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Giant Factory Off-Road Team tent at the 2011 Leadville 100

Ride Life: Gearing up for Leadville

16 augustus 2011

On August 13, more than 1,800 riders set out to tackle the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in Colorado. Those lined up for the 6:30 a.m start were the lucky ones. Each year only a fraction of the riders who set out to race Leadville make it to the start line in this historic Old West mining town. More than 5,000 try to get in through a lottery, and hundreds more attempt to qualify at selection races in New York, California and Colorado.

This year Giant Factory Off-Road riders Carl Decker and Kelli Emmett were among the hundreds of Leadville rookies. More accustomed to the shorter races they specialize in—Olympic distance XC, Super D and short-track—the 100-mile effort in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies was a new challenge for Carl and Kelli.

Everything about Leadville is daunting. The trails are steep, rocky and loose. The course leads riders to dizzying heights above 12,000 feet. The distance (actually about 103.5 miles) wears down bodies and bikes.

Whether you’re an amateur trying to make the 12-hour cut-off and earn the coveted finisher’s buckle, or a pro like Carl or Kelli, race strategy and equipment choices loom large in the quest to conquer Leadville. Bike choices run the gamut—from comfortable full-suspension bikes to lightweight hardtails.

For his first run at Leadville, Carl chose a Giant bike that he was instrumental in helping develop—the XtC Composite 29er. With more than 12,000 feet of total climbing throughout the day, all at high altitude, Carl said it’s all about efficiency. He wanted light weight, comfort and stable handling, three things the XtC Composite 29er nails.

And as Carl explained, Leadville’s distance and cumulative climbing are both challenging—but it’s the altitude that really makes this race unique.

“At this distance and elevation it feels like you’re racing in slow motion,” Carl said. “It’s weird, even when you’re going good compared to others around you, you’re still moving slow. When you’re only pushing 150 watts instead of 300 on a climb, every watt counts that much more. So the composite hardtail is the right choice for me. It’s just a little more efficient than a full-suspension.”

And even though Leadville doesn’t feature a lot of technical singletrack riding, the larger 29-inch wheels help on both the climbs and the descents, which can be fast, rocky and punishing in the latter stages of the race.

“I actually had fun on the descents,” said Carl, who also noted that he used bar ends for the first time in 10 years. “There are a lot of ultra-endurance type riders here who are used to training for long rides but they don’t necessarily ride trails really fast. So with this bike I was just weaving in and out of guys on the descents, which is always fun.”

Kelli also chose a hardtail, the XtC Advanced SL.

“I like that it’s light, has great maneuverability and corners well,” Kelli said.

In her first Leadville race, Kelli was holding strong in the top-five of the pro women’s category until a crash at mile 65 ended her day prematurely.

Carl and Kelli have earned reputations as two of mountain biking’s most well-rounded racers. Each has won titles in all sorts of off-road races including Super D Nationals, Single-speed World Championships, pro XC and short-track races. They have both been crowned “All Mountain World Champion” at the two-day Downieville Classic in California.

With endurance events like Leadville gaining more and more popularity, expect to see these versatile Factory Off-Road Team riders branching out even more in the future. When they do, we’ll keep you posted on the Giant bikes they choose for every new adventure.