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  • Wed August 13 2008
  • Posted Aug 13, 2008
By Jason Blevins The Denver Post LEADVILLE — After 90 miles of lung-busting, tire-to-tire racing, the most famous bicyclist in the world surrendered to a full-time dad and retired bike racer from Gunnison. "At the end, I realized I was totally cooked," said Lance Armstrong after finishing his first Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile mountain-bike race that starts at 10,500 feet and climbs to more than 14,000 feet, and is renowned as one of the country's most demanding bike competitions. "I told him 'You gotta go.' He said 'Come on!' and I said 'No, I can't. You go,' " Armstrong said. So, Dave Wiens went. The 44-year-old father of three boys and part-time trail builder won his sixth consecutive Leadville Trail 100, besting a field of more than 950 riders and, for the second year in a row, setting a new course record with a time of 6:45:45. Armstrong, who drew thousands of cheering fans to the so-called Race Across the Sky, finished one minute, 56 seconds behind Wiens, taking second. "The guy that I raced today wasn't the guy who won the tour, so I don't put myself in that category," said Wiens in a typical display of modesty. He's now beaten two Tour de France champs. Wiens, a lean, aerobic monster who retired from professional mountain-bike racing in 2004 as a two-time national champion, last year sneaked past the since-dethroned 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis. This year, it was seven-time Tour champion Armstrong who shoved Wiens to a new record. Wiens shaved 13 minutes off his 2007 record time and even finished on a flat rear tire. "I never even considered that I was going to win because when you are riding with Lance, you can't shake him, and if he shakes you, you are not going to win that race," Wiens said. "I was surprised when I felt like he might be starting to crack a little bit. But you never know. When you blow (up), you blow so fast and it's all over." Wiens didn't plan this winning streak. It all began as a way to stay in shape. Wiens was looking for athletic projects to pursue after stepping away from the professional racing circuit. Something that could keep him strong and riding. He chose Leadville, where he vacationed as a kid growing up in Denver and where he won his first professional bike race in 1988. "I just wanted a fitness goal," he said. "And Leadville has been a part of my life forever." Since that first Leadville Trail race in 2003, he's won every time. And he's nurtured a growing fondness for a race that is more of a quintessential Colorado event than a competition. "This race is life-changing," Wiens said. "It's so filled with the human element. The front of the pack is only a sliver of the whole story. Every rider has a story about what led them to Leadville." On the trail, Wiens encourages every racer he passes in the out-and-back course. On Saturday, he even recruited the race-hardened Armstrong in his cheering for still-climbing racers as the duo flew down the course's steep trails. Wiens also chatted amiably with Armstrong on the ride up to the 12,600-foot Hope Pass turnaround. "That's the push me and my brother call 'Don't Go Left,' " Wiens told Armstrong as they reached the bottom of a particularly technical descent in the first half of the race. When the pair returned to climb that steep trail, known as "Powerline," three hours later — with roughly 70 miles under their belts — Armstrong looked back at Wiens and asked: "Do we pedal that?" Wiens had never pedaled it. For six years, he always walked his bike up Powerline. It's that steep. But this time, he remained in his saddle, following a slack-jawed Armstrong in a scene more than a little reminiscent of the Tour de France's Alpe d'Huez. "I wouldn't have ridden that if he wasn't in front of me making me," said Wiens, noting that he and Armstrong often seemed to be working together. "That's why the record went down." The two finished 35 minutes ahead of the third-place finisher, Manual "Mannie" Prado, a California bike technician originally from Costa Rica. "I just tried to whittle my losses. Those guys are so strong. Really strong," Prado said. Before the race, Armstrong took a mere mortal's viewpoint, saying he was not planning to beat Wiens. After the race, he said he would return to Leadville next year. His arrival last week was breathlessly heralded by race coordinator Ken Chlouber as "the greatest, hugest thing that has happened to Leadville since we discovered gold." "Armstrong had everything to lose up here. It's really cool that he showed up. I think it shows a lot of character," said Chris Cook, a Vail cyclist who has ridden the Leadville Trail seven times. "It makes me wonder about next year. If he starts coming, I bet we can expect to see some of the biggest names in cycling coming to Leadville too." Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 or jblevins@denverpost.com

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