200+ miles and 30,000+ feet of climbing, all above 9,500 feet elevation…on a singlespeed of course.
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After spectating at the Leadville Dirt Fondo on Saturday and watching Alban Lakata crush the course, setting a new record at 6:04:01, I headed on over to Breckenridge for a real mountain bike race; the six-day, 200+ mile Breck Epic stage race. Breckenridge is a panacea of mountain biking, with hundreds of miles of singletrack leaving right from town in every direction. The Breck Epic starts each day in the same place and finishes in town, making logistics and accommodations easy for all participants. The only downside – at least for lowlanders – is the 9,500 foot base elevation, with some climbs hitting 12,000 feet. Ugh.
Although this is my virgin Breck Epic voyage, I have the privilege of rooming with Breck Epic veteran and sleeveless jersey hero, Rich “Dicky” Dillen who’s done the race four times previous. His vast knowledge of the course will come in handy, although it seems the only details he can feed me are limited to “you climb for a while, then you descend for a while. Oh, and its rocky sometimes.”
Our work is cut out for us, considering there’s more than 20 singlespeeders competing in the Breck Epic. Some of them are absolute freaks of nature, so for both Dicky and me, achieving a podium finish on any of the six stages would take an act of God or a perfectly executed and masterful act of sabotage.
As race director Mike McCormack indicated in the pre-race meeting, Stage 1 was going to break us in easy; only 36 miles and 5,500 feet of climbing. The race started under perfect conditions, low 50s and not a cloud in the sky. Even though we’ve got more than 200 miles of riding ahead of us, the pace up the first paved “neutral” climb was nuts.
Refusing to chase the rabbit, I settled into a comfortable tempo and enjoyed the hero dirt, beautiful aspen groves and breathtaking scenery. That is until we hit the first big dirt climb in earnest, spiking skyward to 11,600 feet. Then all I was looking at was the sweat dripping into my eyeballs and my legs turning the agonizing cadence of 30 rpm.
In order to try and offset the ill effects of altitude, Dicky, my other roommate Luke and me had a group beet juice session early in the morning. We were still huffing and puffing like a smoker with asthma, but it definitely took the edge off and allowed me to at least ride a majority of the climbs without walking. I was worried running a 34:19 gear (on a 26” wheel) was going to be a bit tall, at least for Stage 1 it was perfect.
Dicky and I traded punches for a while, with him passing me on the climbs and me returning the favor on the downhills. We grouped up with another singlespeed hammer by the name of Tim. His gray hair told me he was no spring chicken, and when I asked his age, he said 52. Immediately after that he mashed gear and completely dropped my ass. Eventually I caught back up to him on a downhill, and asked again just to confirm. Yep, still 52. Damn. Dude is a freaking hammer and is just barely old enough to be my dad. Much respect.
After a ten-minute hike-a-bike session, some sweet singletrack downhill was the payoff. But unfortunately for me, the absolute best section of singletrack in the last three miles of Stage 1 was dampened by a slightly cut sidewall that wouldn’t seal. Thankfully I had enough air cartridges to keep the tire from completely deflating, but stopping five times and nursing a front tire with 10 psi on the funnest section of downhill singletrack back into Breckenridge was a bummer, especially after all the climbing that was put in. Ended up 7th for the day. Not bad. Hopefully I can crack a top five sometime this week.
Six-Day Open Men saw a battle between Todd Wells (Specialized) and Alex Grant (Cannondale), with Wells eking out the victory by a scant two seconds. Defending champion Ben Sonntag (American Interbanc/Cannondale) was a couple minutes back in third.
“The three of us rode off pretty quick,” said Wells. “I attacked up the steep rocky climb and we got rid of Ben. At the end I knew it was all downhill to the finish so I sprinted for the singletrack. It was a full sprint downhill from there.”
Wells is fresh off a solid third place at Leadville on Saturday, a race he didn’t feel great for.
“I actually felt better today than yesterday,” said Wells. “Had a horrible night’s sleep before Leadville. I knew pretty quick I wasn’t on a good day. At Powerline it was lights out.”
The Six Day Women’s Open saw Sue Haywood (Stan’s NoTubes) take the victory over second place and 2012 winner Amanda Carey (Stan’s NoTubes), with Kate Aardal (Ridley’s Cycle) coming in third.
Stage 2 is 38 miles with 5,300 feet of climbing and features a stretch on the world famous Colorado Trail. McCormack called today a classic “Breckenridge ride”, while tomorrow is a classic “Colorado ride”. Not sure what the difference is, but I’ll find out tomorrow.
In summary, Stage 1 was definitely a nice way to get broken into the incredible riding that Breckenridge has to offer. It was challenging without being murderous, but from what I hear, the murder doesn’t come until Stage 4 when we ascend the notorious Wheeler Peak. Hopefully by then I’ll be breathing a little easier. I’m gonna need it.
Breck Epic Stage 1 Results can be found HERE.
The ASS Goes to Breckenridge »
Breck Epic Stage 2: Lessons From The Trail »
The Angry Singlespeeder: Breck Epic Stage 3 »
Breck Epic Stage 4: Suffering and Singletrack »
Breck Epic Stage 5: Yep, That Was Epic »
Breck Epic Stage 6: Exhilarated and Exhausted »