Friday, October 23, 2009

Tour de Leadville

The documentary "Race Across the Sky" had a one-time showing Thursday night at the Movies 8 theater in Mankato. For the cool price of $12.50 (still not a fan of the raised price for special events), you could get an inside look at the Leadville 100, a premier mountain bike race in Colorado that travels 100 miles on rugged, mountainous terrain that seem more suitable for hiking than they are for biking. The event draws more than 1,000 competitors annually and typically attracts such cycling luminaries as Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Dave Weins, who was the 6-time defending champion of the race heading into 2009.

The most appealing thing about the documentary is depth with which it looks at the race. "Race Across the Sky" tries to paint a holistic picture of the Leadville 100, rather than making it strictly about Armstrong and Weins on race day. While it often touches base with the two of them, particularly Armstrong (more on him later), it mostly focused on the struggles other riders faced on the course and the adversity some of the riders had to overcome just to participate. Commentary from race founder Ken Chlouber and various race spectators also gets peppered in to help give viewers a better idea of the atmosphere surrounding the event.

Other observations from the documentary:

*The Leadville 100 course has a level of difficulty most can only imagine. The race begins and ends in Leadville, Col. at an elevation of 10,200 feet and reaches mountain peaks as high 12,570 over the course of the day. Collectively, the total elevation change on the race course is about 14,000 feet, with the Columbine and Powerline climbs being the toughest stretches of the course (trail map and elevation graph of the course). Combine that with the usually-adverse weather conditions of the Rocky Mountains, and what you have is a test of will for anyone on two wheels. Weins even had to hop off his bike and walk at some points, just to give you an idea of how difficult the course is.

*Despite drawing more than 1,200 riders in 2009, only 971 people actually completed the Leadville 100 by the 13-hour cutoff point. Many riders had their day end early for failing to reach check points within their alotted time limits. The majority of the riders whose days ended early had looks of relief rather than contempt for their shortened ride. This also illustrates how tough the course is. Most people being pulled from a race have the look of a pitcher being pulled from a baseball game, not of a person who just survived a horrific ordeal.

*In the documentary, Armstrong described the Leadville 100 as "the race that fueled (his) comeback" into cycling. Considering his accolades in the Tour de France, that's a bold statement.

*The most inspirational story in a documentary chock full of them has to be that of Roxanne Hall, a rider who was hit by a car while training for last year's Leadville 100. Among the injuries Hall sustained in the accident: broken back, severed ACL, torn MCL, bruised lungs, conussion and lacerated liver and pancreas. Despite all that, there was Hall, riding in the race with her husband. Hall more than held her own in the race as well, finishing 474th.

*The diversity of riders in the race is something to behold. While the race features big names like Armstrong and Weins, it also has riders with 20-year old mountain bikes and competitors who stop to eat a sandwich and drink a beer at the rest areas. Like any other race, it isn't just for the elite athletes of the world.

*Most memorable spectator in the race: Steve Pugsley, a man who offers riders everything from moral support to a glass of beer along the trail. In the documentary, Pugsley can be seen giving struggling cyclists a helpful push up the trail and offering them Mike and Ikes for quick energy. He's the kind of guy you'd love to see on the side of a race course when you start to fade and need a boost.

*And now, to Lance. What more can be written about Armstrong's cycling prowess that hasn't already been talked about to the point of exhaustion? Well, here's something:

With seven miles to go in the race and Armstrong holding a presumably comfortable lead, tragedy strikes in the form of a flat tire. Armstrong attempts to change the tire unsuccessfully for a few minutes, basically says "screw it" and hops back on his bike to ride the final seven miles on a flat tire. Amazingly enough, Armstrong not only bested Weins by nearly 30 minutes to win the race, he also shattered the course record by almost 20 minutes (set the previous year by Weins). Everyone knows Armstrong is in a class on his own when it comes to cycling, but this adds a whole new layer of grit to his legacy.

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