Breck Epic Stage 4: Suffering and Singletrack

Race Coverage

It was all fun and games for about 5 miles, then the climbing began and the smiles went away.

The worst is behind us. Sort of, not really.

On paper Wednesday’s stage 4 grunt (43 miles, roughly 7,000 feet of climbing) was the bad boy of the Breck Epic’s 6 stages, doling out the most mileage and longest stage times. There was brutal fire road climbing, brutal singletrack climbing, and one mishmash of doubletrack and narrow trail that’s known locally as Vomit Hill. (See full stage results HERE and current GC standings HERE.)

I didn’t see any vomiting, but damn that thing was nasty. According to Strava, this monster is 1.2 miles long, gains 795 feet, and has an average — yes, average — gradient of 12.7 percent. Felt like 20 to me…

For the top men, that meant around 13.5 minutes of handlebar gnawing. Yours truly galloped up in 23:41. Or put another way, my feet hurt from walking.

What’s really stunning is the fact that the top men — and woman — rode the whole damn thing (even the big log near the bottom, for those who’ve been there and know what I’m talking about).

That shark tooth in the middle of the profile, that’s Vomit Hill.

“It’s just pure stubbornness I guess,” said stage 4 winner and overall GC leader Amanda Carey (NoTubes), who’s the race’s defending champion. “I don’t think I got the whole thing last year. So it was really exciting to make it this year, especially the really rough section at the bottom. I do have to say I had one dab, though. It was about four pedal strokes from the top. I rolled my rear tire over a pine cone and had a tiny dab.”

No worries, Amanda. We’ll give it to you. Anyone who cleared that bottom section is, as Sue Haywood wrote on her Facebook page, “a boss lady.”

Carey is also the boss of the Breck Epic’s open women’s category. Her four-day total time of 15:51:25 is 4:48 up on second placed Kate Aardal, with Haywood (NoTubes) a distant third at 14:28.

On Wednesday, Carey had a little drama early on, making a wrong turn around mile 6. But Aardal made the same wrong turn, so the damage was minimal. Both riders quickly came blasting back through the field, catching Haywood. “It would have been more of a problem if Sue was having a good day, but I was able to catch back on pretty quick, and then got away from Kate,” added Carey, who ended up taking the stage by a scant 15 seconds over Aardal, with Kristin Aamodt in third.

Women’s overall standings after stage 4.

The gap was even narrower in the men’s open race, where Sho-Air/Cannondale’s Alex Grant finally broke the three-stage winning streak of Todd Wells (Specialized). The pair spent most of the day in the company of fellow frontrunners Ben Sonntag and Takei Kyosuke.

“Then on the last climb, Sonntag attacked and got a little gap, but I brought it back,” said Wells. “Then Alex went to front and we just rode off together. (Kyosuke) came off first, then Ben.”

From there it was just a matter of who got the to the last piece of singletrack first. Grant won that battle and was rewarded with a stage win, though he gained less than a second in the overall standings. Heading into stage 5, Wells is 3:46 up on Grant, with Sonntag a distant third at 16:59.

“It was good to finally get a win,” said Grant, 33, who lives in Salt Lake City, got married this past June, and when not racing, runs an on-line bike and ski gear consignment store called the Gear Rush. “I tried to put pressure on him on the climbs, but I just couldn’t break the elastic. We beat each other up pretty good coming over the last climb, but I couldn’t take time. He couldn’t either, though, so that’s something. Tomorrow I’ll give it another go.”

Men’s overall standings after stage 4.

A Place Called Wheeler

And that brings us to the, sort of, reference back at the top of the rambling diatribe. See, while Wednesday’s stage was the longest, it didn’t scrape the sky, topping out at a comparably pedestrian 11,161 feet. On Thursday, you guessed it, we’re all going up, up, way up Wheeler Pass — peak elevation, a sky scraping 12,500 feet. You can see what it looks like in map form HERE.

I rode (actually, mostly walked) this beast last year, and while I’ve managed to block out most of my memories, I do recall feeling light headed, dizzy, punch drunk, and a little nauseous. And on the way down a fairly rough and rowdy trail that pops out across the street from Copper Mountain (on the whole damn other side of the Ten Mile Range), I crashed my ass off and sheared a brake lever.

The numbers for stage 5 are 30 miles and 5,131 feet of climbing, according to the Breck Epic preview map passed out at the evening pow-wow. That’s a lot of up in a very little amount of time. So like I said, the worst is behind us, sort of, not really…

Dan Horndasch and John Bradley have been hard at work cleaning bikes all week.

Wash, Clean, Lube, Fix

The good thing about Colorado summertime monsoon season is that it makes for hero dirt riding in the morning. The bad thing is that there are still a bunch of wet spots on the roads and trails, which always results in muddy bikes, and occasionally results in broken bikes. Fortunately, here at the Breck Epic, we are in the capable hands of the gangs from WD-40 and SRAM.

Each day the WD-40 guys (better known as Dan Horndasch and John Bradley) are set up at race HQ, where they wash and lube bikes for anyone who stops by. By Horndasch’s count, that’s been about a 150 a day give or take. It’s an awesome service that means one less thing to do for this mostly shattered peloton of about 250 riders. And yes, tips are accepted.

For those who don’t know, WD-40 has made a big push into the cycling world this year, offering two-wheel-specific cleaning and lube products. Thumbs up this week. My rig has been shiny and shifting well.

Meanwhile, if you happen to have an issue, say a roached rear derailleur, which is what happened to one of my racer/housemates during stage 4, the SRAM mechanics crew (led by the illustrious Doug Dalton) will make your world right. In my housemates case, that meant a new rear derailleur and tune-up — for nothing but a smile and a thank you. Now that’s service.

Love this jersey. No idea what it means, though.

Best Jersey

With all due respect to the plaid leader’s jerseys here at the Breck Epic, the best kit in the field goes to stage 4 third-place finisher Takei Kyosuke. I asked the Japanese rider for an explanation, but the language barrier was too high. Let’s just call it, cool.

Anger Witnessed

An update for all the Angry Singlespeeder fans out there. After riding like a champ on stage 3 and nailing the last spot on the SS podium, our ASS man looked to be paying the price on stage 4. I ran into him on the day’s last climb, a 3-mile can of fire-road-whoop-ass, and he was, well, a little angry, yelling incoherent obscenities at his bike or the road, I’m not quite sure which. My thought: gears, my friend, get some damn gears.

Gear Check

Speaking of gears, I did a quick poll of the top men here at the Breck Epic. Grant is on 34t SRAM XX1 when riding his Cannondale F29 hardtail (as he did Wednesday), but switches to a 32t when he rides the full suspension Scalpel 29er (as he will Thursday for the rough descent off Wheeler pass).

Wells has been running a 32t XX1 set-up on his Specialized S-works Epic full suspension 29er all week. And then there is Ben Sonntag, who is on Shimano, which means no pie-plate 42t cog in the rear. Instead he’s been pushing a 34-36 combination all week. “The German is the man,” said Wells. “He rode that whole Vomit Hill with that set-up. That’s crazy.”

Get Out The Vote

Anyone who’s been around the mountain bike racing circuit for any length of time likely knows the name Jeff Frost. Frosty, as he’s better known, ran the NORBA series for a while, was a big dog within the Sea Otter organizing team, and has put on a bunch of his own races.

Now Frosty is getting into bike racing politics, running for a leadership post within the USA Cycling organization. Regular USAC license holders can’t vote on this particular election (only the 128 USAC licensed race directors), but Frost implores anyone with a USAC license to rock the vote.

“It’s the only way mountain bikers will ever get a voice within the federation,” he said. That voting closes this coming Friday at 11:59 p.m. MST. You can learn more about the candidates and the issues HERE.

As for Frosty, besides being an active advocate for mountain bikers and mountain bike racing, he’s damn fast. Right now, he’s holding down second place in the 50-plus category, and on stage 4 he was the 49th overall rider to cross the line.

Next Year

All this Breck Epic talk have you considering a run at this 6-day sufferfest/singletrack bonanza? Well, 2014 registration is open now and dates are set: August 10-15 for the 6-day; August 10-12 for the 3-day Epicurious (stages 1-3); and August 13-15 for Epicurious Part 2 (stages 4-6).

The ASS Goes to Breckenridge »
The Angry Singlespeeder: Breck Epic Stage 1 »
Breck Epic Stage 2: Lessons From The Trail »
The Angry Singlespeeder: Breck Epic Stage 3 »
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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