entire climb.
One of the best parts of the event was being able to race with Kent Eriksen and Katie Lindquist on their tandem; they are crazy fast and typically win the tandem division as they did again this year. As with all tandems they are slower on the climbs but crazy fast on the downhill sections of the course. Other than the decent of Power Line, a washed out technical decent straight down a power line easement, I didn’t get to ride with them much be we passed one another a bunch of times thought the day. They ended up finishing 5 minutes or so ahead of me at the end of the day.
Big picture, I pretty much road my race and tried to keep it out of the red as much as possible knowing that the hardest part of the race starts at mile 80 with the brutal climb back up Power Line. The Climb starts with what is basically a wall that nearly everyone walks (in 2009 as far as I know Armstrong was the only guy who rode it if that puts it in perspective) other than a few top pros which is then followed by several false summits that make you wonder if you are ever actually going to get to the top. The riding is slow and somewhat technical with much of it being granny gear riding while picking a line through the rocks up steep pitches. Once you get over the summit of Power Line you get a nice long double track and gravel decent to the bottom of the road climb back up to the top of St. Kevin’s. This climb gives you plenty of time to remind yourself just how blown you are as you solo your way up a several mile road climb to the final check point. From there it is a ripping decent back towards town. The sting in the tail is a short but nasty little climb as you start the last several miles of gravel back into town. Due to my Garmin auto pausing when it thought I was stopped when I was actually climbing, albeit at 3 mph, I didn’t know exactly where I was at time wise over the last 20 miles so I was getting time checks from spectators along the course (I knew I needed to be at the finish by 3:30 PM based on the 6:30 am start) with the last one being roughly 3:24 giving me 6 minutes to get to the line and I was just outside of town at the end of the last gravel section. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would go sub-nine until I could see the clock at the finishing line!
All in all, it was a great day, no mechanicals, great weather, no crashes and a big buckle.
Which coach do you work with and how did your training help you prepare for the event? Adam Mills. Honestly there is no way I would have been able to make this happen if it wasn’t for Adam. We worked together for about 10 months leading up to the event. I think the best way to answer this question is to look at the numbers, last year to this year I took a full hour off my time. Yes I trained more but the most importantly I trained smarter.
What advice do you have for someone up and coming in your cycling discipline? Find a good group of friends to ride with. You may not train with them all that much but knowing they are out their sharing the experience is really important. Beyond that, find a good gravel road!
What is your next event? Chequamegon then CX season…
Congrats, Mat! Well deserved!! To read more on how to prepare nutritionally for long events like Leadville, read this nutrition post from Coach Grant Harrison.