Breck Epic Stage 2: Lessons From The Trail

Race Coverage

Grant and Wells do battle on stage 2.

Two days of the 5th annual Breck Epic 6-day cross-country stage race are in the books, and like every time I subject myself to one of these multi-day bludgeoning, there are many lessons to be learned. Here then is a point-by-point encapsulation on some of what Professor Pain and the Singletrack Savant have taught thus far here in Breckenridge, Colorado. (See full stage 2 results HERE.)

Fast People Are Fast

This may sound like a statement of the obvious, but it never ceases to amaze how talented the top XC pros really are. And with a race like the Breck Epic, where everyone from three-time Olympian Todd Wells to muckity-mucks like myself, all line up on the same start line, race the same route, and finish at the same finish, you really get to see the difference first hand.

Today the difference between Wells, the stage 2 winner, and myself, occupant of 21st place on stage 2 in the 40+ Men’s 6-day race category, was about an hour and 10 minutes (2:53 to 4 hours plus). Or put another way, by the time I finished, Wells had probably eaten, showered, checked his email, tweeted, updated his Facebook status, gotten a massage and taken a cat nap. It’s truly impressive what top riders can do on a bike.

Wells (Specialized) earned that stage 2 win, plus a solid 1:46 lead in the open men’s overall, by attacking second-placed Alex Grant (Sho-Air/Cannondale) near the end of Monday’s 38-mile Colorado Trail stage, which included about 5,500 feet of climbing — and one of the best extended cross-country downhills you’ll ever roll rubber on.

“That section today was amazing,” Wells told after the stage. “I mean you are out there racing, but on the climbs you can still take a look around at all the amazing scenery. And then that downhill that just went on and on. This is a great event.”

Todd Wells hammering toward his second straight stage win.

Wells’ day was also bolstered by the fact that Grant suffered a bout of bad luck early on, slicing the sidewall in his rear tire. It wasn’t a catastrophic tear, but the Utah resident had to stop twice, once to blast it with a CO2 and again at the first aid station to top it off with a floor pump. Grant estimated the time penalty at 90 seconds, and though he was able to make it up and rejoin Wells at the front of the race, Grant wasn’t able to hang on when the end game commenced.

“At first I didn’t know what happened to him, but when I came over the top of the big Colorado Trail climb, all the sudden he was right there again,” said Wells, who is riding his full-suspension Specialized S-Works Epic 29er here in Breckenridge. “We rode together for a while, then he attacked me on the next climb and I stayed on him, and then I could tell he was getting a little tired.”

The “tell” in this case was Grant’s softer pulls on the paved section proceeding the final climb. “And with a lot of these stages we don’t know how it finishes,” continued Wells. “You just know that it finishes on a descent so you want to get to the top of the climb first. Once it started going up hill for the last time I attacked.”

The move netted Wells nearly two minutes over Grant by the finish, with defending Breck Epic champ Ben Sontag trailing home in third, at 3:25. The order is the same in the current overall standings. “I feel great right now,” said Grant, who was aboard after his full-suspension Scalpel on day 1, but opted for his F29 hardtail on day 2. “I just had some bad luck today and that probably cost me at the end. But there are still four days to go. And I’m going back to the full suspension tomorrow.”

Amanda Carey pulled out the stage 2 win and moved into first overall.

Meanwhile, defending open women’s champ Amanda Carey (NoTubes) moved to the top of the overall standings following a convincing stage 2 win after posting a time of 3:45. Carey, and fellow women’s contenders Kate Aardal, stage 1 winner Sue Haywood (NoTubes), and Alice Pirard all rolled up the main Colorado Trail Climb together. “And I rode at front the whole climb then just let it rip on the descent,” explained Carey. “I got a gap there and held it.”

Carey, too, was the benefit of others’ bad luck. In this case, Haywood flatted, losing almost 7 minutes by the finish.

“I knew I had an opportunity there so I went for it,” added Carey, who now leads Aardal by 5:30 in the overall with Haywood another 11 seconds behind. “But there’s lots of racing to go. I mean tomorrow is nasty. I wish I could just block out the next 24 hours starting right now.”

Yes, Tomorrow Is Nasty

Carey, a Breck Epic veteran, knows of what she speaks. Tomorrow, better known as Tuesday’s stage 3 Mt. Guyot Loop is a death march of a day that is 36 miles long, includes 6,564 feet of climbing, plus two trips up and over the Continental Divide, peak elevation roughly 12,000 feet.

On the flip side, as race director Mike McCormack pointed out Monday evening, we’ll be heading to a place that very few folks ever reach, let alone reach by bicycle. And having been up to this area a few times before, including during last year’s Breck Epic, it really is one of those magical Sound-of-Music-scenery locales. I just need to remind myself to look up once in a while, and not stay stuck wallowing in the misery of climbing to the sky.

The Breck Epic Has Three Rules

And these are rules that all mountain bikers should live by whenever they head out for a ride: wear a helmet, don’t litter, and don’t be a dick. Simple, really. And spot on.

Watch Where You Are Going

Despite being one of the most well-marked events I’ve ridden, folks still get lost from time to time. Unfortunately, my esteemed colleague, the Angry Single Speeder, was one of those folks on Monday.

I’ll let the ASS explain the rest of the details, via this post from his Facebook page: “Stage 2 of Breck Epic done. 38 miles and 5,300 feet of climbing. Horrific day. Followed two guys who missed a turn and we plunged down a 1,000 foot descent. Worst possible place to miss a turn. Had to hike-a-bike nearly 1.5 miles all the way back up a brutally steep wall. Never cursed so much in my life. Lost at least 20 minutes. Oh well, at least the scenery was amazing!”

Let this be a lesson to all the boy and girl racers out there. Don’t just follow wheels, watch where you are going, too.

Scott Genius 700 Tuned. Full carbon frame. 150mm Fox 32 Float CTD. 100mm-150mm Fox Nude rear shock with TwinLoc Remote. SRAM XX1 drivetrain with 30t chainring. Shimano XTR brakes/levers and XT pedals. E13 XCX Chainguide. Syncros bars, stem, seatpost, saddle, and carbon TR1.0 wheels. Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires. Hup Hup!

Bikes Are Awesome Right Now

Without gushing too much, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the Scott Genius 700 Tuned rig I’ve been piloting the last two days. No it is not as uphill efficient as a 19-pound, 29er hardtail. But at about 24 pounds and equipped with 150mm travel front and rear, plus a handy lock-out lever for the really steep climbs, bikes like this are blurring the lines between play and race. And there are lots of them on the market right now.

It’s full carbon frame and carbon Syncros wheels combined with an efficient SRAM XX1 drivetrain help make it a capable climber even on some of the precipitous grunts we’ve encountered here in Colorado. And of course when you point it downhill, this flicky 27.5 ripper is a point-and-shoot trail tamer. The only change I made was to swap off the 32t chainring in favor of a 30t just so I can spin a little more on the steepest ascents.

Computer Beeps Are Not Awesome

To the guy I’ve ridden near a few times these first two days, will you please turn off the damn incessant beeping on whatever device is on your handlebars. It’s exceptionally annoying and it’s ruining my wilderness experience. The course is really well marked. You don’t need an alarm to go off every time your Garmin thinks you’re off trail, especially since it’s the only thing that is lost. Pay attention to the trail markers and everything will be fine — and quieter.

Please, Trim The Podium Procession

Don’t get me wrong. I love a little recognition just like the next marginally talented bike racer dork. But when it comes to podium ceremonies, the Breck Epic has slipped into the deep end of absurdity. On Monday evening, there were no less than 39 podium photos snapped during the awards ceremony. (Check its Facebook page if you don’t believe me.)

That covered 6-day racers, 3-day racers, enduro racers, old racers, young racers, in-between aged racers, fast racers, not as fast racers, single racers, duo racers, man racers, woman racers, singlespeed racers, Clydesdale racers, and who knows what else. Maybe it’s time to back it down to the open categories, and wait until the end of the race for everyone else. I hate to disappoint moms across America, but everyone doesn’t have to be a winner.

The Breck Epic aid stations provide all that you need and them some.

No Hydration Packs Is Really Nice

No knock against Camelbak, Osprey and the rest of the world’s fine hydration pack makers, but man it’s nice to not wear one sometimes. And at the Breck Epic that is imminently possible. The reason being is the flawless drop bag service the event avails riders. Each morning you drop two bags off at race HQ, each day said bags show up at the 2-3 aid stations along the route (yes, they even move bags on the few days when there are more than two aid stations like stage 3).

It’s convenient — and it’s huge piece of mind out on the trail. So what if it starts raining gatos y perros. Your drop bag — with foul weather gear, if you packed it — is waiting for you at the next aid station. Same goes for whatever else you stuff in there. Mine have extra tubes, a few tools, a tire, chamois cream, chain lube, and snacks. And if you run out of your own food, the aid stations have enough GU product to drown Jabba the Hutt.

Funny Fact Of The Day

Being that Todd Wells came straight to the Breck Epic after finishing third at the Leadville 100, I asked him when was the last time he’d done a 7-day stage race. His answer: the 2006 Tour de Georgia, a pro road race that was won by one Floyd Landis. At the time Wells was riding for the long-since-defunct Target Training team.

Quote Of The Day

“I’m just trying to put it out of mind that he did Leadville on Saturday. It’s demoralizing.” — Alex Grant on the fact that Wells raced Leadville and is still riding at the front in Breckenridge.

Welcome Back Jake

Finally, I’d again be remiss if I didn’t give another shout out to one of my housemates for the week, Jake Wells. The NoTubes rider snapped his collarbone back in May, but is back on the race bike and kicking some serious ass. Wells is running away with the open men’s 3-day category, and was fourth man across the line on Monday.

He’s also one of the country’s top cyclocross racers, a well-regarded coach and trainer (learn more at, husband and father, and a nice, down to earth guy. Wells also cooked up a mean fried rice stir fry tonight for dinner. Thanks, Jake.

The ASS Goes to Breckenridge »
The Angry Singlespeeder: Breck Epic Stage 1 »
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 »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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