The Leadville Trail 100 is an icon of a race in the world of marathon cross-country mountain bike racing, and with this year's racer head count topping out at just under 2,000 it continues to gain popularity worldwide. For 2016, there were racers from 22 different countries attending the race to bring home a prized gold belt buckle for bragging rights in their local cycling community. The race starts at 10,152 feet in elevation and features over 10,000 feet of climbing at over 10,000 feet with a high point of 12,424 to ensure everyone is at their limits.
This year's race was won by Colorado's own Todd Wells who took his third victory here in 6:19:43 with Joe Dombrowski in second and Jeremiah Bishop taking third place. Notably, a who's who of top World Tour road racers attended this year to keep the pressure on in the very dirt road oriented race. On the women's side, British National Champion, Sally Bigham notched her third win with a time of 7:05:47 over Lorenza Morfin of Mexico and Colorado’s, Jennifer Smith who finished in third place. Looking back, when Lance Armstrong won the Leadville 100 in 2009, his time of 6:28:50 would have seen him finishing 3 seconds behind Jeremiah Bishop who is unquestionably a clean drug-free racer. Obviously, bikes and specific training has come a long way over the years.
The small town of Leadville books out nearly every empty space to accommodate the racers for this event that pushes the mountain town to its capacity.
With a pre-sunrise 6:30am start, the high elevation ensures a very chilly morning.
Todd Wells plays a game of peek-a-boo with his son Cooper to stay relaxed before getting down to the business of some brutal bike racing.
Sally Bigham and Jenni Smith have a chat to catch up with each other before their race call-up.
The man who started it all, Leadville's Ken Choubler is always at the start and stoked to lead out the racers for another edition of high-altitude racing in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Close to 2,000 racers are strung out on 6th street from downtown Leadville once the race gets underway.
Joe Dombrowski leads Todd Wells and Jeremiah Bishop up the Sugarloaf climb in the early stages of the race. At this point the trio had already established a significant gap over the rest of the field.
While the Sugarloaf climb is actually the second significant climb, it's the first chance for racers to see just how big the surrounding mountains really are.
British National Champion, Sally Bigham established a significant gap early in the race on her way to taking a third win.
Dave Ochs of Crested Butte, Colorado can not only hang with the best of them at the Leadville 100, he was also the mastermind behind the first ever Fatbike World Championships that went down in Crested Butte earlier this year.
Women's third place racer and Leadville 100 veteran, Jenni Smith held a solid pace from start to finish to take home another respectable podium finish.
The dirt roads and paved sections of the Leadville 100 often bring out aspects of mountain biking not typically seen at a pure cross-country race, and it's common to see mountain bikers in a paceline to take advantage of the drafting opportunities provided in many of the wide open sections.
Another thing the race is known for are its impressive views that come with riding along the base of the Collegiate Mountain Range which is home to the highest density of Colorado's fourteen thousand foot mountains.
Second-placed women's racer, Lorenza Morfin opted for some nice blue ear muffs to stay warm early in the race.
For some of Colorado's local cyclists, the race is as much an opportunity for fun as it is a really long bike ride.
After racers complete the Columbine climb which is the race's highest point at over 12,000 feet, racers make a u-turn and ride against the grain of oncoming traffic because the race is an out-and-back style course. Fortunately, the leaders have a race moto riding ahead to notify oncoming racers.
After 50+ miles of racing, the top three trio of Wells, Bishop, and Dombrowski were still riding wheel to wheel.
The main racer support pit zone is located at Twin Lakes, which is at the base of the Colombine climb seen in the background. Many of the top pros take road-style musset feeds as they speed through.
Todd Wells put his stamp of authority on the race with his third victory.
The thrill of victory...
..and the agony of defeat.
The numbers don't lie, and race rookie, Joe Dombroski just turned in one of the fastest ever times for this race.
Sally Bigham was quite exhausted upon taking her third Leadville 100 win.
Men's podium (l-r) with Joe Dombroski, Todd Wells, and Jeremiah Bishop.
As they say, "We Love Leadville, Great Living at 10,000 feet!".