LEADVILLE – Three women mostly rode alone Saturday at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. They finally came together on the podium.
Sarah Sturm of Durango took a brief lead on the climb of Columbine Mine during the final 10 miles of the first half of the famed 104-mile mountain bike race. During the 3,000 foot climb to 12,754 feet, Montana’s Rose Grant reclaimed the lead from Sturm, and she never looked back. Grant won her first Leadville 100 women’s title in 7 hours, 36 minutes, 7 seconds. Sturm was second in 7:54:23, and Angela Parra of Colombia was third in 7:55:56.
Sturm, a 29-year-old from Durango, found out she would compete with the Specialized team at Leadville only weeks before the race. The cyclocross and gravel star has shown she can perform on any bike, including the road, and proved it again Saturday on a mountain bike with the second-place finish behind Grant, a four-time marathon mountain bike national champion.
“I don’t know if it’s actually hit me yet,” said Sturm. “I’m really excited. Leadville is one of those bucket list items. It got put on my calendar kind of last minute, so I didn’t know how I would do, and I feel like it’s kind of a big deal for me. To get second, especially to someone as incredibly talented as Rose, I’m really proud of myself for digging.”
Sturm was third most of the second half of the race after she was hit by cramps descending Columbine. But she caught back up to Parra near Twin Lakes and rode the final 30 miles back into Leadville surrounded by the men with no sight of Grant.
The camaraderie shared on the course with more than 1,000 cyclists on the course together was something Sturm said she won’t forget.
“In the beginning, it’s dog eat dog,” Sturm said. “I was like, ‘OK, we have 100 miles.’ Toward the end, though, everyone just kind of bands together. I raced with some guys out there, and we were all like, ‘Oh my god, get this over with.’ Really, toward the end of the race with everyone just suffering, everyone tries to help each other out. Then it’s hugs at the finish line. It’s special.”
Sturm said the mental game of not being able to race with other women wheel to wheel was a challenge and one she is not used to in gravel races or cyclocross.
“When I caught Rose on Columbine, that was like the only time I saw any women,” Sturm said. “That was almost halfway through it. Then, I was just trying to ride my pace. I knew that if you dig too deep on that, you don’t get those matches back later. I was not feeling it and kind of let up. Rose came around me near the top, and I didn’t really see her again. The woman who got third, she passed me on the decent while I was cramping. The only time I saw her was when I passed her again. It was a solo race for all of us, which was hard.”
She will race a 140-mile gravel event in Steamboat Springs next weekend to make it three big weekends of racing in a row coming off Downieville and Leadville. This fall and winter, the defending singlespeed cyclocross national champ will once again race for the Specialized TenSpeed Hero cyclocross team.