Leadville 100 MTB Race – Race Across the Sky Race Report by DJ Brooks

my coaching client dj brooks took home an under 12 hr belt buckle from the leadville 100 mtn bike race.

below is his race report – congrats dj!



On August 9, 2008 I lined up for the start of the Leadville 100, a mountain bike race that is basically all above 10,000 feet. There were many unknowns. I was coming from sea level and wasn’t acclimated to the altitude. Matt, my coach, said it was best to arrive either three weeks prior or right before. How would I react to the altitude? I’d climbed Kilamanjaro at 19,350 and had a headache from 17,000 feet. I’d had a slight headache since arriving the previous day. I also had not ridden the course. Usually I like to get familiar with a course before I race it; it helps me plan. No chance this time. I was also nervous about the weather. Apparently it can get miserable, especially at the top of Columbine. There are stories of wind, thunder storms, snow and hypothermia. I hate getting cold. And I sweat a lot. I worried about getting sopping wet and then freezing at the top or on the descent.

What was known, however, was my level of fitness. I had spent six weeks in May and June mountain biking in Colorado and Utah – averaging over 20 hours/week. And I had just returned from three weeks of climbing the toughest climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps while following around the Tour de France. I was confident in my fitness.

My plan was to race conservatively. It was going to be a long day. The toughest part of the day would be the final third. I wanted to have legs at mile 70. Blow your wad early and the 12-hour cutoff would be in serious jeopardy. More than any Ironman or marathon, a negative split mentality would be crucial.

When I arrived at the race start it was still dark. I lined up toward the back. I found during the 2006 TransRockies that adrenalin causes everyone to start out fast. I didn’t want to get caught up. There would be plenty of time to pass. The gun went off at 6:30 and we were off. The pace was gentle at the back. We kept getting slowed. I was very cautious to be aware of riders around me. I was sure some of these mountain bikers weren’t used to tight packs I didn’t want to get crashed out at the beginning.

I was surprised by the panting and struggling at the first climb. Lots were getting off and walking which sometimes caused people behind to dismount. Me, I just put it in an easy gear and tried to keep a nice, even pace. I didn’t want to go lactic at all in the beginning. I stayed on my bike.

The first downhill wasn’t too technical at all but there was lots of caution by some riders. There were places off ‘the line’ to jump ahead and I took advantage. All the riding in June and my new Trek EX 9.5 made me very confident on the descent.

We came out on an asphalt road that took us to the bottom of the climb up to the Pipeline. I tucked and bombed it. I still had my arm and leg warmers on and wind proof vest. I hadn’t sweated too badly on the climb and didn’t feel cold on the downhill.

The climb to the Pipeline was a long, steady grunt on flat fire road and double track. I kept my front fork locked. A few people passed me but I wasn’t going to be influenced. I was going to race my own race. I struggled a bit but held back.

The downhill on Pipeline was super fun. It wasn’t nearly as technical as described during the briefing for first-timers. And it was wide enough to get by timid riders. I couldn’t take the smile off my face.

At the bottom we popped out onto asphalt again and began a pretty boring ride, mostly on dirt roads, past the first aid station, which I didn’t stop at, and on to the second aid station at Twinlakes. There was a really fun scree slope called North Face on the way. I sat my bum way back and skidded down the face. Everybody had talked it up but it was pretty easy. The little trail to the Twkinlakes aid station had a nice jump before the dam and I got some nice air to entertain the big crowd that had lined the path. I arrived at the aid station in 715th place.

The guys at the first-timers’ briefing scared me about the extreme weather at Columbine so I had my drop bag ready with all sorts of warm gear. I crammed a bunch of it into my backpack, along with some real food (ham and cheese tortillas and potato chips) and headed for the top of Columbine.


At the base of the climb, I passed Lance and Weins. They were going the opposite direction. I yelled “hey, Lance.” He didn’t acknowledge me.

The climb was long! I think it was about 10 miles. I’d done lots of 10-15k climbs in France so I just got into a rhythm and persevered. With about 5-6k to go, the route pitched up and got rocky. It might have been rideable without the crowd. In fact, I heard the front riders did ride it. But I walked a good portion of it. Every time I got back on I would get to that point where I’d start to get nauseous. I’d then have to back off. It was a struggle. I kept looking at the time and seeing the 6-hr mark get close. The scuttlebutt on the web was you need to hit Columbine (the summit turnaround- by the 6-hr mark). I finally “summitted” at 6:13, in 692nd place.

I decided to bomb the downhill to make up time. After I got through the 5-6k steep, rocky bit, there weren’t very many other riders coming up. I therefore rode the downhill very aggressively, making full use of the whole road. It was a blast! I slid around a couple of tight corners and probably averaged 45k/hour and made it to the Twinlake aid station recovered.

I emptied my backpack of all the stuff I carried to the top and didn’t use, filled up with Hammergel and bars and took off. It was generally, again, a boring ride back to the base of Powerline, except for the severe hike-a-bike back up North Face. I was making good time and doing the calculations and determined I was comfortably own my way to make the cutoff. I dropped my backpack at the Pipeline aid station in 638th place, downed a Redbull, filled up two water bottles, one with coke, and headed out.

The road to Pipeline had a pretty stiff headwind but the race was too spread out to gain a drafting advantage. One guy went by me but I didn’t have it in me to grab his wheel. Then I hit Pipeline. Going down it was sweet. Returning up it, however, was bitterly tough. And it seemed to go on and on. Then it started raining! Some knucklehead told us we’d reached the summit and it was “rolling” from there. He was wrong. It kept going up. What took me less than 30 minutes to go down was taking 2 hours to go up. I felt the 12-hour cutoff getting close.

Although I had been taking in nourishment every 30 minutes, I felt low on energy on the hike-a-bike up Pipeline. I kept trying to eat more but the altitude and exertion squashed my appetite. I had to force it down.

Finally I summitted and headed down the dirt road to the asphalt and valley below. I then began the long, last climb on asphalt. This is where I saved my race. All the riding in France began to pay dividends. I put it in the middle ring and began to power up the long slope. I find I can grind away a long time if I can just get in a rhythm. It’s the surges that do me in. So I climbed, and as I climbed I began to pass people. And passing people gives one that little bit of adrenalin to keep pushing. I passed LOTS of people on the way up.

By the time I hit the turnoff to the trail I was 10 hours 40 minutes into the race with about – so I thought – 12k to go. A volunteer at the aid station said we should be able to make the cutoff, but we’d have to go hard. I was a bit more optimistic.

The trail climbed a bit but generally it was very fun single track – up and down. Then we hit the downhill. I got stuck behind some slower riders for a bit. It was hard to pass on the rocky, fast course. I followed a tandem most of the way down and then we hit the flats. I knew from the start route that we were close. My odometer registered 156k. It was spot on on the aid station mileage so I thought, “only 5k to go.” I hit the asphalt with a couple of other riders and we sat up and stretched our backs. We had 40 minutes to the cutoff and knew we’d made it. Then we came around a corner and a volunteer pointing us down a double track and said, “5 miles to go.” Five miles???? My odometer said 5k! Crap. What were they doing to us? The route continued down and then took a left, uphill. Shit. I was discouraged. “No Mas!!!” I got off my bike and pushed it. I crested the slope and got angry. I asked the spectators and they said two miles to the finish. I gritted my teeth and pushed. Finally I hit the asphalt but still pedaled uphill. Then in the distance, I glimpsed the crowd of the finish line. I pushed. I wanted it to end. I crossed the line with less than 13 minutes to spare in 11:47.

It had been an epic day. My legs were buzzing. But I did it. I finished in 613th and got my buckle!