By Matt Simmons. Visit his blog TwoWheeledWorld – Tales From The Trails (and other randoms). Videos provided by Jeff Kerkove/Ergon.
In its 4th year, the BreckEpic mountain bike stage race embodies what it is to arguably be the very best all-around mountain biker. In today’s governed, sanctioned, and over-categoried races where many events have dozens of age-specific and ability-level categories, the BreckEpic is a throwback to the original days of racing: big mountain loops, very few categories, and even fewer rules.
The rulebook is simple:
#1 Don’t be mean.
#2 Don’t litter.
#3 Wear a helmet.
#4 Choose a suitable bike, and go do it. Period.
A little logistics:
Each day is made up of a different route that leaves downtown Breckenridge at 8:30am sharp. Stages range from 32-42 miles per day, and racers can expect between 5500′ and 8500′ vertical climbing…… a day…. A spry entrant can expect to be on course for between 3.5 to 4.5 soul-finding (or soul crushing) hours and will traverse some of the finest mountain bike trails in the country…
This must be what draws entrants from over 18 countries to enter the 250 rider event.
The events’ stats are enough to prevent 99% of the population from even attempting. Another 3/4% simply can’t scrape together the cheese to pony up for the entry fee. It IS a pricey registration, but the reason is justifiable. The races’ visionary and founder, Mike McCormack, wants the racers to show up, race, and let the staff worry about the rest.
Fully stocked aid stations, “embarrassingly well-marked” courses, post-race buffets, loaded schwag bags, and custom race-leaders’ jerseys are only part of the experience…
But the trails…. ohhhhhh the trails…
Stage 1: Pennsylvania Gulch
5500′ vertical gain
Highest point: 11, 300′
It was cold at the start line of stage 1. It was about 38 degrees cold, but the skies were clear and the forecast called for sunny and 72. I was in a bit of unfamiliar territory at the start, because, while perusing the pre-race start list I recognized no one in my 3-day open category. Most of the familiar names were taking on the full 6-day event.
The gun went off, as prescribed, at 8:30am stat and I leapt off the line with the fast guys – Tostado, Franklin, Kappius, and the rest. Knowing I had (only) three days of racing instead of the six that these guys had, I felt I could stand on the gas pedal much of the day…
As the race climbed in the first few miles the group was treating the pace like it was a 2-hour cross-country event. Surely, I thought, this couldn’t last…. I was wrong… up, then down the first singletrack the field strung out and wound south past Goose Pasture Tarn. Further still, the trail ratcheted upward in a relentless 30 minute climb up Pennsylvania Gulch. Still not knowing my competition in the 3-day category I was managing my pain and not letting off the throttle.
I knew I was in good position overall, and felt fresh as we chased each other past 11,000′ to timberline. The air is thin up there, as is the singletrack that carried us to a fast dirt road descent to aid station 1. After a quick bottle exchange and fuel up the trail turned north towards “Nightmare on Baldy.”
Now, in Breckenridge, I don’t know which comes first – the trail or the trail name, but with names like Heinous Hill, Toxic Forest, Vomit Hill, and Oh $hit Corner, well, you know this is the real deal.
Down Nightmare, and up Little French Gulch (which was climbed twice during the recent 4th of July Firecracker 50 and there’s nothing little about it) back up to 11,200′ where all systems were firing some 2-plus hours in to the race.
The Breckenridge area is riddled with ancient mining claims, old water flumes, and collapsed shafts, which is one reason why the area is such an ideal place for huge mountain bike rides.
There are old mining roads and trails everywhere. And over the next hour and a half I’d keep navigating these trails, following the yellow course markers, telling myself to dig deep until finally finishing near downtown Breck at 3 hours 29 minutes.
I crossed the line 8th overall in the 6-day class, but more importantly for me, 1st place in the 3-Day Open category by a surprising 28 minutes. The question then became, had I known I was that far ahead should I have gone easier? Or was it smart to build up as large of a lead as possible to account for any unforeseen mechanicals, flat tires, or injuries?
I was blown away by the day’s results, and later that evening I’d stand on the top step of the podium for the first time in 8 years. (never give up trying, you know?)
I’d slip on the coveted BreckEpic race leaders’ jersey in the 3-Day Open category, celebrate with as many calories as my depleted state would permit, and off to bed early. For I knew I’d pay for the days’ efforts tomorrow…
Next up: Recovery stage race style and the weather turns…