Leadville’s Sandoval, burro Buttercup win Boom Days race, eyes triple crown
It’ll be 113 miles of Rocky Mountain racing this weekend for Leadville’s Marvin Sandoval as the endurance athlete has decided to race in both Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race before going for burro racing’s triple crown on Sunday.
Sandoval, 41, will race in Buena Vista at the 46th annual Buena Vista Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race after winning Sunday’s Leadville Boom Days Pack Burro Race in Leadville. The 13-mile Buena Vista race is historically the third of three triple crown races hosted by the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, following last weekend’s Fairplay World Championship Pack Burro Race and Sunday’s Leadville race.
Sandoval, an experienced endurance athlete who won the 2015 Leadville Race Series’ Leadman trail run and mountain bike challenge, will look to become the second consecutive triple crown winner after Kirt Courkamp won the triple crown last year with burro Mary Margaret. Sandoval took the lead at, essentially, the halfway point of Sunday’s 21-mile race, as he trailed runner-up Hal Walter and burro Full Tilt Boogie by about 10 feet at the 13,185-foot summit of Mosquito Pass before he and Buttercup passed the veteran duo on the way down.
Sandoval then employed a strategy of trying to create distance between himself and his burro and the rest of the pack on the way down, attempting to not have Buttercup conduct a full-out sprint at the end of the race on Leadville’s Harrison Avenue. Sandoval and Buttercup’s time of 3 hours, 45 minutes and 38 seconds was more than four minutes ahead of Walter and Full Tilt Boogie’s time of 3:49:57. The duo was joined on the podium by women’s race winner Louise Kuehster (3:53:48), who will be going for the women’s triple crown next weekend in Buena Vista.
“This weekend, I knew the course, although I had never been on it with Buttercup,” Sandoval said. “I feel like I pushed her harder on the descent trying to get away from everybody instead of racing with the pack. We definitely ran pretty hard down Mosquito Pass, and that’s where we created the gap. It definitely taxed her; she was tired. But she powered through, and it worked out.”
After Buttercup became the first miniature burro to win in Fairplay last weekend, if she and Sandoval win in Buena Vista next weekend, Buttercup will become the first miniature burro to ever win the triple crown. Buttercup — at 33 inches tall — is small even for a mini burro, traditionally classified as a donkey under 40 inches tall. In the history of the triple crown of burro racing, many more standard- and mammoth-sized burros have won races than minis.
In the two triple crown races thus far this year, Sandoval’s slight 5-foot-3, 140-pound frame has paired well with the light and quick Buttercup, the duo able to pick up the pace and create distance when they’ve wanted to.
Last weekend in Leadville, Sandoval and Buttercup defeated runners-up Bob Sweeney, of Louisville, and his (much bigger) burro, Yukon, by five seconds.
Sandoval and Buttercup’s time of 3:45:38 was the fastest on the Leadville long course since Karen Thorpe and her burro, Kokomo, completed the Boom Days race in 3:41:30 in 2013. That same year, Hal Walter — a multi-time champion who this year completed his 40th consecutive year of racing in Leadville — finished as runner-up with a time of 3:43:17.
Sandoval credited Walter and Full Tilt Boogie with keeping Buttercup motivated to power forward to the top of the pass through the first half of the race. Sandoval said outside of a few culverts, Buttercup didn’t struggle much with terrain Sunday. Burros are known to sometimes be skittish of water crossings during races like the triple crown. Last week’s race in Fairplay featured some steep water runoff as melting snowpack lingered on the other side of the pass, forcing race organizers to reroute the race to not reach the top of Mosquito Pass for the first time in history.
Once he and Buttercup took the lead 10 yards down from the top of the pass, Sandoval said the racing duo experienced a surreal moment.
“It is beautiful to see the country I truly live in,” Sandoval said. “And as I approached the finish line, not having to sprint in, to jog in victoriously, it was also surreal. You know, I didn’t picture myself running burros last year at this time. And now, here I am running with an amazing burro. It’s always amazing to cross that finish line victoriously and know that the people that meet me at the finish line support me in everything I do, and I know that they are so proud of Buttercup, as well.”
The 59-year-old Walter, 18 years Sandoval’s senior, was also proud of his and Full Tilt Boogie’s performance this year, a 40th straight finish that was honored by race organizers during the post-race awards ceremony.
“I started in 1980 and haven’t missed a year since,” he said. “It’s a big life accomplishment for me. And to come in second, 59 years old, what better day can I have?”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Sandoval isn’t sure if he will be the first athlete to complete the Leadville 100 Trail MTB and the Buena Vista burro race on consecutive days, although he thinks so. Whatever the case, he knows what his body is in for. But for the High Country endurance athlete, it’ll be worth it. And in his 10th year at the Leadville 100 Trail MTB, he’ll also be going for the event’s revered 1,000-mile buckle.
“I will be on tired legs,” he said, “but it will all be OK.”
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