Take 104 miles of dirt road, pavement and single track; mix in over 12,000 feet of elevation gain; sprinkle in oxygen-deprived mountain air and — voila! You’ve got the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Say what you want about this race and its shortage of technical challenge. It’s still one tough, long mother. And that means you need enough good, lightweight gear to be self-sufficient for long stretches. Here’s the gear that got me through my first crack at Leadville, with all limbs intact and under the maximum allotted time.
Specialized Epic Marathon Carbon 29
The ultimate Leadville machine, this race-ready beast climbs like a hardtail — stiff, and with great power transfer — but it eats up roots, rocks and ruts with supple smoothness. Specialized’s aptly named “Brain shock” knows the difference between the rhythmic pumping of a rider’s pedal strokes and the biffing and bumping of rugged terrain, and instantly engages the shock for the latter. A strong, stiff carbon frame lightens the load, and 29-inch wheels roll over almost anything without sacrificing maneuverability. When a logjam of racers crowded the shallower line through a rocky stream crossing in Leadville, I was able to pick my own line and sail right on through.
Smith Optics Forefront
Here’s a top-notch mountain bike helmet with road race weight (285 grams) that addresses all-mountain concerns: additional protection, integrated visor, light and goggle integration and a built-in POV camera mount. Smith achieves this neat little trick by combining EPS with what it calls “Aerocore”, a honeycomb-style Koroyd material that improves ventilation and makes for 30 percent better impact absorption while reducing overall helmet volume.
Dynafit Trail DST Jacket
This kind of versatile, lightweight, packable wind shell is a must when riding into the mountains, or any region with frequently changing altitudes. DWR-treated for water resistance, the Trail DST is also highly breathable, thanks in no small part to laser-cut holes down the back and beneath the arms. UV protection is worked into the fabric, which is a very comfortable four-way-stretch Durastretch. I wore this jacket for 75 percent of the LT100, and it performed well in almost every condition — predawn chill ahead of the race, flying down Columbine and riding anything but a stiff uphill in the mid-afternoon sunshine.
Specialized SL Pro Kit (Jersey, Bibs and Gloves)
First, I should note that this jersey/bib combo is road centric — not the more relaxed-style apparel you’re used to seeing on mountain bikers. But Leadville is, after all, a race. And, due to the lack of technical single track, it’s an incredibly fast race compared to most knobby-tired events. Long downhills and wind-exposed pavement mean that wind resistance is a factor, and this skin-tight “professional fit” kit does everything it can to eliminate that.
The SL Pro Jersey’s short cut isn’t even noticeable in an aggressive riding position, where it’s most comfortable. Great venting is aided by a full zip, and the zippered pocket around back is sweat proof and electronics approved. The matching SL Pro Bib Short is built for speed, with a relatively thin chamois ideal for aggressive riding positions — and it eliminates the goofy-looking diaper syndrome prevalent among less streamlined bibs. Body Geometry Gel Gloves offer full-hand protection, including burly padding across the palm that helps relieve hand numbness and fatigue on bumpy rides. The touchscreen-friendly thumb and forefinger mean that you can heckle your Strava buddies without the inconvenience of removing the gloves.
Osprey Syncro 10
You could argue that a hydration pack is unnecessary at Leadville, what with dual bottle racks and aid stations every 15 miles or so. But I’m an amateur, and drinking through a tube with a bite valve is a far more foolproof, reliable way of staying hydrated, especially on the long, bone-jarring descents. The lightweight Syncro 10 is streamlined but carries enough gear with its three well-organized compartments for an extended backcountry foray: rain jacket, nutrition, beanie, sunglasses, phone and charge pack. The mesh back panel kept my back ventilated and dry, and the 2.5-liter reservoir allowed me to skip more than one aid station. The updated Syncro line will be available in January 2015, including a 3-liter race-specific size option.
These off-road shoes deliver performance (note the stiff carbon composite soles) without sacrificing comfort and durability. The Supernatural Fit System features three-level adjustable arch support (with an odor-eliminating antimicrobial treatment) and a micro-ratcheting buckle helps you dial in your fit. The reinforced microfiber upper shrugs off abuse, and the aggressively lugged outsole chews up dirt and mud. This is Giro’s second-in-line dirt shoe, but it’s lighter and offers more overall value than its big brother, the Code. I’ve put these through the wringer for more than a year now, and they’re among the best mountain bike shoes I’ve owned.
You didn’t think I’d actually ride 104 miles without trying to get credit for it, did you? Unfortunately, my iPhone lost track of satellites on the way up Columbine and never found ‘em again. I wore a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch as backup — but its battery died at 74.1 miles. Oh well. Always secure Strava bragging rights during big races with a bike-specific GPS unit whose battery is built to last at least 12 hours.
Goal Zero Switch 8
This ruggedly designed, lightweight (only 91 grams) power stick packs 2200mAh, which is more than enough juice to fully recharge a smartphone or mp3 player. After nearly eleven hours of racing with its built-in GPS constantly seeking satellites, my iPhone 4S still had an impressive 84 percent charge.
Energy gels are designed to deliver easily digested calories (think simple carbs) to power your working muscles during exercise, and electrolytes to replace those lost by sweating. Some also include amino acids, vitamins and performance-enhancing ingredients like caffeine. They’re easy to carry, pack a known number of calories and, in gel form, simple to eat: just squeeze it out of the package and into your mouth with your teeth. For long training runs and rides, I typically use original GU gels, but for this longer effort, I used a few caffeine-boosted Clif Shots and a lot of GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Gels, which are formulated for exactly this kind of race with additional electrolytes and amino acids.