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Durango’s Todd Wells once again king of Leadville 100 MTB

Durangoan claims third victory on high-altitude course
Durango’s Todd Wells was first to the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB on Saturday. After more than six hours of riding at high elevation, he claimed his third championship, much to the delight of his wife Megan Wells, left. “I didn’t even have both feet unclipped from the pedals before I was getting a hug and a kiss from Meg,” Wells said. “That’s what it’s all about. She’s proud of me no matter what, but it’s great to win and have your family there to share it with.”

More than 1,000 mountain bikers set out to conquer 100 miles at the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. For the third time, nobody was as fast as Durango’s Todd Wells.

Wells, 40, rode in the front all day with Joe Dombrowski and Jeremiah Bishop and had enough energy in his legs to pedal to the finish line first in 6 hours, 19 minutes, 43 seconds. Dombrowski came in second in 6:22:40, and Bishop was third in 6:28:47.

“All the wins are pretty good, but (Saturday’s) was pretty hard,” said Wells, the reigning marathon mountain bike national champion. “We were a group of three almost right from the start at about mile two or so. It was a lot of time in the wind, but it ended up working.”

Wells and Dombrowski, a professional road racer, were together during the Powerline Climb with roughly 20 miles to go in the race. That’s when Wells made his move.

“Powerline is a pretty decisive part of the Leadville course,” he said. “It’s really steep and has six pitches. Joe is a good climber, so I figured I would be able to match him on climbs and knew I would be better on downhills and flats because I’m heavier and bigger. It’s a burden in climbs, but it’s an asset on descents. I got to the top and then attacked and held on for the win.”

Wells said he fought off a few cramps near the finish line but stayed strong.

Durango’s Benjamin Sonntag raced to fourth in 6:43:26, and Troy Wells, Todd’s brother, finished 10th in 6:57:47.

The race is an out-and-back course with a low elevation of 9,200 feet and a high elevation of 12,424 feet at Columbine Mine. There are five aid stations on the course to provide rider support.

Wells rode at an average pace of 15.8 mph to secure victory. It was a sweet return to the podium after a flat tire forced Wells to fall out of the lead group and ride alone nearly the entire day. That led to a sixth-place finish in 2015. Austria’s Alban Lakata went on to secure last year’s race in from of Kristian Hynek of the Czech Republic.

Wells won the race in 2014 in a slightly better time (6:16:27) than 2016. That year, he beat second place Christoph Sauser of Switzerland by only 17 seconds.

Wells took third in 2013 as Lakata and Sauser took first and second, respectively. Wells’ first Leadville win came in 2011 when he finished in 6:23:38 to edge Lakata by more than four minutes.

Wells wasn’t the only racer to win a the Leadville Trail MTB 100 for a third time Saturday, as Sally Bigham was the first woman to finish. The now three-time winner and 2016 European Champion crossed the line in 7:05:47.

Leadville’s own Will Lewis also broke the course record on a singlespeed bike in 7:47:42.

Patrick San Marco of Bayfield finished 23rd in the men’s age 20-29 category in 8:40:44. That time was good for 182nd overall out of 1,049 total participants.

The Leadville Trail 100 MTB is in its 23rd year and has drawn interest globally with riders coming from as far as Australia to compete. It is part of the Leadville Race Series, which oversees several cycling and running races.

Next up for Sonntag and Wells is the Breck Epic, a six-stage mountain bike race around the Breckenridge area. That race will begin Sunday.

“Doing this is like adding one day to the Breck Epic stage race,” Wells joked. “There’s no rest, and it doesn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure.”

Wells has had a strong season, winning the Epic Rides three-race off-road series, a national championship and a handful of other big races. In his first year with SRAM/Troy Lee Designs after leaving Specialized Factory Racing last winter, he’s enjoyed more success than he could’ve imagined.

“Better than I could ever hope for,” he said. “I said if I finished this season in May it would have been a great success. To keep getting these results speaks a lot to the team, atmosphere, equipment and everything. It’s been a positive change for me, and I’m thankful it all worked out.”

jlivingston@durangoherald.com

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