SoCalCycling.com caught up with long-time SoCal racer and Specialized athlete, Nate Whitman, just 48 hours before the gun goes off at the Leadville Trail 100 in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville has become one of the marquee events in the nation. Whitman relays his thoughts going for his 13th consecutive silver finisher’s buckle, and comments on the growing Southern California presence at the race.
SoCalCycling.com: It’s your 13th year at Leadville. What keeps you coming back?
Nate Whitman: First and foremost, it’s the challenge. 100 miles, 10,000 to 12,500 elevation. Some of the best riders in the world. And unlike many mountain bike events, the course dynamics and the sheer number of strong athletes create the conditions for some exciting tactics and strategy as well. This is not a solo time trial style effort. You are truly racing. The challenge of every year, finding ways to improve, and push to new personal heights. It’s addictive. It’s the Queen Stage of the Tour meets Paris Roubaix meets the Boston Marathon… all in one day. And it’s the closest thing most athletes like me will ever experience to those events and the crowds.
Secondly, the community, the spirit of both the riders and the locals who make the event possible. Going back year after year, seeing the same faces, in the High Rockies. There is nothing like it. Leadville has really become an endurance mecca for athletes from around the world to test themselves.
SoCalCycling.com: You’ve been able to manage top-10 finishes, even as a working-man’s pro, against elite international competition. What’s your goal this year?
Nate Whitman: My goal is really to have my personal best day. To see it all come together, the training, the preparation, and just have an incredible race. I’ve learned you can’t focus too much on what others are doing. If you have your best day, the rest will come together. I’d love to sniff the top-10 again this year, but there is a lot that goes into that, much of which is out of my control.
SoCalCycling.com: For a race like Leadville, what if anything special are you doing with regards to your equipment?
Nate Whitman: Equipment choice is a big thing, but most people over think it. The bike makers have gotten so good, that if you follow their lead, that’s your best approach. I am fortunate to be sponsored by Specialized through their Ambassador program. I will ride an S-Works 29” hardtail. I’ve chose the 2×10 gearing.. I think for the extreme climbs and descents of Leadville, that extra range is important. The bike is very close to stock, what you could buy at your local dealer. With just a few changes based on fit, preference, and sponsorship. Crank Brothers pedals, ENVE bar and stem for stiffness and fit, Avid brakes for weight, and Scwhalbe tires. Nutrition is of course key, and I have been with 24 Performance Nutrition (by Herbalife) for the past 4 years. They are SoCal based, I know Dr. John Heiss (Herbalife product scientist and former UCLA cyclist) as a good friend. The products work, and are a big advantage for me.
SoCalCycling.com: More SoCal riders make the trek 1,000 miles east to Leadville each summer. Who are you expecting out there on Saturday?
Nate Whitman: Yeah, there is a big SoCal presence and some really strong riders and teams. We have our own races, like Vision Quest, Belgian Waffle Ride, Mulholland Challenge. They are all incredible prep for Leadville. Multi-winner of the Vision Quest, Dana Weber (Stage21) is always strong and has represented the US at Marathon Worlds. Ben Bostrom is a Specialized athlete capable of big things. Blackstar Racing from Orange County is here with a half-dozen of their strongest athletes and will put on a good show. And in the 50+ category, Tim Zandbergen (Rokform VeloSport) is a multi-time California State Champion and is capable of a podium in the age group. One notable absence is my teammate and training partner, Gerry Cody (Cynergy, West LA). He is a multiple top-10 finisher here over the past 5 years and always comes to Leadville ready to rock. He is sitting this year out, but is going to be a threat for many years to come.
SoCalCycling.com: You’ve been coming for so many years, how has the race changed since the early days?
Nate Whitman: It’s bigger, faster, more exciting. There is more anticipation, bigger crowds, more media. In those earlier years, I was one of only a very few athletes coming from California. Most of the racers were from Colorado and Utah. Now you have riders from probably 35+ states and many foreign countries. But I think it still has that classic small mountain town charm that made it so special from day 1. About 4 years ago, Life Time Fitness purchased the race series. A lot of people were concerned that the race could lose some of that grassroots vibe. I think they’ve done an incredible job, keeping Leadville the way it has always been, while also adding innovative new features for the riders. Strava segments, more sponsorship, better aid station support. A real destination feel to the entire week. Plus the Leadville Qualifier series has brought events to all parts of the country and provides another great way to get your entry into the “big dance”. Leadville is here to stay.
SoCalCycling.com: Your friend, women’s champion Rebecca Rusch, just launched a new book that describes the Leadville experience (Rusch to Glory / VeloPress). She mentions you in the book… what was that like to see?
Nate Whitman: Really unbelievable, and so meaningful to me personally, because Rebecca embodies the spirit of what this event is all about. She is the “people’s champion”. She will take a group of first-timers out for a reconnaissance ride on Friday, and then go win the damn thing on Saturday. She gives back to the community in ways people don’t even see. In 2009, Specialized came out to Leadville for the first time in a big way. At that point, I had been coming out for nearly a decade, including a 7th place overall finish the prior year. Mike Sinyard, the Founder and President of Specialized knew that I had experience with the race and asked if I would help Rebecca with some advice and tactics for her go. It was great, because this is why companies like Specialized have grassroots pros like me. So, I walked her through the course, the metrics, and how the tactics play out. But what I really remember about that first meeting is that I got way ahead of myself. She’s thinking about just having a good ride, and I’m going “Listen, this can be big for you… look at how Dave Wiens (6-time men’s champion and first to break 7 hour barrier) has redefined his career… you can do that. You can win this thing and keep doing it. You can set records.” I think I freaked her out a little bit, but I just had a hunch about her and the direction the race was going. And to see it come to fruition these past years, 4 consecutive victories, course records. It’s been incredible and I am so happy for her and for the positive attention she has brought to the event.
SoCalCycling.com: Any final thoughts before you hit the start line?
Nate Whitman: Good luck to all riders, particularly all those from SoCal, for a fast and safe ride. And most of all, to have fun and create some great memories. Check back on Sunday for what I hope is a really positive post-race report.
SoCalCycling.com: Best of luck at the Leadville Trail 100 this weekend Nate!