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Archive for Friday, August 22, 2008

Locals tackle Leadville

City represented in grueling bike ride

August 22, 2008

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Larryville Leadvillians

Here are the official Leadville Trail 100 finishers from Lawrence, with overall finish, name and finishing time:

242. Dan Hughes9:51:24

289. Tom Liebl10:18:25

429. Nick Gardner10:57.01

654. Sarah Underwood12:02.23

Two minutes.

Sarah Underwood went all the way to Leadville, Colo., swung a leg over her bicycle at 6:30 in the morning and basically didn't stop pedaling for the next half a day, covered 100 miles in all, up fire roads and down singletrack, never dipped below 9,000 feet and gained about 14,000 total feet in elevation, and two minutes - a lousy 120 seconds - separated her from her goal of a 12-hour finish and rodeo-style belt buckle.

"It was a heart-breaker," said Underwood, a 25-year-old rider who was one of a four-person group that traveled together to tackle the Leadville Trail 100, the "Race Across the Sky," on Aug. 9. "There was a big-old start with 1,000 people there, and they bottle-neck you onto fire roads. It took more than two minutes just to get to the start line. I'm disappointed, but there's always next year. It's disappointing, but it's motivating, too. I want my belt buckle."

At Leadville, the bling's the thing.

Finish in under 12 hours, and the reward is a handcrafted silver buckle. Complete the grueling ride in under nine hours - as 114 riders did this year, including winner David Wiens (in a record 6:45:45) and a fellow by the name of Lance Armstrong, runner-up at 6:47:41 - and the prize is a gold-and-silver bauble that's more serving platter than belt buckle.

Or, roll in in 12:02:23, like Underwood, and : well, there's more than a little pride in finishing such a monumental journey.

"I thought it would be an exciting challenge," Underwood said, "something to test myself with. I was really intrigued with the area and wanted to see if I could do it."

Underwood's grandparents own a house in the area, which she visits every August.

Last year, she watched the Leadville 100 - there's also a 100-mile trail run, along with other shorter challenges - and decided it was a worthy goal.

She recruited boyfriend Nick Gardner and Gardner's father, Dave, and her aunt, Anne Underwood, and entered a lottery for entry.

The foursome learned they had won the lottery and began training as best they could, riding the trails along the Kansas River and at Clinton Park, as well as long gravel rides.

"A big part was just getting used to riding a mountain bike, getting used to sitting in that position," Nick Gardner, 26, said. "It was tough, the toughest ride I'd ever done for sure, physically the toughest thing I've done. After the first 50 miles or so, I started to get ache-y. My neck started hurting. Another hour later, it goes numb and you don't feel it any more. But it was a lot of fun. There are fast downhills, stuff you don't get around here. Here, you have a lot of 50-yard up-and-down hills. There, you might get five-mile up-and-down hills."

It was on one of those monumental climbs, the fabled 10-mile, 3,000-foot Columbine Mine ascent, that Underwood and Gardner encountered Armstrong, the retired seven-time Tour de France champion.

"It was really exciting," Sarah Underwood said. "He went by me about 40 mph on the way back to Leadville. It was one of the biggest, most challenging races we have in this country. It was fun to see him compete in that."

"Basically, I saw him for a split-second," Nick Gardner added. "We were going up the Columbine climb, getting close to turning around, and he was coming down at 40 mph. It was kind of crazy."

The foursome represented Lawrence well. Nick Gardner finished in 10:57:01 and earned a coveted belt buckle. Anne Underwood didn't make the absolute cutoff, but she unofficially finished in just over 13 hours. Dave Gardner made it through 85 miles before abandoning.

Two other Lawrence riders also were official finishers: Dan Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor&Bike, in 9:51:24, and Tom Liebl, in 10:18:25.

For Nick Gardner, who works at Cycle Works, the finish brought a bit of celebrity.

"I've had a couple of people come in and congratulate me," he said. "It's kind of cool. I get to show 'em my belt buckle."

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