Max effort: local fourth at Leadville 100
LEADVILLE The best story to come out of last Saturday’s Leadville 100 mountain-bike race wasn’t that living fat-tire legend Dave Wiens won for the fifth year in a row, or that Wiens did so after holding off embattled 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis.No, the best story was the one about a 24-year-old local ski patroller named Max Taam, the fourth-place finisher whose remarkable accomplishment went virtually unnoticed in the midst of the hoopla surrounding the duel between Landis and Wiens.See, before Saturday, Taam had never even competed in a mountain-bike race longer than 25 miles. He didn’t even start racing competitively until last year, when he won his first overall crown in the local Aspen Cycling Club summer series.Which is to say that no one – especially Taam – expected him to stay on Landis’ back tire for nearly half of the grueling Race Across the Sky, let alone finish fourth behind two other riders whose last names need no introduction.Wiens, 42, is a Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member and former World Cup winner from Gunnison who has so dominated the Leadville 100, organizers should consider renaming it after him. Landis is, well, Landis. While his 2006 Tour victory hangs in doubt as he and the rest of the cycling world await the ruling in his doping arbitration case, what was never in question was Landis’ desire to win in Cloud City.
He trained religiously for the Leadville race, even renting a local house for three weeks of riding at altitude. Finishing behind the 31-year-old Landis was Vail’s Mike Kloser, another MTB Hall of Fame member who entered his first Leadville 100 specifically for the shot to pedal against the former Tour winner.All three riders expected to be out front, vying for a win in what was the fastest Leadville 100 ever. Taam admittedly had much more modest aspirations.”Really, I had no idea what to expect, but I think I exceeded any possible expectations I might have had,” said Taam, a compact, easy-going former college rower blessed with legs like an NFL fullback. “I didn’t even know until a month ago that I would be racing. The past month it was my focus, just riding different sections of the course, but because I’d never done it before, I didn’t know what more I could do.”Next year, I’m trying to do a little better in it.”Wiens – who crushed the old course record of 7 hours, 5 minutes and 45 seconds with his winning time of 6:58:47 – personally told Taam that he expects the same.
The race winner congratulated the unassuming local by mentioning that one day he, too, will know what it feels like to win the Leadville 100.”That was pretty cool,” said Taam, who fell off the pace of the lead three in the race’s second half to finish in 7:31:28. “I rode with all three of those guys for the first 40 miles, and talked to all three afterward and they were pretty impressed.”Before Saturday, Taam said his competitive racing aspirations centered around his road bike. He won the state’s Category 3 criterium earlier this summer in Longmont, a victory that followed up his Category 4 state title in the same criterium the previous year. Since then, he has raced in Category 2 races on the Front Range. His best result this summer was 23rd out of 90 starters at the Bannock Steet Criterium on Aug. 5 In Denver.His Leadville finish felt slightly more rewarding, Taam joked.
“Before this race, long-term wise I was focused more on road racing, but after Leadville it sort of made me re-think that, racing against guys of that level,” he said. “I think I’m going to see where I can take [mountain biking] as well.”The sky is the limit, it seems. Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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