One really never knows when a slice of pizza will give you a needed boost.
Mountain bike racer Larissa Connors, who graduated from Montgomery High in 2004 when she was still Larissa Fitchett, was grinding up the Pipeline climb on mile 75 of the grueling Leadville 100 race 10 days ago watching the racer in front of her get a prolonged push on the backside up the mountain by a spectator. In this race, that kind of assistance is OK because fans can help everyone, and also because that climb is friggin’ steep.
“He was pushing the guy in front of me for so long. I was working so hard to turn the pedals over, I was like, ‘What about me?’ ” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘You are going to run out of energy and you are not going to be able to push me.’ ”
Finally, painfully close to the top, the spectator went to give Connors, 31, a boost.
At that point, he went from No. 1 villain to savior. It probably helped his cause that he was dressed up.
“He was dressed like a piece of pizza,” she said.
A slice of pizza giving a needed boost during a bike race, who knew?
Truth be told, or if finish times show us anything, Connors did not need a boost on the Pipeline climb. She beat more than 150 other women in the renowned race — handily.
Connors finished the 103-mile course up and down the Rocky Mountain peaks in Colorado in seven hours, 31 minutes. Second place crossed the line in 7:58.
She’s the first California woman to win in the race’s 24-year history.
And the course is no cupcake.
The out and back route starts in downtown Leadville at 10,000 feet above sea level, hits a halfway point at 12,400-feet at the Columbine mine before sending them back to town. All told, riders have to climb 14,000 feet before they finish.
For perspective, that’s like climbing Mount Whitney.
And for her efforts, Connors got a belt buckle and trophy featuring an ore cart full of fool’s gold.
But the race has a definite cache among riders. It draws a world class lineup of athletes. Lance Armstrong has won it. Levi Leipheimer has won it.
“It’s not the most singletrack or the most difficult, but it’s definitely the most notable,” she said. “In terms of notability, it’s the one that everyone wants to do and win.”
Speaking of notable, Connors only lined up for her first 100-miler in June. Yes, she had a good couple of years on the professional cross country circuit, but pedaling a bike over 100 miles all well above a mile high is a different kettle of fish.
“People always told me I’d do well in this kind of racing,” she said.
And she has. Before Leadville, she won the 100-kilometer Tahoe Trail Mountain Bike Race July 15. For good, local measure, Santa Rosan Peter Stetina won the men’s 100K race the same day.
Connors comes across as kind of surprised by her success.
She ran cross country at Slater Middle School and although she calls herself a competitive person, she shied away from running at Montgomery. She ran marathons on her own and she tinkered on bikes.