Leadville 100 mountain bike race takes place today

The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race takes place today in Leadville, Colorado, with more than 1500 racers from 48 states and 21 different countries taking part in the annual event, which looks to have its deepest field ever, despite the loss of the biggest name in cycling – Lance Armstrong.

The race is actually 104 miles in length, and features an out-and-back format. The route starts and ends at 10,500 feet, but the riders will climb more than 11,600 feet, and reach a peak elevation of about 12,600 feet, while out on the course. The Leadville trail is not the most technical of rides, but the altitude will test the endurance and conditioning of the riders from the moment they start until the finish hours later.

A little over two years ago, the race was barely known outside of the hardcore mountain biking crowd. It had garnered quite a loyal following, but it was completely off the radar for most sports fans, let alone the mainstream population. But then, Lance Armstrong, who had been retired from competitive cycling for a couple of years, announced that he would be competing at Leadville, and the media descended on the event in a frenzy. Lance would go on to finish second behind six time Leadville champ Dave Wiens, who became an instant celebrity, earning the title of “the man who beat Lance.”

Soon after that race, Armstrong announced he was coming out of retirement, and in 2009 he returned to Leadville fresh off a third place finish in the Tour de France, and in much better riding condition. The cycling legend then proceeded to put the hammer down on the mostly amateur Leadville crowd. He ended up winning the race in record time, finishing in just six hours, 28 minutes, and 50 second, and roughly a half hour in front of the second place Wiens. Armstrong was so dominant, he ended up riding the final 65 miles completely alone.

Lance was scheduled to return to defend his title, but earlier this week he pulled out of the race, citing a lingering injury that he suffered in the Tour de France and wanting to spend time with his children before they returned to school. But that race still has an incredibly deep field, including Wiens, who is hungry to reclaim the win. He’ll be challenged by Matt Shriver, who finished third last year and Levi Leipheimer, a teammate of Armstrong’s on Team Radioshack. Additionally, professional mountain bike riders Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Todd Wells and Jeremiah Bishop are all in attendance for the first time and are hoping to win the race as well.

The race gets underway at 6:30 AM local time with riders trickling across the finish line all afternoon and into the evening.

For an idea of what the race is like, check out the trailer for the film Race Across the Sky a documentary about the Leadville 100.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp, Larry Pierce)