Most people would be content merely surviving the nasty accident that Ted MacBlane suffered when a car turned in front of him as he sped down Red Mountain on his mountain bike last September.
MacBlane, though, wasn’t content with survival. Less than one year after enduring injuries that included a ruptured spleen, cracked pelvis, broken ribs and collapsed lung, MacBlane was slugging it out in one of the toughest endurance mountain bike races in the country.
He competed Aug. 9 in the Leadville 100, a sadistic mountain bike race that drags participants more than 100 miles over rough, rocky and hilly terrain surrounding Leadville.
It’s a testament to his competitive nature that MacBlane finished 25th out of the 543 finishers. It’s an even greater testament that he was initially disappointed with that result.
MacBlane had high hopes for a stronger showing because, in the same race last year, he battled two other leaders before falling behind in the last mile and finishing second, only 52 seconds off the lead.
He was confident he had recovered from the September 2002 bike crash and that the effects of his injuries wouldn’t be a factor. But he discovered early on that it wasn’t meant to be this year.
“I knew on the first climb that I just didn’t have the legs that day,” said MacBlane. “I was putting in more effort than I should have to hang in the top 10 or even top 20.”
Adding to his woes were a couple of flat tires along the route. While replacing the second tube, he considered quitting. “But I knew I would be so angry with myself,” he said.
So he stopped thinking of a top-10 showing and concentrated on finishing – producing a result that would do most enduro riders proud, and one that MacBlane came to accept. He finished last year’s race in roughly 7 hours, 33 minutes; this year he came in at 8 hours, 29 minutes and 53 seconds.
“Just to be able to ride at that level is still great,” he said of the 25th place. “I feel pretty blessed.”
Competitive, not cocky
MacBlane describes himself as “super-competitive.” He relates tales of how he goes on bike rides where he plans to just amble along, recovering from a previous day’s tough ride, when he spots another cyclist ahead and can’t resist an urge to catch and pass the person.
But he manages to be super-competitive without being a super-jerk. In fact, when you first meet MacBlane you can’t help but think he fits the cliche of “the nicest guy in the world.”
MacBlane said he likes the camaraderie of bicycling racing. He doesn’t view his competitors as the enemy. Rather, he prefers spirited but respectful competition.
“Even if I don’t have a great race, I still have fun,” he said.
It’s little wonder, then, that a large share of the community scrambled to help after his hair-raising accident on Sept. 28, 2002. MacBlane had finished a ride on the network of roads and trails in and around Hunter Creek Valley when he was bombing down the paved road that descends Red Mountain to Aspen. MacBlane said he is always cautious on that road because of frequent traffic, particularly at the busy intersection with Willoughby Way, at the bottom of a hill.
“Every cyclist is aware that hill is really dangerous – and really fun,” said MacBlane.
A Jeep was approaching MacBlane and stopped before making the turn onto Willoughby, as though the driver saw the cyclist. MacBlane proceeded at a high speed. The vehicle turned.
Carnage from the crash
In the split second that accidents occur, MacBlane hit the front of the car and flew into the windshield, breaking it with his left arm and head.
“My helmet took a lot of the abuse,” he said.
After hitting the windshield, he flew onto the ground. He recalls conducting little mental and physical tests on himself to make sure he didn’t suffer a severe head or spine injury. He tried to stand but the pain in his left leg was too great. His ribs made a sickening “crackling” noise and his left side was “shifting around.”
An ambulance arrived within minutes and whisked him off to the trauma center at Aspen Valley Hospital. His ruptured spleen was the most immediate cause for concern, with fluid in his punctured lung a close second.
MacBlane was in intensive care for two days and remained in the hospital for three more. Friends rallied to help, as did co-workers and clients at the Aspen Athletic Club, where MacBlane is a Pilates instructor and personal trainer.
“The outpouring of support just blew me away,” he said. His visitors at AVH had to be limited. Co-workers took over personal training sessions with his clients but gave him the money. Once home, people brought more food than he could eat.
His recovery was astounding for its speediness. MacBlane was on his road bike within two weeks doing short, easy rides designed to keep him limber. He was back at work in a month. He credits Pilates with aiding the speedy recovery as it emphasizes flexibility and strengthening core muscle groups.
Toward the end of winter he felt back to his old self and was prepared to enter the Elk Mountain Traverse, a backcountry skiing race between Crested Butte and Aspen. A deep leg cut suffered in Highland Bowl prevented him from competing, but MacBlane was back.
The Aspen way of life
MacBlane was initially an endurance trail runner before gaining an interest in cycling. He grew up in Denver but moved to Aspen shortly after graduating from high school in 1984. He wanted to escape what he saw as a dead end working in restaurants in Denver.
Five years in Aspen inspired him to pursue a degree. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in kinesiology, returned to Aspen and became a personal trainer.
Knee troubles steered him away from competitive endurance running and into cycling. His competitive nature lured him to the gnarly races, like the Leadville 100 and Vail Ultra 100.
His first foray was the 1997 Leadville race where “I got my ass kicked,” he said. “There was a point in the last few miles that I was really miserable. But within a few days I knew I wanted to do it again.”
He has now competed three times in the Leadville 100, including the impressive second-place finish last year. That same year, with just one week of rest between, he competed in the Vail endurance race and finished seventh.
All told, he’s competed in five Ultra 100s at Vail; he reached the podium in 2001 with a third-place finish. In the two previous years he placed fourth and fifth, respectively. He is uncertain if he will compete this year at Vail.
MacBlane has clearly established himself as one of the elite endurance riders in the valley, and he doesn’t believe his age, 38, or the effects of his injuries have changed that. He is among the top competitors in the Aspen Cycling Club’s tough weekly events, particularly in the mountain biking races.
And his passion is as strong as ever.
MacBlane said he rides five or six days per week. Rides range from an hour-and-a-half to five hours. He shoots for rides that provide both intensity, to help build his aerobic threshold, and hours in the saddle. “Put yourself through the proper training and the race seems easy,” he said.
Even if the competitive passion burns out, though, MacBlane said he will still ride five or six hours for sheer joy. Riding in the backcountry surrounding Aspen provides qualities that competition can’t: time to clear the mind with the solitude that comes from riding for hours without seeing a soul; fantastic mountain scenery punctuated by wildflowers and classic light.
“It’s almost like a religious experience,” said MacBlane.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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