Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Luke here.
Steamboat Springs Spending 30 minutes on the phone with Dave Wiens serves as a 400-level course in mountain biking.
Wiens — known as the man that made Lance Armstrong quit, a mountain biking legend and an everyday family guy — talked at length Friday about the growth in popularity of endurance races.
Wiens’ wisdom on the race was endless. He was a professional racer for years, inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2000 and won the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race from 2003 to 2008.
It was the 2008 race that was the game-changer. Rumblings of Armstrong returning to the Tour de France had started to swirl.
So Armstrong, who saw former teammate Floyd Landis fall to Wiens the year before, entered the race.
Wiens and Armstrong battled together for 90 miles. As the story goes, in the final 10 miles, Wiens moved aside for Armstrong when the seven-time Tour winner said “No. Go. I’m done.”
Wiens wouldn’t say it Friday, but his win, just as much as Armstrong entering the sport of mountain biking, brought the endurance format to the general public.
“Leadville,” Wiens said, “presented mountain bike racing to a whole different athlete.”
Armstrong’s popularity and the aura around him as an unbeatable machine weren’t totally debunked that day. Armstrong would come back the next year and beat Wiens in the Leadville 100.
But what the two did during those two races changed the face of endurance mountain bike racing.
Armstrong’s primary fan base was road cyclists and triathletes. Seeing him get beat by Wiens and then seeing him win a year later, brought that segment into it.
“Those guys were saying, ‘Why can’t I race a mountain bike?’” Wiens said. “A lot of the guys that I’m seeing are 30- to 50-year-olds who were road racing or doing triathlons. They want to give bike riding in the dirt a try.”
Now endurance races are popping up everywhere. Wiens runs the Gunnison Growler, a 64-mile technical ride through Gunnison’s vast and unique singletrack.
There are a plethora of other endurance races around the region that fill up quickly. Take a look at Sunday’s Steamboat Stinger mountain bike race. It opened registration in late May and filled up.
So are endurance mountain bike races here to stay?
With the national success of the Leadville 100 — thanks in large part to Armstrong and Wiens’ contributions and similar, more-technical races popping up — the answer appears to be at least in the interim.
But will endurance races go the way of 24-hour races, which seem to have plateaued? Like everything, there are ebbs and flows in what the interesting race is. But the rate these races sell out speak to the popularity.
Wiens’ Growler, for instance, sold out in seven minutes this past year.
Here’s thinking the popularity of endurance races, and especially quality ones, will continue to increase.
Their epic nature and viability to a slew of abilities will continue to make them popular.
So look for the sign-up date for next year’s Steamboat Stinger.
You might have only a five-minute window.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com