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Aug 17, 2021

World's Hardest Race: The Leadville 100

In 2019 we were assembled in preparation for the Bucks County Classic. As a new elite team we talked about goals for our program. A consistent theme was that we wanted to punch above our weight, and take on epic challenges. Three months later Chris Baccash (Doylestown) was diagnosed with a brain tumor after his best ever season. Weeks later, the SARS CoV-2 pandemic began. Fresh out of surgery, Chris announced that he wanted to recover and take on the world's hardest mountain bike race, the Leadville 100 MTB race in Leadville, CO. Chris, Chris Meacham (Doylestown) and Jason Wood (Lansdale) entered the lottery for admission to Leadville and were accepted. After the 2020 race was cancelled we held on to the hope that we'd race in 2021.

What makes Leadville so hard? The race itself is a 104-mile, mountain bike race to start. Add in the fact that Leadville (America's highest elevation incorporated town) is situated at the top of the Rocky Mountains at 10,151 feet elevation above sea level and the race climbs to the top of the Columbine Mine at 12,424 feet above sea level. Oxygen is rare and there's 13,000+ vertical feet of elevation to conquer before you reach that red carpet on West 6th Street in "Cloud City." For perspective, Tour de France champions* Lance Armstrong (2008) and Floyd Landis (2007) came in 2nd place in their first Leadville attempts.

In addition to our hometown heroes, this race featured World Tour favorites Lachlan Morton and 2019 USA Cycling Road Racing Champion Alex Howes of the Educational Foundation-Nippo Pro Cycling Team, 2017-2019 Leadville Men's Champion and Rio Olympian Howard Grotts, 2019-2021 Women's Leadville Champion Rose Grant of Montana (current mountain bike national champion), and Vermont's Moriah Wilson among others. American Keegan Swenson edged Lachlan Morton and Howard Grotts with a course record time of 6 hours, 11 minutes for the men and Rose Grant won the women's race in a time of 7 hours, 24 minutes.

Chris Baccash (Doylestown) excelled at the 2019 Bucks County Classic culminating what had been an up-and-down season. Just after that race we eagerly anticipated this result being a springboard into a big 2020 season. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with a grade 2 brain tumor and underwent successful emergency surgeries at the University of Pennsylvania. Coming out of surgery, Chris set his sites on the 2020 Leadville MTB 100 race as a goal to demonstrate his recovery. Little did any of us guess what would happen next in the world. Chris stepped away from elite racing and committed to our alternative program, continuing to keeping fitness in hopes that racing would return in 2021. Simultaneously, Jason Wood (Lansdale) had stepped away from being a key fixture of our road racing program to meet the increasing demands of career and family. He also committed to our alternative program to explore new and emerging areas of bicycle racing, and set his sites on the Leadville 100 as a once-in-a-lifetime type goal and to support his close friend Chris Baccash. We are so pleased to report that they finished the 2021 Leadville 100 MTB race together with the very respectable times of 10:17.55 (491/1131) and 10:27.17 (478/1131) respectively. Chris' story will be the subject of an upcoming film by our friends at Riverbank Creative so keep your eyes peeled. You should read Chris' own words about the experience in his Stories On Staying Alive blog.

The prize of completing Leadville is a coveted belt buckle, and if you finish under 9 hours you get a big one. However, this is not a small task. No east coast racer has ever finished in the top 25 at any of the Leadville 100 races stretching back to its inception in 1983. In his first ever attempt, Chris Meacham finished in 9:14.27 (261/1131). Chris said after the race "I've never gone so deep in a race and I still don't know how I feel about it but I'm committed to coming back to Leadville in 2022 to find those 14 minutes."

Really, it's all Dr. Rob's fault. Our sponsor/teammate has previously completed the Leadville 100 MTB race six times and kept telling us stories about how awesome the event was, so I blame him for our fixation with putting it as a team goal. Unfortunately, 2021 was not to be his year as the heat and a minor illness forced him to abandon the race at 60 miles (after climbing Columbine Mine). However, not only should he be credited with getting us all to this bucket list race, he also secured the best team camp cabin in the whole damn town of Leadville with stunning views of Mt. Massive (14,428 ft.) and and Mt. Elbert (14,400 ft.) which make them the two highest peaks in Rocky Mountains.

From L to R (back row): Fran Taloricco (Bike Works, Managing Partner), Shannon Ryan (Support Crew), Chris Meacham (Racer), Heidi Riesenberger (Support Crew), Dr. Rob Riesenberger (Sponsor/Racer), Chris Baccash (Racer), Lindsey Wood (Support Crew), Jason Wood (Racer), Alex Ingraham (Support Crew), Ryan Canney of Riverbank Creative (Film Maker/Photographer). Front L to R: Dan Turner (Bike Works, Partner and Team Mechanic) & Brian Boger (Bike Works, Partner and Team Director). Not pictured: Simon Eisenbach (Photographer and Support Crew)

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