Ketchum's Rebecca Rusch, the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 women's queen and three-time 24-Hour Solo Mountain Biking world champ, has scored another high-profile win—taking top female honors at the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race for a second straight year.
Nicknamed "The Queen of Pain," the 41-year-old Rusch shattered the 13-year-old women's course record by 11 minutes. She finished Saturday's grueling 100-mile race in the high mountains of Colorado with a time of 7.47:35—nearly 30 minutes faster than her 8.14:53 winning time of 2009.
Specialized racer Rusch placed 22nd overall of 1,022 finishers, the fastest of just 82 women in the 16th annual endurance race that begins at 10,152-foot elevation and reaches 12,550 feet at Columbine Mountain near Leadville. Average age of racers was 43.
Just like last year's Leadville 100, Rusch's nearest rival was Amanda Carey, 31, of Victor, Idaho who ended 42nd overall, the second woman, in 8.12:54. It meant Rusch was 25 minutes faster than Carey, virtually the same gap as last year between the top two women.
Rusch, winning for the second time in two Leadville 100 career starts, wasn't the only one with a course record.
Saturday's men's winner, 36-year-old Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, Ca., crushed last year's course record set by Radio Shack teammate Lance Armstrong by 12 minutes on the fast course. Armstrong didn't compete Saturday, withdrawing from a hip injury suffered in the Tour de France.
Leipheimer won by eight minutes and 44 seconds with a final time of 6.16:37.
Also breaking Armstrong's 2009 record was men's runner-up Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, 32, of the Subaru-Trek team (6.25:21). U.S. Marathon national champion Horgan-Kobelski, a two-time Olympian from Boulder, was five minutes ahead of Specialized's Todd Wells, 34 (6.30:31).
Despite the speedy times, it's a very demanding race. But the weather cooperated more this year compared to 2009's event.
After a chilly early morning start, Rusch said bluebird skies and temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s differed from last year's freezing conditions.
She spent most of the first half of the race trying to shake Carey. Then, Rusch finally gained a sizeable gap at the Columbine climb—normally a decisive juncture.
"I just said it's now or never," said Rusch. "I just knew it had to happen then. And I just put the screws to her and it worked."
Rusch battled through leg cramps during the last stretch of an out-and-back race that had 306 DNFs. The Ketchum competitor was nearly an hour ahead of third-place Anne Gonzales, 49, of Aspen (8.45:46) on a course that featured many fireroads that favored road bikers.
"Another win at Leadville is a huge. This race is just unreal," said Rusch. "I've been training with this being my main goal all year. Still, I surprised myself. I wanted the course record, but didn't expect to beat it by 11 minutes. This was the most painful day I had on a bike, but it was worth it."
Rusch was the favorite, based on last year's winning result. But she prepared differently in 2010. She kept the Leadville 100 as one of her main training objectives and arrived in Colorado early to familiarize herself with the surroundings and the course.
The Life Time Fitness Leadville Trail 100, also called "The Race Across the Sky," is one of the most high-profile mountain bike races, as well as one of the most punishing, with steep climbs and harrowing descents.
Ketchum's Roger Mankus, 53, finished the Leadville 100 for a second straight year, in nearly an identical time as 2009. Mankus (66th in his class) was 518th overall of 1,022 finishers, right in the middle of the pack, in 10.44:56. Last August he was 516th in 10.43:22.