In today’s episode, we speak with David Wiens, a former professional cross-country mountain biker and Executive Director at the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
With a prestigious induction into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2000, David shares his remarkable story of how he achieved an incredible feat—six consecutive victories in the grueling Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Along the way, he beat some of the cycling world’s most prominent figures, including Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong. David also delves into his transition toward leadership advocacy. This shift prompted him to start Gunnison Trails, a non-profit organization passionately committed to improving and expanding trail networks in Gunnison, Colorado.
Join us as Dave offers insights into the role that cycling plays in strengthening relationships and unveils the strategic mindset that propelled him to success in high-stakes competitions.
Watch the podcast episode:
Get the latest episode of The Ultimate Dish delivered right to your inbox every week.
Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with David Wiens, a true legend in the world of cross-country mountain biking.
For more than 30 years, Dave has left an indelible mark on this highly technical sport. He’s famously known for his awe-inspiring six consecutive victories in the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race, defeating some of cycling’s most prominent figures, including Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong.
Inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2000, Dave’s accomplishments were highlighted by his trailblazing Leadville wins from 2003 to 2008, marked by incredible feats such as breaking the 7-hour mark in 2007 and setting a record-breaking pace in 2008.
Dave’s dedication to the mountain biking community is undeniable. He founded Gunnison Trails, a non-profit organization devoted to enhancing trails in Gunnison, Colorado.
His influences extended to roles with Ergon Bike Ergonomics and the Leadville Race Series, as well as his creation of the innovative Mountain Sports program at Western Colorado University. Notably, his commitment to advocacy led him to the role of Executive Director at the International Mountain [Bicycling] Association (IMBA).
Join me today as we talk about Dave’s strategic approach to winning races, his competitive mindset in high-stake situations, and how he stepped into leadership roles throughout his career.
Good morning. There he is! Man, that was a mouthful! That’s a career! How are you, buddy?
David Wiens: I’m great, Kirk. Thanks for having me on.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. As they say in Gunny, I’m stoked. My kids laughed when I say
“stoked.” It means excited, kids! It’s okay.
I love the backdrop. Tell me a little bit about the beautiful paintings behind you.
David Wiens: Kirk, so I’m visiting Denver, where I grew up and [where] my entire family lives. This is my dad’s art studio. He was a pioneer in graphic design in the Denver area from the 1960s into the 1990s. He transitioned into fine art in retirement. He does oil painting and sculpture. I’m up in his art domain.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Absolutely beautiful. Nice place to be. Gosh. I’m going to try to contain my excitement, Dave. We’ve known of each other for a long time. We were in the same town in Gunnison for years. It’s always a treat to have someone from Colorado on the show at any time, but this is very, very special to me. So I thank you. I’ve followed your incredible career, and your wife Susan’s, for a long, long time. For our guests, again, to level-set, my family owned a hotel and restaurant in the town where Dave – where you live with your family and have for many years. From that perspective, Gunnison, Colorado, which is four or five hours depending on how fast you drive from Denver, it’s really one of the most beautiful places in the world. From Crested Butte to Lake City, I just absolutely love it there. I went to high school there and then kind of went to see the world. I really thank you, Dave, for joining us today. I know you’re busy. Super, super special.
David Wiens: It’s an honor to be on.
Kirk Bachmann: Before we do anything, what’s going on? I know you’re at your dad’s place, but what’s going on in Gunny now? End of August, going into September. Set the stage a little bit.
David Wiens: Well, classes just started up again at Western, so the summers are pretty quiet with students. Now all the students come back. The excitement around town, the energy, cranks up. The summer tourism is starting to wane a little bit. There’s fall in the air. People are getting excited about the leaves changing. Of course, lots of skiers and snowboarders there, so the coming winter always gets people excited. It’s the Gunnison Valley. The outdoors always offer something, so that excitement is always there in one way or another, but there is something really special about this time of year.
Kirk Bachmann: For sure. Are you a fisherman as well?
David Wiens: I don’t fish. I’m saving that for a time, because I’ve got some buddies who are way into it. I know they’ll help me. I did, as a kid, of course I fished a little bit. I can kind of fly fish. I know I’d love it; that’s probably why I’m staying away from it a little bit. I’m still pretty busy, and if I all of a sudden got way into fly fishing – because I’m a gear junkie. I love the gear. Of course, fly fishing comes with a lot of gear. I would be buying all kinds of stuff, a boat probably and who knows what else.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I like that strategy. I think I’ll do that, too. I’ll just kind of wait to when it’s appropriate. Everybody is super busy. What about Cattlemen’s Days? Is that still rocking in July, as always?
David Wiens: Oh yeah. It’s a big deal in the Gunnison Valley. Has been for, I don’t know, a hundred years, maybe longer. The big news this year was that they had to move the carnival because they’re developing housing on the old carnival grounds. Housing is a big deal in Gunnison, so the county was able to develop some good housing for folks. The carnival moved – this is inside baseball for you and me – to the old City Market parking lot.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, okay. Gotcha.
David Wiens: It’s still just a parking lot. We live a couple blocks from there. We live the carnival even though we’re a couple blocks away.
Kirk Bachmann: That creates tons of visibility coming on 50, right? Coming right down Main Street there.
David Wiens: Remember, old City Market parking lot is a block in.
Kirk Bachmann: Okay.
David Wiens: [inaudible [00:06:02] see it from 50. Yeah. That’s a great celebration.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah, I love it. I love it.
You may not know this, Dave, but interestingly enough – we’re going to get to cycling in a minute – I’m obsessed with cycling in a different way. I fell in love with cycling maybe my freshman year of college. I went to the University of Oregon, hung out with a bunch of people who loved to ride. I competed very little, but a little bit. It was enough to just fall in love with it. Ironically enough, I got this in the mail just yesterday, if you can see this.
David Wiens: Cool!
Kirk Bachmann: Her name is Hannah Grant. She’s going to love that I’m doing this. I don’t know how many tours she’s done, but she’s been a chef for a team at the Tour de France. The coolest thing in the world is that it comes in this little pouch, which those who don’t ride don’t know that when you’re on the tour, this is where they put your snacks and all that and throw it to you. Super, super clever. Anyway, the point is, [I’m] obsessed with cycling.
As we kick off today, could you take just a moment – and it’s going to sound silly – but can you level-set the biggest differences or the visibility, the difficulty of road racing, road cycling, versus what your specialty is, and that’s the mountain biking, racing, that sort of thing?
Of course, the gears are different. The bikes are different. But it’s a whole different mindset, too, right?
David Wiens: It is. That’s an interesting question.
Mountain biking obviously happens off-road. A good mountain biking course will have a lot of single-track trail. It might have technical sections up and down. Passing is more challenging. The start is usually really intense because you’re jockeying for position because once a field of 100 riders goes single file, if you’re in 50th place, it’s an awful long way up to first. Just like traffic on the freeway, a little problem here, and you just keep getting further and further back. In mountain bike racing, that dash to the front is really important.
If you’re a fit rider, on the road you’ve got all those pack dynamics and the drafting and the aerodynamics and the teams are really important.
They’re quite distinct in that way, but what’s interesting is there’s almost this middle ground now, and it’s called gravel. It’s incredibly popular, particularly in the United States. It’s a road-looking bike. It’s got the drop handlebars but fatter tires, and then they’re racing on all different kinds of surfaces. Not really so much trails, though occasionally just for fun those promoters will stick a little trail section into their race. The bike isn’t perfectly suited for that, but it’s okay. You’re seeing a lot of interest in that middle ground now, which is essentially called gravel racing. The gravel bicycles are really interesting. They’re actually working better for a lot of folks than road bikes because you can take them on some rougher terrain. The tires are fatter. They have a smoother ride. You’re not going to pinch-flat so easily. If you’re interested in cycling, you should definitely brush up on mountain biking, gravel bikes, and road bikes, because you’ve got all those. Once you get into it in a certain depth, you’ll have all three. You’ll have the equipment.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s interesting. You mentioned the team dynamics, which is super, super important, especially in the high-stakes Tour de France, the races in Spain, Italy, all around the world. Is there a team dynamic in mountain bike racing as well, or is it pretty individual?
David Wiens: It’s pretty individual. The team dynamics – there’s certainly pack dynamics, but it’s more drafting, working together. Just like when there’s a break in the Tour, maybe each person is from a different team, they work together until they try to kill each other in the end.
Not as much pack dynamic in a World Cup mountain biking race. Now, some of the longer [races] like the Leadville 100, that’s getting to a point where you can have a team really help you. You can have the domestique-style riders. Those are the riders that work for you, and they are sacrificing themselves early to get their leader in a good position because he or she will be in the draft and won’t have to work as hard, and finally springboard them toward the end of the race when they can really turn it on.
But you’re not seeing a ton of that yet. It’s getting there.
Kirk Bachmann: I just love that. Is there a book in the future that you’re working on? I get so fascinated, even the domestique, the science, the strategy behind all this that so many people don’t know. So you’ve got one rider that dons the yellow jersey, the green jersey, the polka dot, whatever it is, but there’s a team of ten usually, that kind of thing? Those are hard-working folks.
David Wiens: Absolutely. They’re all connected with radios and there’s communication, and they’re watching. They’re being told things to do. Some riders will actually carry the nutrition and hydration back and forth and give it to certain riders. It looks like chaos if you don’t really understand the sport, but there’s a lot going on there. The teams, the strategies between the teams are really interesting. A team can be in almost a chess-like position where they’re going to have to work because it’s not in anyone else’s best interest. This one team has to go to the front, and when they’re doing that, they’re essentially – we say “burning matches,” meaning you’re using up the fuel of your team. You’re expending that fuel that you may need later on. There’s a lot of different dynamics to that road cycling.
Mountain biking oftentimes is who’s the strongest and can ride their bike the best on that day. That’s why it’s appealing to some and not as appealing to others because there’s not those intricate strategies taking place.
Kirk Bachmann: Talking about strategy. It’s such a minuscule simple example, but I learned by fire. Remember they used to do part of a larger race series, but there was a race that used to start in Crested Butte on Main Street and then they’d fly down to Gunnison and do a couple laps around the post office and that was it. I participated a couple of times just for the joy of the ride. What is that, about 35 miles or so from the Butte down to Gunny?
David Wiens: Yeah, 30 miles down. It was probably an 80-mile race all said and down.
Kirk Bachmann: By the time it was all done. I’ll never forget. The first pack was gone. I didn’t see them anymore after like three minutes. I was holding my own with this second pack. There was some dynamics that I wasn’t aware of. I found myself coming down through Alma. I found myself, strangely, at the head of this group. Fatiguing. I didn’t have any domestiques or anything like that. Everyone started screaming, “Pull, pull, pull!” which was foreign to me at that time. “Pull what?!” What they wanted me to do was get them up that hill or get the hell out of the way! It was really eye-opening to see the dynamics of the Tour, of the people that are in the race, going 30-40 miles an hour on a bike downhill. It’s crazy.
Do you get some of that? I just can’t imagine. To take that dynamic, and you said single-track earlier, and put you on a little bit different bike with shocks and all that, flying down a single-track trail with rocks and branches and logs. Tell us a little bit about the psyche and the type of human being that can throw themselves into a situation where in one second you could be tumbling over your handlebars.
David Wiens: Sure, sure. I started at the very beginning of mountain biking. During my time, we went fast for our time, but now the riders descend absolutely incredibly fast. And the Europeans have always been this way because bicycles are part of their culture. Mountain bikes – we all got on them when we were in our 20s. There were some riders who were better than others. I was just kind of middle-of-the-pack there as far as skills.
Now, you’ve got these riders that have been on the balance bike when they were two, and they started mountain biking when they were three or four. They are just phenomenal bike handlers, and they go so fast. They can read the trail and make those decisions just like that. They say you’re not going to be a great baseball player or hockey player unless you’ve done it since you were four or five years old. The skills just become ingrained. That’s a big part of mountain biking. That skill set is really important, and someone could be really strong on a bike that could have broke in back in my day because they were so fit. Now fit alone doesn’t cut it because the riders, both male and female, are super fit and have incredible bike handling skills.
Then, if it’s toward the beginning of a race, or a pack, you’re going that fast following two or three other riders, so your vision is slightly impaired. You’re going to trust that person in front of you somewhat. It’s really phenomenal, the speeds and the skill that the rider of today has on a mountain bike. I’m blown away by it.
Kirk Bachmann: Not much room for error. You’re trusting that rider in front of you, a quarter-inch away from their back tire. I always like to take a little trip down memory lane, when it all started for you. You mentioned you were in your 20s or so, mid-80s. What inspired you, Dave, to just keep going? Obviously, you became a legend, ultimately in the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, from a leadership, courage perspective, from an interest perspective, what was it that inspired you to become, not just a great mountain biker, but a racer? How did you insert yourself into the sport? As a leader in the sport, quite honestly.
David Wiens: Yeah, well, there was a certain amount of good fortune that went into that, just being in the right place at the right time. In high school, I really got into skiing and whitewater kayaking. Going to Gunnison was very natural. Going to Western Colorado University was very natural because I could paddle my kayak in the summer, I could ski in the winter.
But the mountain bike was new then. It was on my radar, but I couldn’t afford a mountain bike. I called it “the illusive toy” for a long time. Finally, in 1985, I purchased a mountain bike. That winter, I lived in Jackson Hole and just did the ski bum thing, rode the bike just a handful of times. Took the bike, then, to Alaska for the summer, rode in Denali National Park. That was some of the first mountain biking I did, wearing jeans and flannel and a bell on it because of the grizzly bears. Did a couple races that summer in Alaska and got hooked on the intensity of racing, but I got third or fourth or fifth in the races I did. It wasn’t like I did great or anything, but it was super intense. It was really fun.
Then I came back to Gunnison in the spring of ‘87, and kind of like your story, all my friends from before had gotten into mountain bike racing. It was really easy for me to slot back in with them, and they were going to the races. Dave Mo would load his van up. Do you remember Dave Mo?
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh, yeah!
David Wiens: To take us to the local mountain bike races. I just got in there, and I just got to doing pretty well in the expert class. I turned pro in 1988. The Tune Up bike shop had a relationship with Diamondback Bicycles. Diamondback gave them five bikes and said, “Give these to your local riders, and you guys can be a cool local, regional team that can promote the brand.” I got one of those bikes. That started a relationship with Diamondback. As I had better and better results, I was able to transition into what they call the factory rider. At that time, all of a sudden, “We’re going to pay all your travel, and we’re going to put you on salary.”
What was cool and interesting about that, to me, was I was among some of the first – and Susan was the same – remote workers. We were remote workers because we could live anywhere we wanted. We could travel anywhere we wanted to. We just had to be on that starting line on the weekends throughout the spring, summer, fall, but other than that, we could have up and moved to Steamboat or Durango or Denver or wherever. I often thought about that. “Well, I’ve been going to school here. Maybe I should move someplace else.” Of course, I just dismissed that because Gunnison was so great.
Part of it was the challenge of racing. You want to see how good you can be. The sport was growing. All of a sudden, I signed my first pro contract in 1990, and then in ‘91, the World Cup started. “Oh, we’re going to go race in Europe? Really?” We just got plane tickets; that’s all we had. We knew where and when the races were, and the rest of it was on us. It wasn’t formalized. The teams. We were a team, a team of two, Susan and myself. We had to figure everything out in those days. Eventually they added mechanics and box trailers and soigneurs that do massage and the feeds. It definitely grew. We got to transition from just [doing] it on our own from start to finish. If you got to a race the day before the race and it was muddy, and you rode the course, then your bike was totally coated in mud. You had to clean it and wash it and get it ready for the next day. There just was no assistance. But it was cool, because we didn’t know any better. The best people in the sport were doing that. That’s just the way the sport was. It obviously progressed pretty quickly. Then the Olympics came around in ‘96. Susan rode well enough to qualify for the two female spots for the U.S. and rode to a bronze medal, which is really cool.
But I always enjoyed the challenge of it and also the lifestyle. Very protective of that lifestyle where I was able to basically call my own shots as long as I had sponsorship. You would cultivate and nurture and cherish your sponsorship, but you’d have some transitions where you might go to a different team. I had a few of those along the way. But I always also enjoyed putting a number on my bike and racing it. And I still do. I did a handful of races last summer. While I can’t compete at the front, if there’s somebody around me, I get to race with them. We get to do battle all the way to the end and high five or hug in the finish area. I still get a huge kick out of that.
I love the training. If someone said, “What’s the most important part of racing?” I would say the training. That’s what gets me out every day to go for a bike ride, to go for a ski in the winter time, whatever it happens to be. I really like having that carrot out there. A lot of people have realized this; if fitness is a goal, if you pick a fitness event several months away, all of a sudden, generally you have this increased motivation to get out and do whatever it is. Whether it’s trail running or a 5k walk, a mountain you want to climb, a trip you want to go on, a trail you want to hike. It doesn’t have to be an event that’s competitive. It could be a goal that you would like to accomplish: a trail you want to hike, a mountain you’d like to hike up. Just by committing to these challenges in our lives…I’m always more motivated for everything that I do when I have something looming out in the distance that I know is going to be a challenge and is going to be difficult. I need to prepare for that. That preparation really, to me, is 95 percent of the fun. The event itself is the cherry on top, of course.
Kirk Bachmann: So much good advice there. I think I got most of it down. I love the idea. It can be applied to anything in life, anything we do.
David Wiens: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be physical.
Kirk Bachmann: In the culinary world, we steal a French phrase. It’s called mise en place. It basically means, “everything in its place.” All of the training that we do – and certainly some people go on to compete – but most people just want to really hone their craft and be great at it. You’re really only as good as the preparation that you’ve done leading up to that, right? Mise en place is super, super important.
You mentioned it, and I was trying to think of the name of it, but I don’t know how much time I spent at the Tune Up Bike Shop. Still, to me, today. We have Rapha here in Boulder. I just like the vibe there. You can get a coffee and just listen, watch races on the television, or hook up with somebody and go for a ride. But the Tune Up – gosh – way before it’s time. As a community, as a gathering place. Didn’t Chris own it for all those years?
David Wiens: Yes. Chris Haas. It was phenomenal. They had the West Elk Road Club. It was part of that. They put on the Munsingwear, which is the race you were talking about. That was a big deal. One year, the World Championships were in Colorado Springs, so all of the top riders in the world came to the race in Gunnison because it was a week or two before the World Championships, and they used it as altitude training. There’s a really strong heritage there.
In that same space now is Double Shot Cyclery. A friend of mine, Dan Crean. It’s got a coffee bar. It’s got a great vibe. You go in there, and people are hanging out or talking bikes or whatever. You can have meetings there. The TV’s on with cycling in the background. The culture of it is really special.
Kirk Bachmann: I just love it. You mentioned the World Championships in Colorado Springs. I was there. It was at the Air Force Academy. I think Laurent Fignon was the big name there, but there were a bunch of American riders. I don’t remember who won it that year, but it’s interesting.
Really funny story. This bag that I showed earlier. I’m standing on the sidelines. We’re waiting for the peloton to come through. These things are flying. Riders are emptying it. They’re throwing it back. I catch one, but I catch it here. I just catch it with my hand on the rope. Someone behind me catches the bag. I turn around and say, “I will never let go of this for the rest of my life. It would be easy if you just gave it to me.” And he did. I still have it at home somewhere.
David Wiens: That’s great. Fignon was in Gunnison. He did the race there. There was that picture in the Tune Up of Jack Panek holding [inaudible [00:25:04] for his time trial.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my goodness. Oh, I just got chills. Everybody finds chills everywhere. My son, it’s all about baseball. My whole life, it’s been about this culture of cycling. I just absolutely love it.
We got to get into you. We’ll get to Leadville here in a minute. I’m just really curious. As you were finding your way, loving the cycling. Naturally, you and Susan are touring around. Did you always see what was coming? In your mind, were you a competitive cyclist? “I could make a living doing this. This is my passion.” I’m using that as an analogy because a lot of students who find their way into the industry, they might come to school with us because their grandma or their grandpa or their parents were great cooks, and they were just touched by it. But there was something, usually: an instructor, a cool externship, a great chef that they mentored under, that really took them to the next level. Did that happen for you, Dave? And for Susan, for that matter? “Wow, this is no longer just a pastime, cool to do, manage my schedule. I love this. I want to be a part of it. I can make a living doing this, and I want more.” Did that hit you at one point? 1990-91? Something like that?
David Wiens: Yeah. Even really in the late ‘80s because the only way we could really learn about our passion – because the internet didn’t exist – were magazines. Magazine was “Mountain Bike Action.” You look in “Mountain Bike Action” and you see John Tomac and Rishi Grewal, Sara Ballantyne – all these names and the pictures. They came from the moto world, so they really applied motocross concepts to mountain biking. They called them factory riders. They even talked about how much they were being paid.
To me it was really simple. I want to be paid to do this. What do I have to do? You need to insert your name at or near the top of the results sheet. It’s as simple as that. That’s all it takes. That’s all it took at that time. I would go out and do training rides, and I would feel really strong. “I think I can do this.” Then I’d get in the race, and maybe it would go okay, or maybe it wouldn’t go that well. Finally, I had some breakthrough races. There was a World Championships in 1989 and even in 1988, I was tenth at the World Championships. That was just a bunch of Americans, really. There were two World Championships at that time: one in Europe and one in America. I got a top ten, and that was cool.
The next year, I came out of nowhere and passed Ned Overend and John Tomac on the last lap, and I got third. I knocked Ned off the podium. That earned me a little quarter-page, black and white picture in “Mountain Bike Action.” That earned me a contract with Diamondback where they’re paying me $25,000 a year, and all my expenses and all my bikes. Then I realized, “This is something I can do. All I have to do is continue to insert my name at or near the top of the results list.” And I like to do that. It’s really fun. It’s a challenge.
I learned how to train, because there are a lot of things I learned as I went. I didn’t know what training was. I’d just go out and ride my bike around Gunnison. I didn’t ride a road bike at all. I shunned the road bike. Then I picked up “Greg Lemond’s Complete Book of Cycling.” There’s a chapter in there on training and fitness. I took that and some other things. I built this training plan. I started executing on it. I had some races where I was almost ready to quit the sport.
But I built this training plan, started executing on it, had some really bad races. Then all of a sudden, three or four weeks into this cycle of training, I won a major race, which was NORBA [National Off Road Bicycle] National, the biggest race of the time. In Park City, Utah. I was like, “Holy Cow! This seems to work.” And then I won again the next weekend, and then I won a national that was two weeks later in Winter Park. To really put myself in a good position in the industry by winning a couple of big races.
From there, there was such an enamorment [sic] with mountain biking at that time by a very small group of people who were our age. They would race in the sport or the expert class. The bike companies are selling lots of these mountain bikes. It was a really cool time. You didn’t have to do anything except race.
Now, if you want to be successful, you better have a really high social media profile, or you better have phenomenal results. And they are a lot harder to come by now then they were in 1990, I can guarantee you that. The whole thing has changed. Now you have folks out there who may not be that accomplished as racers, but they’re really good at social media, and they’ve got big followings. They help people out, and people like to follow them. They’re the ones who are getting paid. And you can have someone who is getting fantastic results but doesn’t have much of a social media presence, and they’re not going to do as well. So if you combine those two things.
It’s so important, not for all athletes today, but for most of them. Magazines – there was a three-month lag time. It would be three months before anybody got news of that race. Do you remember VeloNews? VeloNews was actually how we stayed up to date on things. It came out monthly?
Kirk Bachmann: And now it’s an app. And now it’s an app.
David Wiens: [It’s] a different time. I just stuck with that and was able to continue to do well enough. I was involved in USA Cycling, the NORBA board of trustees, USA Cycling board of directors. I got involved in trail advocacy immediately around Gunnison and Hartman Rocks because I noticed, “Wow! We don’t have many trails to ride on.” I immediately started to try to work to expand our trail network and create high-quality trails. There was a real sense of satisfaction when other people would come to Gunnison and say, “Man, you guys have great trails here. This is fantastic!” We all felt a sense of pride.
Then we, the community of Gunnison, mountain bikers locally, loved to ride those trails. Of course, we’d go ride in Crested Butte, but in the shoulder seasons, a lot of those folks that live in Crested Butte come down and ride Hartman Rocks because their trails were under snow up in CB. That was a big part of it, too.
Kirk Bachmann: As I’m listening to you, Dave, I’m thinking about this idea of influencers. It’s the same in the culinary world. When you look at Instagram and you look at influencers – who may not even be professional chefs. They’re passionate, they’re really good at their skill – their specific skill, whether it’s baking – but their presence. We count. Is it a hundred followers, or is it a hundred-thousand followers, or is it six million followers? We tend to gravitate that way. I do it with cycling sites, as well. I follow a few cycling cafes in Italy and in Spain. There’s a lot of truth to that – that the world has changed – and social media has really come along with that.
So with that said – and that’s what I love about these kinds of chats because it’s about the literacy, the legacy, the history, right? This is for the courtesy of our audience. There’s a really cool town in Colorado called Leadville. You feel like you’re on top of the world. I think downtown is 11,000. It’s crazy. We like to ski there. Ski Cooper because it’s small. The kids learned to ski there. It’s not super glamorous, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s some cool things that go on in Leadville around trail running and, of course, biking.
Again, I want to always make this about you. When you think about some names in cycling – Lance Armstrong comes to mind. Floyd Landis as I mentioned in the intro – not just anyone can defeat someone like that. And you do. You won that Leadville race several times. I know you’re incredibly humble, but I’d love for you to share from a leadership, a training, a preparation perspective. To get to that level of dedication, of commitment, of tenacity, if you will, to be able to win a race like that not once, but twice. Not twice, but three times, but four times, but five times – and just dominate. And then also pass by some of the biggest names in the sport. Can you talk to us a little bit about what’s involved in your training regimen, beyond Greg LeMond’s’ training, your strategic approach? When you were breaking those records at Leadville, what was going through your mind? And were you that much better than everyone else, or did you just prepare that much more than everyone else, to own that trail? And maybe tell us a little bit about how hard that really is – 100 miles on a mountain bike at 11,000 feet.
David Wiens: Sure. Sure.
Kirk Bachmann: There’s a lot there. Apologize.
David Wiens: I had never done a 100-mile race, and I had never done Leadville. I tried to get in at some point in the ‘90s. “Oh, the race is full.” I called up the race organizers. “The race is full.”
I said, “Yeah, but I’m pro.” I played the pro card. They said, “We don’t care who you are. The race is full.” “Oh, okay.” I’m a little hurt, but I’m a little, “That’s cool. I like that.”
When I decided in 2002, “I’ve got the time in my calendar. I’m going to do the Leadville,” I went through and I filled out the form and I mailed it in – because that’s what you did back then, with a check.
Several months later, I get something back. “Sorry. You didn’t get in. Here’s your check back.” I was like, “Okay. That’s good.”
2003, I do the same thing. Okay, I got in. I made it. 2003 I do my very first Leadville 100. For those of you who don’t know, the Leadville 100 is an out-and-back course. You run the exact same route. That is absolutely unheard of in bike racing. I’m looking for the loop because I’m obsessed with the course. I need to know where this course goes, what is the profile. It took me a second. “This is an out-and-back. That’s crazy! I’ve never heard of that.”
I got to my first Leadville. I’d already really retired from professional mountain bike racing. My national and World Cup career had ended – or maybe it was 2004. I was still dabbling in it. I didn’t train especially hard for Leadville. I mainly wanted to experience it because I didn’t even know if I could ride my bike 100 miles.
I lined up that first year and actually a guy named Bryson Perry from Salt Lake, and he just was gone immediately. I thought, “Oh, man! This guy’s just going to kick my butt, but I’m going to keep chipping away.” Eventually, there he is up there. I caught him. He was a much faster descender than me. He put a big gap on me. Eventually, I caught him about mile 80.
It was a really good race that I ended up winning. I never set out to do as many Leadvilles as I could. “Cool, that was fun. I won.” And truth be told, the competition then is nothing like it is now. The competition now is absolutely off the charts. The competition then, with all due respect, it just wasn’t as deep of field. It didn’t have a lot of [pros]. The pros weren’t doing that race for whatever reason. There were a handful.
Then Ken and Merilee, the organizers, would call me up. “Champ, are you in? You’re going to do it again?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I’ll do it again.” So then I did Year Two. And then I did Year Three. And then I did Year Four. I never trained for those events, meaning I was going to do these specific things. I just liked going for long rides. I was doing a little bit of adventure racing then, so I was mixing it up. I felt like I’d get enough fitness by doing a lot of long rides to where I’ll be able to do these races. I ended up continuing to win the four.
That winter after my fourth, Lance Armstrong said something on Bicycling.com, “Oh, I’m going to do this race next summer called the Leadville 100.” I’m like, “Oh! That’s going to be a new thing.” It just lit a fire in me, like any challenge does for people who love challenges. It was December and I started training.
It wasn’t very long, and Floyd Landis said, “Oh yeah, I’m going to do Leadville, too.” That was when Floyd had his little hiccup with the drug testing and all that. Very quickly, Lance separated himself from Floyd. “You know what? I actually can’t do it next summer. I’ve got some other business going on. But Floyd’s going to do it.” Okay, great. I’m going to race Floyd Landis.
I used to race him on mountain bikes, and he’s fast. He wasn’t that fast then, but he got really fast when he went to the road. I dusted off my old training, and I started training really hard. I created a plan and executed the plan. That’s the really important part of it: having a good plan and then it’s easy to make a plan, the harder part is really executing on your plan.
I was prepared that day, and Floyd and I had a fantastic race. He was just nipping at my heels the whole time. It was the most intense race of all my races there. I was just at my limit. Every time I looked around, he was not too far behind me. I could see him. He was just there. We came in under seven hours. That was really satisfying.
Then the next year, Lance did come. I didn’t know he was going to be there. I didn’t get the word that Lance was going to be there until about two weeks before, but in my mind, I said, “I’m going to prepare as if Lance is going to be there.” I remember talking to my kids about it. This doesn’t work now as well, but it kind of does if you know Lance Armstrong, because his thing with all of his Tour wins was that he prepared. He weighed his food. They pre-rode the courses. They knew the courses intimately. Their preparation was top-notch.
So I said, “Prepare as if Lance is going to be there,” as a metaphor for anything. Whoever is the best at anything, prepare as if Patrick Mahomes is going to be there if you want a football analogy. We know that he prepares.
So when it really got close, I started to really have some internal fear. “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to go.” There were not many folks bigger than Lance Armstrong at that time. And I didn’t know him, and I’m going to have to race against him. Then as soon as I would get a little bit of anxiety, I would go, “You’ve prepared. You’ve checked all the boxes. You’re going to be good.”
Even the night before, I remember. My family started coming up. My brother was doing the race. I’m getting his bike ready to go. I’m a little overwhelmed. “Dude. You’ve got this. You put in the time.” Had I not put in the time? We all know what it feels like to go into something under-prepared. “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t do this.” But I was prepared.
Went out there and had a really fantastic day. We were together until Mile 90. We were just trading off poles. All of a sudden, he didn’t pull through. I looked back and he’s like, “Dude, go. Go.”
“C’mon! No! Let’s go.”
He was like, “No. Man. I’m done!”
I punched it on ahead. I looked back, and he was still coming. He didn’t stop and sit down or anything. He kept coming. But I felt pretty good that year.
Then of course, he came back in 2009 and thoroughly kicked my butt. Fresh off the Tour de France.
But then my last Leadville story is I did it one more year in 2010. That was the year I got fourth, but I set my best time ever, so I’m really proud of that one as well.
That’s when it really started to get competitive.
I essentially got a private race with Floyd Landis and a private race with Lance Armstrong. Now, there’s 25 men and the same amount of women that are super-fit, and it’s a battle royale. It was great and all, but it was a different era of the Leadville 100 when I was doing that.
Kirk Bachmann: I appreciate how humble you are, because there’s a ton of other riders the way you speak of Floyd and Lance, they speak of you. “Oh my God, Dave’s going to do the race. I’m doing the Leadville 100 with Dave Wiens.” That’s got to be super, super exciting. Thanks for sharing that. I think I had chills the entire time. I can’t even imagine.
Dave, just to segue a little bit, you mentioned food a little bit during your training in there. Since this is, in many ways, a culinary-centric podcast. We have a lot of aspiring culinarians that listen, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up nutrition. It’s clear that mountain biking or any sort of exercise, endurance sport, is physically demanding. It requires a certain amount of energy. Do you have anything to share in terms of the types of foods that you incorporate into your training routine to help sustain that energy? Has that nutritional approach changed over time? When you and Susan were just going around the world and learning all of this, was there a nutrition strategy back then, or is that a more recent phenomena? Has it changed over time? you’re still, obviously, incredibly fit. Just curious what your thoughts are there.
David Wiens: Food is incredibly important to us. We love to eat, like most people. Sometimes we say we train to eat. We’ve been really steady the whole time. It’s not, “We’ll try this; we’ll try that. We’ll go down this road; we’ll go down that road.” It’s been very consistent.
Susan has really been the driving force behind this. We eat just about everything. Very heavy on vegetables and fruit as well. Fruit is more like breakfast and throughout the day snacking, whereas for lunch or for dinner, it’s vegetables. We eat a lot of fish. We don’t eat a ton of red meat. We eat poultry. We enjoy cooking. She does a little bit more of it than I do. I came from that old school of carbo-loading. Certainly, if I’m going to be doing a lot, I’ll be taking in more carbs, pastas. We love potatoes, rice.
But I think to describe our diet, it’s well-balanced. It’s not a certain diet, per se. It’s just a well-balanced diet, and that includes [that] we both have a really bad sweet-tooth. People who work and travel with me know Dave likes cookies and Dave likes ice cream. It’s cookies after lunch, cookies after dinner – or brownies, or whatever – and then ice cream before bed. Just about every night. Those are some of the great pleasures of life.
Salads. We really love the greens and the salads. We do all different kinds. Susan, in my family anyway, is well-known. “Oh, yeah. It’s a Susan salad. It’s going to have all kinds of things in it.” But every once in a while, we want the simple Caesar with the romaine and some parm and croutons.
Really, food is very important to us. Our refrigerator is always stocked with lots of fresh produce. I’ll ride her to work in the mornings. If you buy greens too far out, they get kind of funky. I’ll drop her off at work at 6:30 in the morning, and I’ll run over to City Market, and I can fill in for what we’re going to eat for that night or for the next day. Lots of greens. Lots of vegetables. Certainly some protein in there. We love making our own hummus.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh! Look at you!
David Wiens: We like hummus and all the different ways you can flavor it. We enjoy going out when we can. Gunnison has a couple pretty good restaurants that we enjoy going out to. Crested Butte some as well. Then we get to bigger cities, of course, we love the different ethnic foods. Indian, Thai. There was a time in Denver where I think there was one Indian restaurant. One in Denver and one in Boulder. Now of course, it’s more common. Thai was hard to come by. But in our travels to the UK where there’s an Indian restaurant on every corner, we really got used to some of those different types of cuisine.
We’re not culinary expertise by any means, but we prepare most of our food. We don’t eat out a lot. We like to eat well, and with our kids growing up – they’re all out of the house now – but we were very into that family dinner thing. The dining room table, the main table, was very important to our family. No television in that room. Never going to sit down and watch TV and eat. It’s family conversation, family time. It was important that we gave our kids a good foundation of a well-balanced diet.
Kirk Bachmann: I love the idea. In German we call it a Stammtisch, that community or family table is so super, super, super important.
I was going to mention. One of these days we’ll figure out a way to connect, but my favorite restaurant here locally in Boulder is called Frasca. Bobby Stuckey, who has been all around, California, the Little Nell in Aspen, he’s a master sommelier. But he started out as a cyclist from Arizona. He was a cyclist, and now he’s a pretty well-known runner. I don’t know if he’s done Leadville, but he runs all around the world. That’s where we’ll belly up at the bar and share some stories when we have a chance.
I wanted to talk a little bit about trail advocacy. it’s clearly super, super important to you and to Susan and other friends of yours in the Gunnison area there. We don’t have to go too deep into it, but this idea that public lands provide opportunities for educational programs and interpretive trails, learning about local ecosystems, wildlife, connect it to the farm. It’s obvious that it’s really important that…cyclists can learn about conservation efforts and become more aware of the importance of protecting natural areas. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the importance of that in your life and Susan’s. Was that connected? Did that lead to creating mountain sports programs at Western? Wrap it all up. How you decided at a point in your career that you were going to focus your attention on leadership advocacy like this? Some of the work that you’re doing now with Western: super, super important for the community. Again, a lot there, but I know very important to you when it comes to advocacy.
David Wiens: Sure. When I first started riding mountain bikes, we were looking for places to go. We didn’t have apps. We didn’t know where to go. It was a lot of exploration. Crested Butte was one of the oldest cradles of mountain biking. There were actually some maps and some classic rides up there that I was able to be exposed to. Gunnison didn’t really have that.
Then learning [about] BLM land – Bureau of Land Management is this. U.S. Forest Service is this. Gunnison is essentially surrounded by public lands. Public lands are open for the public. They don’t all have trails on them. Some of them do. It was really starting to improve those lands close to Gunnison, maybe initially in a selfish way for myself and my friends so we could have more mountain biking opportunities without driving a car. But then, very quickly, we realized that the entire community really loves it.
The Hartman Rocks area, as you know, is multi-user. There’s walkers, dog walkers, trail runners, mountain bikers. It’s even open to motorized users. They all love the landscape and appreciate it and share it. There was a time when it was a dumping ground. There were trash dumps all over it. The trail users slowly cleaned those up.
By having a connection to these public lands and public places, that’s a mechanism for protection for those lands. As soon as you hear about, “We’re going to do something, build something,” people are like, “No. You can’t because these are really important lands for our access to the outdoors, but also for wildlife.”
It isn’t just federal public lands like BLM and Forest Service. Depending on where you live in the country, it might be a municipal park. It might be a land trust that has some lands. It could be county park, state park. There’s an opportunity to get involved with local conservation organizations or local trail organizations. The trail organizations really cover both bases. It’s going to be recreation and fitness-based trail activities – walking, trail running, mountain biking. Sometimes equestrians, if there are horses in the area. Motors, even.
The stewardship ethic comes hand-in-hand with that. If there’s a local mountain bike club or even a trail club that you can do a little Google search and find one in your area, get involved. First of all, you’re going to meet a bunch of great people. You’re going to learn about trails in your area. It’s going to make you happier and healthier. If you become a trail user, even if it’s just walking outside, you’re going to become happier and healthier. I can almost guarantee that. Make it consistent in your life. At the same time, you’ll be protecting those valuable places. They are the safe harbors for our wildlife.
It’s become a much bigger deal in places like Colorado. There is an influx of population that wants to recreate outdoors, so finding this balance between outdoor recreation and conservation and protection of our natural resources is really important. We don’t want it to be just a free-for-all of recreation out there. That’s where the organizations can work together, and the hunters can work with the mountain bikers, can work with the trail runners and the motorized groups to really try to come together instead of warring with each other.
At IMBA, we started a movement called Trails are Common Ground. It’s at trailsarecommonground.org. It’s a fledgling movement, but the idea is we shouldn’t be lobbing grenades at each other from these different user groups; we should be coming together. First of all, we should be making sure that our trails are diverse, and they look like our country, and that everybody is safe and welcome on our trails regardless of skin color or where they’re from or sexual orientation or anything like that. The second piece of it is trail etiquette. Let’s have good responsible behavior, but let’s lead with kindness. If you’re going to be one thing out there, just be kind. The third pillar is just knowledge to be a good trail user – pillar of etiquette, I should say.
Then, improving our trail systems so they function better. You know the Boulder area, the Denver area, are very busy trails. There are things that we can do, technically, with trails to increase their carrying capacity, reduce the opportunities for conflict, and create better user satisfaction among all users. Those are things like odd-even days, where there are some trails above Golden that mountain bikers get to go down the trail on odd days – I don’t know if it’s odd or even – and hikers get to use it both ways with no mountain bikes on it on even days. Everybody gets what they want. In busy areas, we need to do more of that.
So Trails are Common Ground is an attempt to bring folks together to work together. Protecting the landscape and protecting the cultural and natural resources, particularly the wildlife, are part of that as well.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I’m thinking about Western a little bit. Are you finding in your work with Western that new students, young students from all around the country are coming to Gunnison specifically because of mountain sports and some of the opportunities that they have in Gunnison that they might not have elsewhere? More so than in the past?
David Wiens: You bet. Western specifically targets those types of students who are most likely to thrive there because of the outdoors. When we created mountain sports, we wanted a program that was going to be welcoming to all abilities, including highly-skilled athletes, but also some new folks. “Hey, I want to get into this and learn how to do collegiate mountain bike racing, or do free-ride skiing or whatever it happens to be.”
The importance of transitioning through the seasons that we have in Gunnison is really important. If you love skiing or snowboarding or ice climbing, or something else that is a great wintertime activity, Gunnison is a great place for that because a good part of the school year is those winter months. If you embrace the snow and the cold because you love backcountry skiing or skiing up at the resort, any number of activities, Nordic skiing, ice skating on the Blue Mesa, then you’re probably going to thrive in a place like that.
Likewise, there’s degree programs in outdoor [recreation] and a master’s in land management. There are a lot of programs that are right in that public lands environmental vein. Then you can basically work toward a career in the outdoors, whether it’s on the nonprofit side, the for-profit side, or even on the agency side with federal and regional and state land managers.
Kirk Bachmann: Thank you for that. I almost can’t believe as I step back, all those years that I spent in Gunnison. Twenty, thirty years ago, people loved to come to Gunnison for the skiing specifically, but the wealth of opportunity now in that still relatively small town is just spectacular.
Dave, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out – I know we mentioned earlier – to Susan, your bride. She’s also a former professional cross-country mountain bike racer and the first woman to win an Olympic medal in mountain biking. Susan was also inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Wow!
My wife and I are both trained cooks, so sometimes friends are a little intimidated to come over. We’re the easiest in the world. We love community, we love friends, we love cooking. It would be like people wanting to go for a Sunday ride with you and Susan. “Yeah. Keep up! Keep up!” I’m curious if your children have the same love for, not just the outdoors, but specifically for mountain biking as you and Susan do.
David Wiens: That’s a funny question. We get that a lot. One out of three. Our oldest loves to ride. He raced collegiately at Fort Lewis. He’s in Durango right now. He’ll come to Gunnison and race gravel at the Gunny Grinder in a few weeks with his girlfriend.
The twins, they’re 23 now. They’re two years younger than Coop. They hate mountain biking. They want nothing to do with it. They enjoy the outdoors, but one of them is in Burbank pursuing a career in film. The other lives in downtown Denver, loves the city, loves Denver. He’s pursuing a career as a vocal performer. The mountain biking thing really only rubbed off on one of three.
But to your point about people riding with us, there is always that expectation that all that Susan and I do is ride as hard we can all the time. We ride with people all the time. We go at whatever pace we want.
Now, Susan does have a reputation. Her nickname is called No Stops because she doesn’t like to stop a lot. Sometimes in a group, you get groups that stop a lot, and there’s a lot of that.
Just from having kids and being on a time schedule you had when your kids were young, “I’ve got two hours. I’m going to get a good two-hour ride in.” We’re both very much fitness buffs. Our exercise is important to us for our minds and our bodies, but we do make sure we get it.
But when we do ride with others, of course, we’re very accommodating. It is fun to stop now and then.
Kirk Bachmann: I’ll keep that in mind. No-Stop Susan.
Hey buddy, it has been a pleasure. Such a beautiful chat. Before I let you go, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. This is the toughest question of all. So I ask every guest, in their mind, what is the ultimate dish? It could be a food memory. It could be a specific dish you had in Italy during a time when you were there racing, or whatever. In your family, what is the ultimate dish?
David Wiens: For me, just came right to my mind was gnocchi from Italy. I’ll even shy away from it in the U.S. because it never has been the same. I had never even heard of gnocchi until we went to race in Italy. Just the gnocchi there, regardless of how it’s prepared or what’s on it, it just seems so much different. You can buy it in a plastic package, and we’ve bought it before, but “this doesn’t taste like gnocchi.” That’s where I’m going to go with that.
Food in Italy in general is just amazing.
Kirk Bachmann: You’re right. It’s authentic. It’s real. That’s a great answer. We haven’t had that answer in the past. I’ll make you some gnocchi that will bring back some memories.
Buddy, thank you so much for spending time. This was the best hour of my week. Continued success and fun and love. The next time I’m in Gunny, I’ll ping you. I’d love nothing more than to chase you down and have a cup of coffee or a couple of pints. Good to see you. Thanks for taking the time with us.
David Wiens: Let’s make that happen. Thank you very much for having me on.
Kirk Bachmann: You bet. You bet, buddy.
And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.