Leadville 2014

Leadville 100 mile mtn bike race report by o2fitness long-time athlete, Andy Buckley…

Tahoe July 19– to be totally honest the Tahoe Trail 100k was my mental moment of truth.  That is, it was to be a measure of my preparedness.  With my South African race in April, 2000 miles of dirt training and 180 hours on the bike since April I felt I had paid my dues.  Things don’t always work out though.  I finished TT100 in 5h42m with a 15 minute stop at an accident, but still that was only 0.2mph faster than last time-not enough change!

Preamble – Motivation comes and goes, but commitment is forever-Ken Chlouber . The truth is my motivation took a big hit and I was still going to Leadville, after all I had committed.  I didn’t think it was likely that I would meet my target (or even close), but I settled into commitment.  I said I was going, so I would.  And my perspective would be the joy of the Race Across the Sky and that big high country.

Race day start– I arrived with five minutes to spare.  My tactic of sleeping low in Aspen meant I had a super early morning drive with my friend Zander.  A timing miscalculation (I always use my best past time as the marker) and some tummy issues put us right down to the wire with Zander helping me strap my number to my bike a few blocks from the start line and a fast pedal to a jump over the fence in to the coral.  In a way it was a blessing, not too much time to stew.  I always love the national anthem (this year sung by Dave Wiens’ son), I stripped off my vest and with the blast of the shotgun we were off.  The pace from the silver coral was strong, I was geared out downhill toward St. Kevans, the dirt was fast and so was the climb.  Unusually, the field felt so open, no one falling off in this group as we moved over the hill on the way to Turquoise Lake.  I was pushing but still inside myself, not particularly paying attention to racing, just going.

The low spot-is the turn on the pavement at the tail end of Turquoise Lake, ironically it was also the early point where I questioned what I was doing.  “why am I doing this again”?  “what am I proving”?  I could just get to Pipeline aid and quit.  Well I could couldn’t I?….Sometimes just having the option in one’s mind is enough to get through this block, the danger though is that you slow down.

Going fast-is relative to space, memory and of course others.  Heading up Sugarloaf seemed faster than before, I was passed by a couple of trains on the low gradient dirt, but once we hit the rocky road, I started passing occasionally.  The crest came quickly and soon I was threading my way down Powerline, a human slalom thru the nervous hart tail skidders.   It felt smooth, fast and I am sure I passed forty people, one two, sometimes three at a time.  I wondered if I looked reckless to my peers?

Realization of potential– is for me a direct correlation to confidence, but being overly confident is something I have always down played.  Under promise and deliver a surprise has been my way, then only I am disappointed.  Riding a nine day stage race in April changed my perspective on “hard”, in terms of what hard was anyway.  Tahoe Trail and Leadville didn’t seem as “big”- I didn’t feel the same need to over plan my food, drink, split times et al.  Heading down Powerline I allowed a thought, I am actually good at this, in this pace group I belong.  Jumping on wheels once we hit pavement only doing one turn at the front didn’t feel like cheating, it felt like tactics.  I passed Pipeline just after 8am and all of a sudden I realized that today I was faster, way faster than before.

Friends at Twin Lakes-made all the difference.  “Dude you’re flying” affirmed Andy Tuthill.  A fast change of camelbacks to my light Rogue, told Andy I didn’t need my jacket and asked for help ripping off knee warmers in the now bright morning sun.  It is hard to explain what it feels like to have your friends support you for these brief minutes, I just know it lifts me up and makes my legs spin a little faster.  As you ride through the throngs of people at Twin Lakes, complete strangers cheer, whoop, ring cowbells and offer an experience for an amateur like Alp D’Huez on the Tour.

Twin-Lakes-CrewColumbine– comes quickly from Twin Lakes; I made the bend to the start of the road climb and was greeted with a yell of my name, “Andy”, from Mr. Dave Wiens.  He sounded surprised that I was there at 9:20, but it made me pedal faster for one hundred yards.  The Columbine climb is hard.  The six mile road grade is shallow, but between 10,000 and 11,500ft pushing the pedals feels like a fight.  It is all I have to push up at 5.5mph (Todd Wells @ 9.2mph).  John McCulloch and I take turns leading and we arrive at the hard part of the climb together.  Here I dismount and push for a while on the first steep rocky section above tree-line on the edge of cramps for the first time.  Ken is parked in his usual spot on a quad and I yell “hi Ken”, he reminds me that “you bought that thing to ride didn’t you”, as I pushed up the hill.  So I got a little further up and got on the bike and rode.  I have never had the opportunity to ride so much of this climb before, always too many people walking. In this group there are good gaps and I actually rode about sixty percent, with occasional hiking on the steep stuff.  Maybe it was the cold up here, or riding in oxygen debt, but my arms started to go numb, as if my forearms didn’t have blood and then my vision got a little funny too.  This felt close to the edge-of something, something that I didn’t want to get too close to?  The top always comes, a splash of coke and a chunk on banana and I was heading down (an hour later it would be snowing up here).  On the way down you see your friends still heading to the top-Jeff, Sian, Paul and Andy all said hi and a few others that I didn’t recognize as I focused on the descent.  Running in to your ascending peers would not be acceptable.  The warmth as I reached the valley floor felt great- I was a cold skinny (no jacket).

Friends again– were waiting to greet me at Twin Lakes.  New pack, bottles, potatoes, egg, yogurt, peach, chain lube with a pro team of Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh & Christine.  In this moment time seemed to slow and I was so struck by how each person’s eyes told me they were invested in my success.  I am lucky to have such good friends in this life.  In past years I have taken my support from Scott for granted, my focus was me, today I had a new perspective.

Wind– is hard for me on the flats.  The last thing that Andy reminded me was “get in a group”, the same advice I gave him the year before.  As I ascended to the dirt roads to cross back over toward town- was there a group in site?  Well yes there was, but about one hundred yards ahead and just out of reach for my legs.  I looked around for others to make a new group and there was no one to be seen.  I settled in and pushed the wind myself and ate the last of my egg.  This roll back to Pipeline is deceptive; there are some short kicker climbs that seem to tap everything your legs have left.  I did hook into a couple of guys here and there to share work, but mostly just waited for the aid station where I asked Zander to meet me with chamois cream.

Bad ass– has been a problem this year.  That is my left sit bone has been trouble with saddle sores due to it protruding lower than my right and rubbing the saddle.  I also have a pain starting in my right knee, but this sit bone is as sore as ever, getting old is tough.  Chamois cream seems to help.  A splash of coke and I was off to form a good group to push against the wind to the bottom of Powerline.  Six guys can make good time even if they don’t work very well together.

Powerline– is the last brutal assault on your will to succeed.  Fifteen hundred feet of vertical with twist turns, false flats and loose rocky challenge.  I rode almost the entire climb with occasional push to avoid cramps.  The top actually came remarkably quickly (thanks to the guy with the cold water and coke).  Every bystander on this climb is in your camp.  Food, cheer, maybe a little push, these folks that don’t know me make a lot of difference.  It amazes me how my legs that felt so cooked on the flats can come back to life on this climb, after the first wash of lactic acid moves with the blood, the pain goes away and it’s just riding.

Sugarloaf– mountain crested the bike starts to roll and I flick my shock to float.  I need to get home to Leadville and there are few people spread in front of me.  As the bike comes up to speed I pick off one, two, three and maybe eventually ten people who are riding with care over the rocky descent from Sugarloaf.  Strava tells great tales, I was only a couple of miles an hour slower than Todd Wells, 36th of 1600.  Fast did seem easy here.  Two thirds of the way down I saw my friend Garry (2012 finsiher at 9:30), he had come to meet me to offer encouragement and pace me up the hill to St. Kevans.  Good to see a friendly face.

NZ kicks my butt– was not what I was expecting.  Garry, a soft spoken Kiwi was ready to push me.  He told me that I could catch that next guy, that I looked strong, that I could ride when others were walking, and performed as a perfect coach to take me into the pain cave.  The last pavement ascent has been so tough in the past and his encouragement and company made that climb to St. Kevans very different.  As we crested, he said “now you can rest-you’re good on the downhill”.  We both flew down the other side and I got a little close to the edge on one water bar.  I had visions of Garry explaining to Scott how he was with me when I went off trail at thirty mph, but it didn’t happen.  With storms in the air a tricky downdraft had now created a headwind where there should be tailwind, so the last push to town seemed harder than it should, but soon I was on that last dirt road with the super low grade climb to town.  I had just missed nine hours, but still on track for nine and a quarter.  On this last climb, I passed a couple, got passed by a couple knowing that pavement meant I was within one mile.

finishRed carpet– can be seen way in the distance as you crest 6th street in Leadville.  That last half mile is so easy as you spin toward the warmth of the crowd greeting and into the arms of your friends.  Letting go as the finish line is crossed is relief that is hard to describe.  But coupled with hugs, medals and smiling friends it can be overwhelming.  This day for me is joy!  Real joy, for a good day on the bike, supported by my friends, and coincidentally producing my best result so far.  9h 17m, 340th overall and 40th in my age group is a result I am proud of, 49 minutes faster than 2012.  The lesson being that perseverance and patience will always produce a better result.

Thanks– go to so many.  Julie Young and O2 fitness for my training program and general life coaching, Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh, Christine and Garry for crewing my journey this day and Scott for tolerating my training regime (I wish you could have been there).  I am so honored and lucky to have such great friends in my life.


Day 9-JoBerg2c, Jolivet to Scottburgh. 84km , 1550m down 850m up


2af6b297-f236-4eaf-8c76-fc9959a9af5d2Andy’s Adventure Concludes…

We Rode the Beloved Country!

7am start and we were all excited to get this thing going.  We again were in group G, so we got American and jumped into group E.  2 minute gaps for each group. Today I had the best legs of the week.  I knew in five minutes I had gusto. Caught the back of D in no time, hooked into C (where we should be)

Today we flew.  Josh warmed up and we hammered a constant pace on a mixture of sandy double and singletrack.  We spent much of our day in the sugar cane fields, with the leaves slapping us as we pedaled mostly downhill.

Again the crest top  ores were amazing, but mostly today was about getting to the Indian Ocean at Scottburgh.

As usual the 20km last push in the wind seemed to take forever.  The final segment always comes, this time a 600m floating bridge across the lagoon, 1m wide, and the whole thing moved with the wind.

We were down in about 4hrs 20m

So what to make of this event?  Every part of the experience is hard- from the riding to the cold to the hauling of bags each day, basics like showers and toilets become an art of timing.  Would I do it again? Ask me tomorrow:)

A note on South Africa and the people. What a warm, enthusiastic show for life here, even though there is an underlying sense that not all is well politically or socially.  So much potential, but time will tell how the riches of this country (place and people) are realized.  In every town we were greeted by friendly Afrikaans, Anglos, and tribal people. All showed such warmth and interest in us and our journey. I am pleased to have met all if them.  Even the ones that can’t go downhill, ride tech uphill, cross rivers it ride mud:);

Day 4 into 5 JoBerg2c- Sterkfontein dam to Winterton Country Club


Leaving the Free State to enter KwaZulu Natal. Back on the bike for a frosty 1degree start.  We rode into the valley mist on district roads to find a climb to the escarpment. Terrain that in some ways resembles Zion with singletrack over slick rock. Stunning views into Natal led to an epic descent on real deal trail. (America beats SA on descending skills)

The last climb of the day was about 600 vert of steep technical track with sun beating on your back. Turns out the SA’s can’t climb it either if it’s loose, but to give credit, they are tough and with determination not often seen.

On a day of 121km we spent very little on roads which was great, but pacing on s-track is always slower so 7hrs 17 in the saddle, we came in 195 out of just under 800, 178 overall to date.  But that’s about to change….

After a shower, lunch and comp beers life was good.  By 7pm I was back with the doc with my GI issue, and a new found love for porta johns.  My favorite quote from doc, “what part of don’t eat protein and fat didn’t you understand”.  Spending every other day in the invalid van wasn’t my plan, but now I just need to get better.  Day 5 off.

Day 1 Joberg2c, Heidelberg to Frankfort.

Congratulations to Andy Buckley,  o2fitness athlete, on his South African success! Below the first of several blog posts from Andy’s diary account of the nine, life-changing days…


The Route is King – 99.5% off-road, Subaru track (actually, Jeep track but we cannot say Jeep), tons of single-track, rural secondary roads and very little district road… There’s only about 10km of tar along the entire 900km.

Starting in the south of Johannesburg and finishing nine days later at Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Part race part adventure, the Old Mutual joBerg2c takes competitors through the country, from the heat and dust of the big city to the cool crisp air of the sea via spectacular mountainous passes.

116km today or 72 miles through classic cattle and maize farms. Some fun singletrack , lots of dirt road and segments of the bumpiest, muddy and sandy singletrack I can remember. The highlight of the day, a floating temporary bridge made of shipping pallets allowing is to cross the river Vaal.  400m of precarious bike handling on the 1.1m width. (People did fall in)

Today was a neutral no race day, but we came on 193 of 800, time of 5hrs 48m.  We will race this pace to save energy for days later with more climbing

Onward tomorrow- snow in them mountains apparently

Day 8-JoBerg2c, Ixopo to Jolivet. 98km and 1700m


image_1Andy’s Odyssey Continues…

On day 4 our team GC ranking was 69th, we were actually doing quite well-things change and new opportunities arise.

Today we started in batches of 100.  We were batch G, the last.  Due to splintered team results we now ‘didn’t count’.  And yet three amazing things happened today.

1. Josh Fonner- the legend, my captain, rallied after yesterday’s sickness and got on his bike.  I’m so proud to ride with this guy.

2. Group G (The Gastro group) allocation, allowed us to move forward and lead with a ten minute spread between the group in front. This gave us ample opportunity to feel the fast freedom of some world class singletrack

3. The Umkomass Valley, a spectacle of incredible beauty with a trail named ‘wow’ for good reason.  To be perched on the side of the mountain and travel at speeds non human on this tacky dirt-what a treat.

We descended for 20km to a valley floor of a different climate, after figuring out a technique to avoid  and mitigate the non technical SA’s. The valley nicknamed Death Valley was Hot!  Now all we had to do was reach our flat point water stop at 40km and then climb out for 60km, uphill that is.

I had told Josh that I thought most of the climb was on fire road, actually it was mostly singletrack, and at times a good grind.  In fact about 85% of today was s-track.

Water point two had a great spread of food including hamburgers.  What the heck, my first real red meat!  Then another 1000ft of climbing to the peak before we rolled though the high Forrest toward our camp.

Sometimes things happen that are unexpectedly shocking, or at least for me.  So when in the final 2km, riding aside a sealed road, I saw someone’s pet dog get run over, I felt quite heartbroken for the imagined kid that loved that dog.  It made me cry (perhaps I was just tired), but it reminded me too of our temporary state in this world and how it can change in the skid of a tire.

We made it back to camp in 6hrs 29m, not bad for sick guys.

We can’t wait to be done tomorrow and swim in the Indian Ocean at our final destination.

Day 7- JoBerg2c, Underberg to Ixopo. 81km and 1360m of climbing


image_1-2-1024x768Andy’s Adventure, continues…

A warmer and later start time today, and we were all prepared to hammer hard to get into a good group ready for the S-track at 15km.  However, when it rains, sometimes it pours.  As I’m getting better, Josh had no GO.  (As it turns out he has IT, and in curled up in a ball in the tent tonight).  So this becomes a real test of team, for one as occasionally selfish as I.  So I stuck with my friend, yoyoed a bit, pushed him a bit, talked about random stuff and watched him suffer a brutal slow pedal day to the finish.

Our one exception was the singletrack, with incredible forested smooth to rough red dirt, the overwhelming sensation was TRACTION!  Almost any speed with a top of the bike was rewarded with an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ tree dodge as the tires bit into the dirt like a pit bull with a new bone.

(Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?). We figure they all train on dirt roads around Johannesburg and never really see S-track, so one should really empathize.  However, after lots of polite ‘whenever you’re ready, could I pass’ we have resorted to just going.  A slight touch of the back tire seems to do the trick to make them pull left.  We did fly 22hours.

The country today was a mix of tree and dairy farms, but still with grand vistas mountain to valley.   I am struck by the mass industry of agriculture in this province.

We climbed our last few km’s back to camp, and arrived at a slow pace that puts us to the back of the start tomorrow.  Having said that I am so proud of what Josh pulled off today, he kept pedaling when many would quit.

Tomorrow is a mix of epic singletrack and hot midday climbing . Should be interesting

Day 6- JoBerg2c , Kamberg to Underberg- 91km and a climb day of 2000m

Day 6- JoBerg2c , Kamberg to Underberg- 91km and a climb day of 2000m

Andy, o2fitness athlete’s South African adventure continues…

Well hopefully as I write this my GI issues are behind me (no pun).  Today was a mostly district road traverse of mountain passes with a little tech S-track here and there.  Not a bike ride I would normally choose if it were not for the breathtaking beauty of the Natal province.   It’s big sky, majestic mountains and green valley floors are a sight to see.

This mornings start was again cold at just over freezing, but early climbing warmed the blood.  Unfortunately a diet of white bread, bananas, pasta and rice is not a good prep for powerful legs- racing this day wasn’t really on the cards.  Josh and I labored behind middle of the field for the first part of the day, the legs finally came back to life on the first real climb to water point 1, about a 700m ascent.  Next a chilly 13km high speed descent got us to the 52km mark before 11am. Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?

The up and down terrain drew us through a number of rural villages all with African kids standing by the roadside asking us for chocolate.  We couldn’t figure out why they thought we would be carrying chocolate. An Australian friend explained that in these poor villages the kids use the few words or word they have learned in English to reach out to strangers. The disparity in socio economic groups is striking. The average wage earner in these rural areas could turn the value of my bike in to four years worth of wages.

How lucky I am to have such an adventure.

We finished at picturesque Hazeldean farm in Underberg and I treated myself to some meat for lunch for the first time in 38 hours (fingers crossed)- beer is a gastric insulator I think.

Tomorrow promises the goods- singlestrack in abundance and grippy dirt!! We hope to go faster.


JoBerg South African, nine day, 900K mountain bike stage race

image-11-768x1024Day 2-3 JoBerg2c – well the last 48hours have been eventful. Day 2 was our first day of true racing. High paced start at -2 celsius made for cold hands and feet.  By7:30 it warmed enough to strip layers and settle in for more farm singletrack and backcountry roads. 93km went fast and we were back to Reitz camp by noon.

Felt a bit queezy on the last 10k, little did I know what was in store. A night of stomach cramps and GI issues!! Got a bag of fluids and good cramp drugs, but I knew I was out of day 3.  Me and fifty others got sick from bad water. It’s Africa!

Got a ride to camp at Sterkfontaine dam, and skipped a hard day of 123km

Tomorrow we descend off the escarpment and hopefully to warmer temps