LEADVILLE " After all the buildup surrounding this year's Leadville 100 mountain bike race, Dave Wiens, the man Floyd Landis would later dub "the real thing," rode through the finish line Saturday afternoon as if nothing had changed.
He was in first place, of course, same as he'd been the previous four years at this vaunted high-altitude race. And the Cloud City fans he's won over during his unbeaten reign cheered almost as loudly as if one of their local boys had triumphed.
The only difference between this year's Race Across the Sky and the preceding four was Wiens' time. At 6 hours, 58 minutes and 47 seconds, he shattered Mike Volk's 10-year-old course record (7:05:45) by nearly seven minutes, the first rider in the event's 14-year history to churn up 6th Street in under seven hours.
Less than two minutes later the assembled sunbaked throngs found out why, as Landis pedaled across the finish line in his own record-breaking time of 7:00:30. It brought to an end a memorable 100-mile duel between two of the best American cyclists ever to race.
Wiens, 42, a Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member and former World Cup winner from Gunnison, had come within six seconds of Volk's record three years ago, so you could understand why he considered the mark within reach. However, to break it by such a wide margin required a little help, and he got it from last year's embattled Tour de France winner.
"Nothing's unbreakable," said Wiens, who stepped up his training when he learned Landis and Lance Armstrong (who later backed out) could be in the field. "It seemed pretty far-fetched, but it wouldn't have happened if Floyd wasn't behind me."
As in right behind him. For basically the entire race.
Landis takes a spill
Landis suffered an ugly crash about 25 miles in that shredded his spandex shorts and left his hip, knee and elbow bloody for the rest of the day. But he responded with grit " and strategy, as he elected to mash on the flat sections to make up for Wiens' advantage on the steep, technical climbs.
"It worked out fine but at the end he just had more than me," Landis, 31, said of Wiens. "He's tough, man."
Landis' own post-crash fortitude didn't go unnoticed by his competition.
"He could've easily just pulled the plug but he rode tough," said Vail's Mike Kloser, another MTB Hall of Famer, who took third (7:10:24) in his first Leadville 100. "I think he wanted to make a statement that he's still got the legs in him."
Indeed, Landis " who trained intensely for this event, including the last three weeks at altitude " said he was quite pleased with his strength as well as his time. And considering he'd raced against Wiens a decade ago in elite-level mountain bike events, he knew he'd need a special race to win.
"He was always better than me at mountain biking," Landis said while signing autographs and posing for pictures in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. "I'm not embarrassed at all to be beaten by him. He's the real thing."
Kloser, who has raced against Wiens for 20 years, concurred: "Dave looked as good as I've ever seen him."
As for Landis' future, he's waiting to hear a ruling on his arbitration case, just like the rest of the cycling world. "I haven't scheduled anything just because I wanna wait to see what the decision is," he said. "I really don't have any time frame; I don't have any way of knowing (when the decision will be announced). So I'll probably just go train and just wait for that."
Aspen's Max Taam, 24, used his telephone-pole quads to take fourth overall in his LT 100 debut (7:31:28). Last year's runner-up, Jake Rubelt of Arizona, rounded out the top five (7:34:51).
Keystone's Thane Wright, meanwhile, tore through the last half of the course to move up to sixth and lead the Summit County finishers with a debut time of 7:37:03.
Afterward, overwhelmed by emotion, Wright broke down. "With all the suffering in the world, I just feel so blessed to be able to do this at a high level," he said. "And to ride with the group I rode with today, I feel so thankful that God's given me the gift to do this."
Boulder's Gretchen Reeves ran away with the women's race, winning by more than 25 minutes in 8:05:30 (still well off Laurie Brandt's record of 7:58:52). The two-time national marathon champion made a midrace decision to try to break eight hours, but, as she put it, "I detonated on the Power Line climb. That was brutal."
Nevertheless, Reeves said, "It's pretty special because I've always wanted to do the race but there's always been conflicts. But it's one of those just epic, old-school, high-altitude races, and it's special for me to win."
Amanda Riley of Jackson, Wyo., took second (8:31:43), while Grand Junction's Keri Nelson rounded out the women's podium in 8:44:21.
In all, 772 cyclists began the race at 6:30 Saturday morning.
Devon O'Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leadville 100 Top Finishers
1. Dave Wiens " 6:58:47
2. Floyd Landis " 7:00:30
3. Mike Kloser " 7:10:24
4. Max Taam " 7:31:28
5. Jake Rubelt " 7:34:51
6. Thane Wright " 7:37:03
7. Mike Hogan " 7:37:42
8. Ryan Hamilton " 7:42:16
9. Thomas Dooley " 7:44:59
10. Adam Plummer " 7:45:26
1. Gretchen Reeves " 8:05:30
2. Amanda Riley " 8:31:43
3. Keri Nelson " 8:44:21