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Best bikers on the big screen in Vail

Shauna Farnell
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
ALL |

VAIL, Colorado – Any story involving Lance Armstrong is bound to be inspiring, but this one hits a little closer to home. Sure, the world’s most recognizable cyclist is about to attempt his eighth win of the Tour de France this summer, but not many people know that he’s been racing across the sky the last couple of years … along with several hundred others you may know.

The Vail Symposium presents “Race Across the Sky” on Wednesday, a film about the Leadville Trail 100 bike race and a rare opportunity to discuss it with a few of cycling’s own stars. The film recounts last year’s race, which Armstrong won, edging six-time winner Dave Wiens of Gunnison. Though the film doesn’t include footage from the races that Wiens won, such as 2008, when he beat Armstrong and 2007 when he beat Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, Wiens’ role in the film is vital, as is that of local cyclist Roxanne Hall, who finished the 2009 race after recovering from a horrific accident the year before, when she was hit by a car while training for the 2008 race, leaving her in a body cast with several broken bones and torn organs.

“This is an event that’s kind of monumental for everyone involved,” said Armstrong’s coach Chris Carmichael, who is taking time away from training Armstrong for this year’s Tour to be on hand at the Symposium’s Race Across the Sky presentation. “Whether it’s the top pros or the guys struggling to get into the official time of under 12 hours, this is a huge accomplishment.”



An inside look at an endurance race

The Race Across the Sky is a 100-mile mountain bike race that takes place in Leadville every August, climbing about 14,000 feet in elevation and topping out at 13,000 feet.



“It is not just a race of man against man. It’s man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. elements, man vs. time,” points out the Symposium’s Evan Fairmont. “This documentary takes an intimate look at what it takes not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, to be able to compete in an endurance race.”

Wiens and 2007 Leadville women’s champion and local bike pro Gretchen Reeves will also be on hand at the presentation.

“Whether people are cyclists or not, a lot of people come away thinking, ‘I want to do the Leadville 100,'” Wiens said. “People come away inspired to do something, to get out of their comfort zone. The general inspiration is far and away the best aspect of it. It’s not just an elite race. It has grandmothers, grandfathers, cancer survivors … It doesn’t have to motivate people to do something physical … just to do something to challenge themselves in general.”



“I think it will inspire people to just get out,” agreed Reeves. “I think it’s that kind of film. A big part of mountain biking is just getting out. People who have injuries will be really inspired by Roxanne’s story. Dave and Lance’s story is amazing.”

A renewed intensity

At 45, Wiens says he has lost some of the fire he had back in the fall of 2006, when Armstrong announced that he was going to come out of retirement and do the Leadville race. Though Armstrong didn’t race in 2007, Landis did, and it was all Wiens could do to edge the Tour de France champion for the win by about two minutes. It was the following year that Armstrong competed in Leadville, and the glory of beating him is something Wiens will always cherish.

“It was as if I got to cut my teeth on Floyd,” Wiens said. “That was a really tough race. Lance didn’t announce he was doing the race in 2008, but in the back of my mind, I knew he would be there. I was ready. I kept doing what I was doing. Since he was still a retired cyclist, he was training for a good bit of time. I think that was a much more even match between two individuals. It was like I got a private race against him and a private race against Floyd. Last year, Lance was right out of the Tour de France.”

As seen by millions of people the world over, Armstrong took third in last year’s Tour. As a comparably much smaller but still ever-growing crowd of mostly local mountain bike enthusiasts saw, Armstrong won the 2009 Leadville race handily, beating Wiens by about 30 minutes and breaking Wiens’ course record by about 15 minutes. The previous year, Wiens edged Armstrong by 2 minutes, breaking away in the last 10 miles of the race with a flat tire. Wiens humbly insists that he was “lucky” to beat Armstrong and Landis, and isn’t surprised that Armstrong pulled ahead last year, considering the returned intensity of the celebrity’s cycling career.

The world’s best bikers

Wiens expects the 2010 Leadville race will be the most elite yet. It’s uncertain whether Armstrong will be there, but the lineup features some of the world’s best bikers.

“This is a whole new crop of bike racers, some World Cup guys from Europe, Todd Wells could be there, Levi [Leipheimer] could be there, Lance could be there …” Wiens said, crediting Armstrong for putting the Race Across the Sky on the world map. “There’s career advancement to be gained by doing well in the Leadville 100. That’s because of Lance. It never used to be that way. But it’s really satisfying. I don’t know how I’ll do this year. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hang. But I’ll try to be good. Here’s a race a couple hours from my house. I see it as a way to keep me fit on my bike.”

According to Carmichael, Armstrong initially viewed the Leadville 100 race as his official return to competitive cycling, and was more keyed up about it than he’d ever been for any of his famous road cycling races.

“He was really excited about it,” Carmichael recalls. “In his words, he was more nervous for Leadville than he was for the Tour de France. He said that’s when he’d come back to biking.”


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