Flat bars and full suspension

The EF Education First team gets ready for Leadville

Even by the standards of this year’s alternative racing calendar, the next off-road adventure on the menu for EF Education First Pro Cycling takes the team down a new path. It’s in the name—the Stages Cycling Leadville Trail 100 MTB is the first event on the calendar that will see our riders aboard mountain bikes.

Alex Howes, Lachlan Morton, and Taylor Phinney will take on the 100-mile journey high up in the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, August 10.

The out-and-back route of the Leadville 100 combines long stretches on the dirt that aren’t too far off from what one might expect in a road race with a few very tricky sections where suspension and precise handling will be crucial. Team mechanic and alternative racing director Tom Hopper sees that balance as an ideal off-road challenge for the trio, as long as they have the right tools for the job. 

“There are small stretches that can be technical but with favorable conditions it’s going to be dry and fast,” Hopper says.

“The climbs will be similar efforts to what the guys will do on a mountain day on the road. And then it’s straight back down.”

For Alex HowesHowes, Lachlan MortonMorton, and Taylor PhinneyPhinney, it will be a welcome opportunity to enjoy a different kind of ride.

Howes and Morton will race on the Cannondale Scalpel-Si. A full-suspension cross-country bike designed for speed, it will be an excellent tool for the varying terrains two miles above sea level.

Phinney is opting for the Cannondale Habit. The trail bike offers the front and rear travel he’s looking for in pursuit of an all-important goal: “I just want to shred,” says Phinney.

All three will be on tubeless 2.25-inch tires, but each rider will put his own model preferences to the test on the tracks, trails, and roads that await. Howes is taking a mix and match approach with Vittoria Peyote in front and the Vittoria Terreno Dry in the rear. Morton will ride on the Vittoria Peyote front and back. Phinney’s Habit will be equipped with a pair of Vittoria Mezcal III tires.

34-tooth front chainrings and 10-50 cassettes will provide the gearing range all three riders need for the long day out.

Hopper plans to make sure the riders are as prepared as possible for that long day go beyond the bike setup. Howes, Morton, and Phinney will set out from Leadville equipped to handle the smaller mechanical issues that could arise on the trail, and that means saddle bags with CO2 and mini pumps for good measure. Meanwhile, Hopper will plan out the support staff’s journey from one feed zone to another.

A combination of rice cakes, bars, and chews, will fuel the trio through the race. Staying hydrated, absolutely critical at a race that starts at 10,152 feet and reaches 12,424 feet, will present its own difficulties.

“On the road, on nice pavement, you can drink whenever you want,” Hopper says. “When you’re on the mountain bike, trying to stay with other professional mountain bikers, it’s going to be a lot more difficult.”

Howes and Phinney will rely mostly on traditional bottles, but Morton plans to take on the day’s central climb to the Columbine Mine and the ensuing descent equipped with a backpack hydration system.

With their bikes and gear dialed in and their support squad ready, Howes, Morton, and Phinney can direct their focus to the challenge ahead.

It’s a big challenge indeed, but when it comes to alternative racing, that’s just the way we like it.