Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It went like this...

I'm sorry for the delay in posting the story of Ibrahim's participation in the Leadville Trail 100.

At 6:28 AM, Saturday August 11, 2005, Ibrahim and I lined up at the start of the big race alongside over 1000 entrants, including TDF champion Floyd Landis and 5 time Leadville Trail 100 champion Dave Weins. We were checked in just a few minutes prior to the start. A shotgun blast signaled the start of the race and the crowd of bikers were lead by a police escort down the roads leading to the trail head.

Ibrahim immediately made his way through the pack of excited riders and was among the top 1/4 heading onto the steep climb at the beginning of the trail. I kept a moderate pace and made my way up the steady climb knowing that Ibrahim was up ahead. About halfway through the climb I saw Ibrahim on the side of the course with a few other riders. I called out his name and asked him if he was okay. He signaled that all was well. I would discover later that he was making an adjustment to his prosthetic leg.

I finished the climb, descended the long road section around the lake and made my way up the second climb. I continued forward thinking that Ibrahim wasn't far behind. At the top of the second climb, I hit the downhill section known as the Powerline. It's a steep dusty descent filled with deep ruts and occasional rocky sections. Several bikers were off to the side of the trail repairing flats. I learned later that on this descent Ibrahim crashed into another rider in front of him who lost control of his bike. The crash resulted in a broken chain. He came out of the crash with a few scratches, dusted himself off and quickly repaired his chain.

I approached the first aid station twenty five miles into the the race. Our host and race crew support Kevin Minard was waiting with tools, and race fuel. I stopped after spotting Ibrahim's Kenyan flag which marked out support location. I pulled over to reload on hydration fuel and powerbars. Ibrahim came in a minute later. He nearly blew past us without stopping until I yelled out his name. I asked him how he was doing. "Good!" Was all he replied before he jumped off the bike and began making adjustments to his brakes. We were both making good time and I took off knowing that Ibrahim would soon catch me.

10 minutes later, I was riding with a small group as when we began to make our way down yet another steep and treacherous descent. We were warned to slow down along the way by a woman who told us that a rider was down. As I reached the bottom of the decent, I saw a huge helicopter and a medical crew around a crumpled rider who was being lifted onto a stretcher. It was a reminder of how dangerous the event could be.

About 10 miles later I approached the second aid station at the Twin Lakes dam and rode through it without stopping. There were hundreds of race spectators and support crews lined up alongside the dam road. They cheered as riders came through and it provided inspiration and a burst of energy. After passing through the aid section, I saw race leaders Floyd Landis and Dave Weins flying past me in the other direction. They had already completed the monstrous climb to the 12,600 foot peak and were headed back into town. These guys were sprinting through the entire length of the course and incredible speeds. I heard the crowds cheer as they passed through the aid section.

A few minutes later I heard this tremendous roar from the crowd. I must have been about a half a mile from the crowd as I heard the thunderous applause. I knew who had garnered the cheers and a huge smile spread across my face as I began to climb yet again. It was Ibrahim making his way through the aid station and hundred of spectators so he wasn't far behind.

Around 40 miles into the race, I began to make my way up the 10 mile climb to Columbine Mine. It started as a winding dirt road that zigzagged up the mountain. I was beginning to feel the first signs of fatigue and decided to walk a bit to give my legs a break. On this climb I walked nearly as fast as I was pedaling which is to say I was pedaling up the climb at meager 3 miles an hour. About a fourth of the way up the climb, Ibrahim spun past me. I called out his name and cheered him on. He showed no signs of fatigue as he powered up the climb. The sight helped me work through my own fatigue and I started to pedal again.

About a mile later, I saw Ibrahim on the side of the road working on his bike which was flipped over. My heart began to sank. I stopped beside him and saw that his chain was snapped. He was hastily trying to mend the chain with the tools he had. The link he was trying to repair was beginning to twist. I had him slow down and repair the piece more carefully. He succeeded and flipped his bike over and was ready to take off. "Are you okay?" He asked. "I go?"

"Yes, I'm fine." I replied, "Go ahead. I'll be fine." He was off and headed up the road. I watched him turn the corner and pedal out of sight. I continued with my own struggle up the long climb and thought to myself that Ibrahim looked good but wondered if the chain would hold up after the less than ideal repair effort. Neither of us carried extra chain links and the chain had to be shortened to be repaired. The shortened chain would add stress to the other components on his bike.

About half way through the climb, I could see the timberline. It's the point of the mountain where it so elevated that trees cannot grow and the landscape suddenly becomes barren. The dirt road became narrower, ascended in steeper pitches and became more challenging as loose rocks and ruts filled the path. Riders up ahead appeared as specs in the far distance. There were still over a few thousand more feet to climb. Riders who had already made their way to the top were nervously navigating their return to the bottom. Many, in the midst of their own exhaustion, gave words of support. "Keeping going, You're almost there!" Other tired riders had quit the race and were resting along the side of the path or returning without having completed the climb.

Ibrahim could be seen up ahead. He was walking his bike for the first time on the course. I began to reach him as he tested his prosthetic leg extensively in an unprecedented effort over the last few miles of the climb. I got within a few feet of him and he looked back and smiled. "How are you? You feel okay?" He knew I was tired. "Not easy, eh?" As soon as the path flattened out a bit, he jumped back on this bike and road off again. This time I was determined to stay close to him and pedaled a few hundred meters behind. I could finally see the turn around section at the top of the climb and just a few hundred feet higher.

I made it to the turnaround point about a minute behind Ibrahim. We had both run out of fluids and were getting out backpacks and water bottles filled. One of the assistants informed us that we could make the cut off time at the bottom of the mountain if we left shortly. We had about 30 minutes to make the ten mile descent. We'd be cutting it close but there would be enough time if we avoided any accidents on the way down.

Relieved to have survived the climb, we left together and started down the mountain. Ibrahim was speeding ahead of me eager to make good time on the descent. Only 200 yards into our decent, Ibrahim's chain broke fatefully for the third time. He took about 15 minutes to replace it . I watched and advised on the repair. I knew the break was indicative of something wrong with Ibrahim's bike and worried about the cut off time as we continued along the path. After cautiously riding through the harsher sections of trail, Ibrahim picked up speed and flew down the dirt road back down to the twin lakes damn.

We approached the support area at Twin Lakes Damn and Ibrahim began to power down the road anxious to head back into town. Once there, we were flagged down and informed that we had not made the cut off time. We were told that if we were allowed to continue, there was virtually no chance that we could make the 12 hour time limit for the race. We had traveled over 60 miles with the major climb behind us and two more significant climbs ahead.

Ibrahim pleaded with the race officials to let him continue. " I feel good. I know I can finish. It's not a problem. I only had a problem with my bike." The race officials apologized but could not let him continue. The private road along the twin lakes dam had already been closed. Devastated, Ibrahim sunk to his knees and cried in disappointment as he understood that under no circumstances would he be allowed to finish.

After 8 hours of riding, our race was over. We had to respect the officials reasons for sticking to the cut off times. They wanted to account for everyone of the thousand plus riders who attempted the course and leave no one stranded on the course in darkness. Ibrahim was silent as we returned to Camp Minard in Dillon.

The next morning Ibrahim awoke in better spirits. He told me that he wanted to return to Leadville and attend the awards ceremony. I thought it would be a good idea and felt that he would be warmly received and recognized among the mountain bikers for his inspiring efforts. We set out immediately to catch the early morning ceremony and Ibrahim talked to me about how happy he was to have the experience of racing on the course and completing that long climb.

As we walked towards the small Leadville gymnasium many mountain bikers recognized Ibrahim and asked him about his race. I know that it must have hurt him to tell the curious riders about his problems with the bike chain and not making the cut off time. We entered the packed gym as riders who completed the course were receiving their prestigious Leadville Trail 100 Belt buckles. Ibrahim found a chair near the front of the gym and was immediately called upon by race director Ken Choulber. The crowd of mountainbikers rose to their feet and applauded Ibrahim as he was introduced. It was great moment for Ibrahim.

Ibrahim hopes to return to Leadville and make another attempt at finishing the course. He feels confident that he'll be able to complete the course in good time after a year of training and better luck. After riding with him on the course, I know it's a remarkable achievement he will be able to reach if things come together for him.

We are both happy to have made the attempt at completing the Leadville trail 100 MTB race and found an incredible amount of encouragement from fellow cyclists while training and racing in Colorado. The journey has been truly rewarding. Ibrahim's efforts at Leadville has inspired thousands and has greatly increased his exposure among passionate road cyclists and mountainbikers.


Craig said...

Nice work - the both of you!

Keep up the great work on the blog Eric.


gwadzilla said...

that is an inspirational effort

sorry that you were not able to test your limits because of the weaknesses with your bike

I know the sorrows of a broken chain oh too well

as a cyclist I know the frustration

fantastic effort

good luck in your efforts
good luck in your approach to the Leadville 100 next year

or perhaps you would like to consider the Shenadoah Mountain 100 in Virginia

if for no other reason than variety

good luck
and we will be in contact