The Wilmington Whiteface 100K is like no other qualifier for the annual Leadville Mountain Bike race, one of the toughest mountain bike endurance races, and indeed the big race itself.
Yes, it is rated as the toughest qualifier, but what Wilmington has that the others do not is a total bike festival that includes a hill climb (the annual race up the Memorial Highway), a Jump Jam (held at the Youth Center), a beach party, a Best Calves competition (highly competitive), a Poor Man's Downhill, and a whole lot more - a true festival wrapped around peddle power for people of all ages, abilities and willingness to put or not put themselves in harm's way.
As a consequence, people coming for the Leadville Qualifier, or any of the other activities, have lots of additional reasons for attending and ways to have fun - or win a prize. This year's event, which truly was bigger and better than ever, had the additional grand opening of the Whiteface Adventure Park and sun. Yes, sun. Last year, just the winners of the Qualifier got through dry, then the skies opened up. This year, sun reigned all weekend.
Brian Delaney and his son Colin, who raced the 100K
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
It was personally arranged by the "mayor" of Wilmington, town Supervisor Randy Preston, who also promised a new paved roadway up the mountain for next year.
The excitement began Friday evening, June 20, with the Jump Jam at the Wilmington Youth Park and included the Krusher Stunt Team out of Montreal, unicyclist Taylor Wright-Sanson, Sam Perkins and a team of acrobatic bikers, local kids zipping around the pump park, face painting, sidewalk chalk drawing, an expanded array of refreshments and a drone zipping around filming the action.
"The idea for the Bike Fest came out of the Wilmington destination master planning sessions," said Bob Hockert. "During the process, you look at what assets you have as a community and how can you best utilize those. Bridget Hinman and I came up with the idea of expanding our traditional Uphill Bike Race and the opening of the Whiteface Mountain Bike Park, and I picked up on that to include a Leadville qualifier. Leadville was looking for an East Coast presence and we have an awesome venue here at Whiteface and the surrounding areas. We have miles of single track, jeep roads, forest, asphalt, and that's what they were looking for plus we are a community that's used to putting on world-class events. It all just fell into place kind of naturally."
"Mayor of Wilmington?" I asked Randy Preston about the pin he was sporting.
"Most people don't get the title town supervisor, but they all get mayor," said Preston sporting his top hat.
"Two titles in one, very good. So where did you get the car?" I said noting not only a car, but also the giant sauna as part of the obstacle course set out for Sam Perkins and his fellow acrobatic bikers.
"The fire department had it. It was donated to them to cut up, so we decided we would play with it for a while first."
Play they did, though actually the sauna, a huge barrel, turned out to be more of a challenge. Following a throbbing music enhanced performance by four members of the Krusher Stunt Team that would cause most mothers heart failure had it been her child twirling upside down over the ramp, Perkins and fellow teammate Carsinn Willson really played to the crowd. Their antics were very deliberate. Imagine hopping up on and off a car on a unicycle or balancing on the very edge of a beam on the rear tire of one's bike. Their balance was amazing with kids egging them on to do even more hair-raising stunts by yelling "jump, jump, jump, what are you, chicken?"
"Basically you can do this kind of riding on any bike by just trying to ride as slow as you can and working on your balance," said Perkins. "Then it's getting over a small log, a small rock, and from there the next thing you know you are riding over saunas. The stuff that Taylor does on a unicycle just blows my mind. I can't even pedal that at all."
"I think this is great, it's awesome to show kids what the possibilities are, little aspirational bike tricks," said Tait Wardlaw. "I think people are really pumped up about this. What's not to be? It's pretty athletic and different from what you would normally see. It makes me feel a whole lot older than I did before the show started, that's for sure."
"Are you entering the 100K Qualifier," I asked Mayor Preston.
"I was thinking about it but my leg is starting to bother me a little so I am not sure what's going to happen," he said.
"I hear you pre-ran the course and it took a little out of you."
"I did it in my truck."
"How's the truck?"
"The truck's holding up well but I was tired when I got done," he said.
The course was brutal and well over 100K, a route took it over the side of the Jay Range to Elizabethtown and back with lots of vertical climb along the way and plenty of single track through the woods as well as sections of highway and back country roads.
"The course was stellar," said Brian Delaney lying prone while masseuse Tim Chien worked the kinks and stiffness out of his legs. "A little dusty but fun. Nice breeze, a great environment. In contrast to the Ironman, it is such a pleasure to be off the road and on the trail, looking ahead, twisty turney, grass, dirt, mud, rock gardens, jumping things, you've got to be on it all the time, it's kind of like riding down route 73 to Keene."
"Did you force your mother to participate in the Best Calves competition?" I asked.
"No, the mayor did," said Abby Long, the Leadville athlete's registration manager. "She made the finals."
"I understand you were a finalist in the best calves contest," I said to her mom Karen.
"Yes I was and the mayor of this town was up to no good, but I understand what goes on in Wilmington stays in Wilmington," said Karen.
"It does, it does, exactly right unless you happen to be talking with me," I said.
"My daughter was pretty proud of me, but of course she was part of the problem. Fortunately my husband has no idea of what happened."
"He will now," said Mayor Preston. "She was the life of the party."
"I feel excited for him, he looked great and to be second to the guy who won Leadville six times, that's pretty awesome," said Jessica Callahan of her boyfriend Ryan Serbal who place a close second.
"I feel pretty cooked to say the least," said Serbel. "But Jessica is my number one fan."
"I sprinted my guts out and I was lucky enough to finish ahead of Brian," said six-time Leadville winner David Wiens "Great course, it's really compelling. It's a special race for sure."
"It was a good course. I love this place and I really love this finish. You are so happy to come in at the end and everyone's having a party," said female winner Rebecca Rusch.
"Next year, a new road up Whiteface," said Preston.