Area friends prepare for tough mountain bike race - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Area friends prepare for tough mountain bike race

August 6th, 2021 development
Area friends prepare for tough mountain bike race

By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

They first came together years ago over a glass of their favorite beer at Casual Pint Ocotillo in Chandler.

The more that Frank Gavin, Chad Eby and James Welsh spoke, they realized they all shared a common love for biking. Whether on the road or on one of Arizona’s several mountain trails, the three men continued to bond over a sport they all fell in love with at different times in their lives.

On Aug. 16, they will take not only their friendship but their love for the sport to a whole new level when they compete in the Leadville 100 in Leadville, CO.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this race,” Gavin said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I’m excited to compete but I wish it came earlier. But overall, I feel privileged to race and to do it with them.”

One of the most well-known cross-country mountain bike races in the United States, the Leadville 100 is a 100-mile race that will start and finish in the central Colorado city that is home to just under 3,000 people. It is often thought of as one of the most challenging races in the world, as riders climb more than 2,000 feet on the course.

The first Leadville 100 race took place in 1984 to attract tourism to the small city. Since then, it has attracted some of the most experienced riders from across the country.

Due to the pandemic, the number of racers was limited to just 2,000 people. Hopeful participants must apply and be accepted to race. Often, riders wait several years before they are finally able to compete at an official capacity. That was the case for Gavin.

The 73-year-old Chandler resident has ridden bikes for 45 years. He began on a road bike before taking on mountain trails. Even now after a bout with cancer that has limited his performance, he trains five days a week – four days on the street or mountains and one day in his local gym doing core work.

Gavin applied to compete in the Leadville 100 several times but was never accepted. But this year, after convincing Eby and Welsh to apply as a two-man team, all three men received the notice they would be able to race.

“All three of us got accepted and I don’t know how that happened,” Gavin said. “I’m 73 and they are in their mid-40s. I have one son who is in his mid-40s. Both these guys are young enough to be my sons.

“The conversations we have, the rides we go on, it keeps me young. The only thing that frustrates me is I can’t keep up with them.”

Having the opportunity to race in the Leadville 100 after just one application was a bit of a surprise for Eby. He and Welsh had to quickly make plans to take time off work to head to Leadville early to train. Luckily, both still work from home due to the pandemic. Welsh, who in year’s past traveled out of the country on several occasions for Intel, hasn’t traveled for work since the coronavirus first took hold of the country last year.

As the owner of The Pint Ocotillo, Eby, a Chandler resident, also had to move back his five-year anniversary party at the pub. It will now take place on Saturday, Aug. 21.

Eby has ridden bikes for most of his life. Like Gavin and Welsh, he finds solace while on the road or a trail around the Valley. But he also enjoys mixing his love for biking with his love for brews. On several occasions he has taken part in “Bikes and Brews” events in Arizona, biking from bar to bar.

Just like he does during those events, he enjoys spending time with those who share the same passion. Especially if they become some of his best friends. That, alone, makes the trip to Leadville special.

“It is very cool and we both blame Frank, it was him that convinced us over a couple of beers to do it,” said Eby, who sponsored the team with special race jerseys. “James and I thought it would take a couple of years to get in. I was surprised when we got in.

“I put Frank on my team, so he is a part of our group.”

Eby and Welsh departed for Leadville on Saturday, July 24, three weeks before the start of the race. The two spent the first week enjoying the city while still working. The two weeks leading up to the race will be spent on the course, familiarizing themselves.

There are plenty of factors that go into the Leadville 100 all three men had to consider aside from the elevation. It’s an unfamiliar trail with various parts that may be hazardous. While daytime temperatures hover in the mid-70s this time of year, overnight lows could potentially dip into the low 30s.

They will be well acclimatized, however, as both men will camp rather than stay in a hotel or AirBNB. Though, Eby admits his camper is more of a “mobile hotel room.” Welsh on the other hand, will be “roughing it,” which will allow him to become accustomed to the elements, altitude included.

“The altitude is the unknown for us,” said Welsh, who grew up in Scotland and now lives in Gilbert and works for Intel. “I grew up at sea level. And when I came here, it was the same. So, the more time we spend there before the race the more accustomed to it we will be.”

All three men have different expectations for the race. They are excited but know it will be one of the most difficult ventures they’ve ever had on bikes.

But all in all, they’re look forward to the point when they all meet at the finish line to celebrate.

“This race would be a very difficult thing to do on your own,” Welsh said. “But to have the motivation, we all drive each other. It will be special when we get to the starting line together and the finish line together.”