Breck Epic Stage 5: Yep, That Was Epic

Race Coverage

Todd Wells bids goodbye to the competition at around 12,000 feet. Photo Credit: Eddie Clark.

What constitutes epic? Good question. I don’t have an exact answer. At lot of that depends on the person, their fitness, skill level, tolerance for pain, personal history, the weather, you name it.

What I can say is that, at least in my opinion, Thursday’s stage 5 of the Breck Epic deserves what is often an overused adjective in the fat tire world. No it wasn’t the longest stage in mileage or time. But heading up and over Wheeler Pass was indeed EPIC.

Why, you ask?

For starters it’s one of those excursions you’d almost never do under normal circumstances. First off it starts at 9,696 feet and tops out at 12,500 feet. Secondly, who in their right mind would do a ride that started with a nasty 45-minute uphill grind on singletrack and fire road — and then spend the better part of the ensuing hour mostly pushing their bike uphill. Yet, unless your name is Todd Wells, that’s essentially what it took to get up to the sky-kissing summit of Wheeler Pass — a whole lot of bike walking.

Also pushing the epic meter to 11 was scenery worthy of a several coffee table books, oxygen dept that had me stumbling and slurring words, and a 3.3-mile descent off the backside of this monster climb that lasted about 16-17 minutes for most riders, as they gobbled up a rowdy 2,452-foot singletrack downhill that ended across the street from the Copper Mountain ski area. And remember, this stage literally started on the other side of the mountain at the base of Colorado’s Breckenridge ski resort. So yeah, it was epic.

Also epic was the fact that Wells rode most of the damn climb. The Specialized rider is truly in beast mode right now, as he gets himself ready for the upcoming world mountain bike championships by stringing together a 7-day training camp by stacking the Leadville 100 on top of the Breck Epic. (Let’s hope he can bring home some rainbow striped hardware.)

That rapid ascendancy of Wheeler netted Wells a 5:20 stage 5 win over second-placed Alex Grant (Sho-Air/Cannondale), with German Ben Sonntag once again occupying the third position, at 9:00. In the overall standings, Wells exited stage 5 with his fourth stage win, and a lead in excess of nine minutes over Grant. Barring disaster on stage 6 (the shortest and easiest of the six days), he’ll score victory in Breckenridge to go with his third-place effort in Leadville.

That is one big bump.

(See stage 5 results HERE, updated overall standings HERE, Strava map HERE)

In the women’s open race, the top of the GC is equally lopsided, with NoTubes rider Amanda Carey well on her way to defending her overall Breck Epic title. On Thursday, Carey and teammate Sue Haywood spent much of the 30-mile ride keeping each other company, before Haywood slipped away near the end of the Peaks Trail to finish 5 seconds in front of Carey. But that had no impact on Carey’s grip on the GC. Entering Friday’s final stage, the resident of Victor, Idaho was up more than 10 minutes on second-placed Kate Aardal, with Haywood third.

Amanda Carey takes a peak at what’s to come on Wheeler. Photo Credit: Eddie Clark.

Sabotage Foiled

While Breckenridge is certainly one of the best places on the planet to ride, not everyone there is fat tire friendly. On Thursday morning, Breck Epic course marshal Mike Hagen happened upon three men in a blue Acura SUV who were removing course markings from the stage 5 route and tossing them into the woods. But Hagen snapped a picture of the offenders, chased them off, and then was able to get the markings back in place ahead of the race.

According to race director Mike McCormack, a police report was filed and the offenders will be prosecuted. “That’s not going to be tolerated,” said McCormack. “It’s mean spirited and serves no purpose.”

You can see a picture of the offender’s car, as well as a spirited discussion about what should be done to them on the event’s Facebook page.

The elixir for all that ails you: bread, peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallow fluff, bananas, and potato chips.
International Affair

Of course Coloradoans make up the bulk of the Breck Epic’s 200-rider field. But as word has grown about this 5th year race, so has its international flavor. According to race director Mike McCormack, this year’s bunch includes riders from 25 countries, including Kenya, Canada, Norway, Belgium, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Italy and Germany. There are also 35 states represented.

Meet The Big Johnson

At the end of each stage at the Breck Epic there is the usual assortment of recovery product: Coke, electrolyte drink, bananas, etc. However, there is also some non-traditional fair, including a little something called the Big Johnson. This “sandwich” got its name a few years back when U.S. cyclocross powerhouse Tim Johnson showed up at Breck from some pre-season training, and adopted this little number as his go-to post-ride elixir. The recipe: two pieces of bread surrounding peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallow fluff, bananas and potato chips.

1 Podium, 1 Stitch

Team had a mixed day at the Breck Epic Thursday. Everyone’s favorite singlespeeder, the ASS Man, put in some strong work, grabbing his second third-place finish of the week and jumping to sixth overall in the single-gear standings.

Yours truly, on the other hand, had another decent if unspectacular day (19th in the 40+ category) that was punctuated by a nasty spill on the Peaks Trail about 3 miles from the finish line. Injuries were mostly superficial, save for a small’ish gash on my right elbow that required a grand total of 1 stitch. Not exactly a great war story. But I bet the scar will be cool.

Left: Everyone’s favorite gear hater scored his second bronze medal of the week. Right: When high speed is combined with pedal meeting immovable rock, this happens. Photo Credit: Liam Doran

Up Next

The Breck Epic concludes Friday with a double day. First, comes the 32-mile Gold Dust Trail stage, which with just 3,573 feet of climbing, is by far the easiest of the event’s 6 stages — and includes beer hand ups. Then comes the infamous stage 7 Gold Pan Saloon challenge. Last man or woman standing (and not arrested) wins.

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 4: Suffering and Singletrack »
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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