WILMINGTON - Last year, Justin Lindine was fortunate enough to get a late invitation to the prestigious Leadville 100 mountain bike held in Colorado each August.
But this weekend, the 27-year-old from North Salem, Mass. didn't want take any chances that he might not earn a trip to Leadville this summer. On Sunday, Lindine punched his ticket to Colorado by winning the Wilmington/Whiteface 100, which is one of six qualifying races for Leadville, and the only one in the east.
Competing in the pro division, Lindine won the race with a finish time of 4 hours, 19 minutes and 15.97 seconds. Lindine completed the rugged 69-mile course - which crossed trails, asphalt and dirt roads and steep climbs and descents from Whiteface Mountain through the Jay Range - more than three minutes ahead of runner-up Dereck Treadwell, of Laurens.
Justin Lindine approaches the finish line to end his championship ride in Sunday’s second Wilmington/Whiteface 100 mountain bike race.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Lindine and Treadwell, as well as the women's champion Rebecca Rusch, were all first-time participants in the race, which nearly doubled in size from its first running a year ago. The race began and ended at the Whifeface Mountain Ski Center, and kicked off at 7 a.m when more than 280 racers left the start line.
The final part of the course was particualarly demanding, as racers faced their biggest climb of the day - an uphill ascent to the top of the ski resort's quad lift - before zooming downhill to the finish line near the base lodge.
"It was amazing. It was a hard course," Lindine said. "This race was a goal for me. It was a surefire way to get to Leadville.
"The final climb decided this race," Lindine added. "There were a lot of climbs, a lot of gravel, and it was a challenge. You want to work together, but you keep in the back of your mind 'How am I going to win this race?'
Wearing his Whiteface bike outfit, Olympic gold medalist Bill Demong of Vermontville also competed Sunday. Returning to his native Adirondacks for a quick weekend visit, Demong placed fifth overall and was top area finisher after riding in the race's second pack for most of the morning. He crossed the line in 4:42:32.67, which was almost 17 minutes behind fourth-place finisher Phillip Wong, of Gloucester.
Demong considered some of the climbs and drops so steep that he referred to one part of the course as "crushed hopes and dreams."
"It was my first mountain bike race of the year and the third of my life," said Demong, who has crossed over from road racing. "It was pretty apparent about 10 miles in I wasn't going to catch the top guys. Seeing how the field stacked up after the first 10 miles, fifth was beautiful."
Demong, who now lives in Park City, Utah, said now that he's a family man, racing road bikes is probably a thing of the past.
"This type of racing isn't nearly as dangerous," Demong said. "In road racing, you could get hit by a car or really get hurt in a 50-bike pile up. I have a kid now, so I don't see that for me anymore."
Demong said after Sunday's race that he may or may not compete in this year's Leadville 100, which takes place on Aug. 11.
But Lindine will be there, and said he hopes to improve on his 28th-place finish in Leadville from a year ago.
"It really helps knowing the course, so I'll be going there with at least that much knowledge." Lindine said. "I went there for the first time last year and finished 28th. That wasn't bad, but I made some rookie mistakes. I'm pretty excited."
After finishing second and also as the first non-pro to cross the line, Treadwell said he had a great day of racing.
"I loved the course," said Treadwell, who is an outdoor instructor at Hartwick College. "I loved the terrain, the dirt roads are fun and the descents are ripping. It was hard, but the climbs suit me well. I'm light. At 140 pounds, I'm built for climbing."
There was probably little drama regarding who would be Sunday's fastest female rider as Rusch brought a resume with her that includes three Leadville 100 titles as a first-time racer in the Wilmington/Whiteface event. The 43-year-old resident of Ketchum, Idaho finished first in 5:02:26.29, which was more than 19 minutes ahead of women's runner-up Crystal Anthony.
"I'm here to race, but more to give advice to help people get to Leadville and improve their racing," Rusch said. "I'd like to see more women get into this type of racing.
"I really like being out there today," Rusch added. "The course felt like a little condensed version of Leadville. Going down and up was really challenging."