Sequim cyclist takes Masters title

Leigh Thompson initially scoffed at the idea of becoming a champion cyclist, but after rigorous training and a series of challenges met and bested, she discovered the only thing laughable about that idea was that anyone would be able to stop her.

Thompson, a professor at the University of Washington in the early 1990s, received her first bike as a gift from her husband, Robert Weeks. They began riding together around the San Juan Islands and her love of cycling blossomed.

In 1995, with the idea of competing still far from her mind, Thompson accepted a teaching position at Northwestern University and moved to Winnetka, Ill. For the next 12 years she continued teaching and riding casually until a chance meeting in early 2007 ended up changing her life.

Weeks, investigating a cycling device known as a power tap, met Robbie Ventura. Power taps are monitors installed on bikes that measure how much energy, in watts, the cyclist is generating while riding, an invaluable tool for cyclists. Ventura, a professional rider who had competed alongside Lance Armstrong, ran a cycling team known as Vision Quest. What began as a fact-finding conversation led to Ventura recommending that Thompson get blood work and body fat tests to determine how she would stack up as a competition cyclist.

"Robbie told me I was the strongest woman he had ever tested," Thompson said, "He said that I would win the Nationals, telling me over and over again, and eventually I decided to see what it was all about."

In 2007, with the inspiration of Ventura and Weeks guiding her, Thompson joined Vision Quest and began competing in time trials - races in which competitors race separately and their times are compared to determine the winner. They take place in outdoor areas typically in the countryside. "I've always liked time trials," Thompson said, "The race goes to the best individual rider and not the craftiest. It's just you and your bike."

It was obvious early that Thompson had the skills to become a champion and she was able to represent Vision Quest quite ably. In her first 16 events, she took first place seven times and second place five times.

On June 30, it was time for the ultimate challenge. In Louisville, Ky., Thompson competed in the 2008 USA Cycling Masters Time Trial Championship. Riding her self-described "magic bike," which at one time belonged to American Tour de France competitor Steve Cummings, Thompson was dominant, taking first place in her age group. She finished more than 53 seconds ahead of the next best rider.

Ventura's prophecy had come true and Thompson was a champion.

Before Thompson moved to Winnetka, she made a commitment to herself to return to the Pacific Northwest and currently she lives part time in Sequim. She describes some of her favorite local rides with much enthusiasm.

"Hurricane Ridge is my absolute favorite ride of all time," Thompson said, "It's 18 miles of relentless grade. It rides smooth, but it's a great challenge."

Thompson also spoke fondly of Palo Alto and Deer Park roads and the Discovery Trail, and mentioned that Sequim would be a fantastic venue for a time trial.

Thompson's next big step as a competition cyclist is defending her Masters victory. The title is awarded yearly and times don't carry over, so Thompson will have to do it all over again in 2009 to remain the champion. This time however, she will compete as the incumbent champ, as opposed to a newcomer. In spite of this daunting task, Thompson remains humble regarding this challenge.

"I've got to go back, get on the bike and defend my title." Thompson said.

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