Friday, November 13, 2009

Race Across the Sky: Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race movie

I went to see this movie last night primarily because Jonny wanted to go.  I had a vague idea that it was about the Leadville 100, wasn't even sure if it was the mountain bike race or the running race.  'It's got lots a beautiful footage of the mountains around Leadville', was all Jonny told me.  I agreed to go because he was excited about it and I didn't put any more thought into it.  And here's where paying attention may have paid off because the last thing I was expecting was 90 minutes of a Lance Armstrong Love Fest.  Ugh, Lance Armstrong, I am not a fan.  That's putting it politely.  Listening to his arrogant blowhard yammering is like extra long creepy vampire fingernails screeching on a blackboard.  I had no idea he'd done Leadville this past summer.  I also had no idea that the bulk of the movie would involve following him and the other top contenders through the race.  I'm also not a fan of watching other people racing or listening to pro racers talk about racing.  Especially 100 mile long bike races that last 7-12 hours with panel discussions with the racers before and after the movie.  It was a long night.  The theater was packed though and there were people outside hoping to buy tickets so I assume it sold out.  I guess this sort of thing appeals to somebody.

There were some good bits to the movie like the scenery.  It was interesting to see the course.  Jonny raced it back in 1995 and 1996 and all this time he's been telling me that it's not a technical course and all this time I've not believed him.  But it turns out it's mostly dirt roads and wide dirt trails with little technical challenge.  It's not to say the race isn't hard.  Leadville sits at 10,200 feet and the race is 100 miles long with a total of 14,000 feet of climbing with some of the climbs going above 11,000 and 12,000 feet, well above treeline.  There's a 4 hour cut-off at the 40 mile mark and if you don't finish in under 12 hours you're not considered an official finisher and don't get your finisher's medal.  So yes, if you finish this race you are entitled to some major bragging rights.  But I can see why the lack of technical challenge makes this race appealing to the likes of Lance Armstrong because he does not have pro level mountain bike skills.  Way back in the day there was a real mountain bike stage race up in Steamboat Springs, 4 days I think.  Lance Armstrong entered it and talked a lot of smack then ended up pulling out after 2 days or so, tail between his legs.  Watching him fall repeatedly and endo into a creek was probably one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed on a t.v. sports program.  Anyway, Leadville suits him perfectly because in addition to the lack of mountain biking skills involved there are long flat stretches where he can employ his road biking tactics and sit on everyone else's wheel and let them pull him along while never doing any work himself, saving his energy for his eventual breakaway just like he does in the Tour de France.  Which is unfortunate because that sort of thing is the antithesis of mountain biking and so boring to watch.  But I digress.

Another highlight of the movie was watching Lance struggling to fix a flat.  He didn't even appear to know how to use a CO2 cartridge.  Hilarious.  Of course there is no team support car following him around to fix his flats for him because, hello, this is not the Tour de France.  He ended up riding the last 7 miles on a flat tire which normally I would consider pretty punk rock but because it's the result of not being able to fix a flat I'd call that just plain sad.

The race does have a lot of interesting stories and the movie would have been more compelling if it had focused more on the normal people and less on the pros/Lance.  They did show a small bit of footage of the regular folk, in particular at the 4 hour/40 mile cutoff.  Some people were thankful to have their misery ended for them while others, like the old guy who'd recently had both knees replaced and trained his butt off to be able to finish the race, burst into tears.  I went up there one year to cheer Jonny on and I have a good story or 2 of things I saw .  My friend and I ended up directing traffic at a race intersection because the fireman had to leave to help somebody on a tandem who was probably having a heart attack.  Then the guy who had ridden back to tell the fireman about the fallen cyclist burst into tears because he was going to miss his finisher's time.  And if you want to see the definition of self-inflicted human misery then go stand at the 85 mile mark.  Try cheering on the racers, they're so miserable that they're not shy about telling you where to go.  Very few happy, loving life smiles at the 85 mile mark.  A few, but not many.

So I guess in summary if you're a Lance Armstrong fan you'll love this movie.  If you're a fan of the average endurance athlete who does not have the advantage of endless training time and performance enhancing drugs then maybe it's not so inspiring or interesting.  At least it wasn't to me.

I heard the movie crowd in Orange County was booing Lance when he came on the screen.  Then some soccer mom who didn't have a clue (thought Lance had won the race 8 times) started yelling at them.  Now that would have been an entertaining evening.

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