Valley riders dominate `The Race Across the Sky’ |

Valley riders dominate `The Race Across the Sky’

Tim Mutrie

Carbondale’s Kevin Willson won the grueling Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race last Saturday, leading a charge of valley residents who finished just behind him in third and fifth positions.

The 41-year-old Willson, a native of London and nine-year valley resident, rode to victory in his fourth attempt in the Leadville 100, with a time of 7 hours, 31 minutes and 9 seconds.

Bryson Perry of Sandy, Utah took second, finishing less than two minutes behind Willson.

Renowned mountain, road, and cyclo-cross biker Tom Hayles of Aspen took third in his second Leadville 100, finishing in 7:37:48.

Aspen accountant and mountaineer, Steve Marolt, took fifth (7:48:14), for his sixth top-ten finish in the Leadville 100.

The seventh annual Leadville 100, the so-called “Race Across the Sky,” tours a 100-mile out-and-back course with more than 11,000-feet of vertical gain. What’s more, the entire course is above 10,000-feet in elevation.

Willson, a bike mechanic at the Hub of Aspen, entered his first Leadville 100 five years ago without really knowing what he was getting into.

“He showed up in tennis shoes, no toe clips, no suspension and baggy shorts,” said Aspen resident Mike Marolt, Steve’s twin brother who took 29th in last Saturday’s race. “To see how he’s improved is just unbelievable, it’s a credit to his determination to be the best he can be.”

Willson admitted that when he entered his first Leadville 100, “I didn’t know anything about riding. I was riding a bike that was too small for me too,” he said.

But after a fourth place finish in last year’s race, and a top 30 finish two years earlier, he entered Saturday’s race confident that he could vie for first.

“I was much, much stronger this year,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “I based my whole training on this race and I kept at it all summer. I won a few races in the town series, not that that was my goal, but it helped me realize I was riding stronger. So I was definitely mentally prepared for it this year and I went into it to win it.”

Willson and Hayles were in the lead for most of the race, Willson explained.

“On the first hill climb, that’s when Tommy (Hayles) realized I was climbing better than him and I took the lead there. But on the downhill, I got a flat, and they all caught me and passed me up. Perry overtook us both and then Tommy and I bridged up to Perry and I overtook him at the 70-mile mark,” Willson said of the race.

“I knew [Perry] was behind me too,” he continued. “I was just hanging in there for the last ten miles.”

“I was hoping Tommy would get second,” Willson continued, “but that young Bryson (Perry), `The kid’ we called him, he’s 21, half my age, and he was too strong.”

Prior experience on the course was key to Willson’s success, he said.

“It’s a race you need to do a couple times if you want to get some good results,” he said. “It’s a very technical race.”

Mike Marolt, 35, competed in his sixth Leadville 100 Saturday, finishing with a time of 8:42:38.

“You can’t imagine how difficult this race is,” Mike Marolt said. “It’s hard to go out and ride that course, let alone race it. It’s all over 10,000-feet; it’s so bloody high.”

“I look forward to it like Christmas,” Mike Marolt continued. “The course is unbelievable, it’s unique to the planet. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world and it gets in your blood.”

Marolt’s twin Steve, who he described as “just a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger,” took fifth, for his best-ever finish in the race in six tries.

“It’s an ass kicker,” Steve Marolt said, “and Aspen really kicked ass, it was fun to see. I don’t think Aspen has ever gotten a first, not to mention three of the top five.”

Sixty-one year old Lenny Oates of Aspen took second place in his age division, with a time of 11:22:23. Described by Mike Marolt as a “mutant – I kid you not – he’s one of the best technical riders in town,” Oates has completed four Leadville 100s and one Vail 100.

The Aspen attorney said he felt like he could’ve ridden better, but was hampered by inclement weather that struck late in the race.

“I couldn’t even shift with my thumbs, I had to use my palms,” he said, “and I couldn’t feel my feet for two hours after the race. It was terrible out there toward the end.”

About a dozen Aspen area residents finished the race, including Oates’ 30-year-old son Jeremie (47th, 8:56:19), John Callahan, an Aspen native now of Park City, Utah (48th, 8:56:26), Agustin Goba of Aspen (49th, 8:56:40), Stuart Edgerly of Aspen (52nd, 8:57:25), Joe Farrell of Snowmass Village (267th, 11:36:26) and and 65-year-old Bob Bruce of Aspen (12:39:15).

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