Breck Epic: Stage 4 Glossary of Key Terms
By Jason Sumner
Like any cool, hip happening, the Breck Epic has its own unique verbiage and vernacular. Words that those who know, know. Now you can, too, thanks to this primer of Breck Epic Stage 4 Glossary of Key Terms.
Down and Distance: 43 miles, 6,566 feet (according to Garmin)
French Gulch Road: Akin to a morning commute for racers taking on the 6-day Breck Epic mountain bike stage race. No matter where the day’s course is taking us, we invariably start with a jaunt up French Gulch. There’s a little pop in the beginning that splits the bunch. Then it flattens out allowing the pace to ramp up further. This is usually the time I wave goodbye to the front of the race and settle in to spin mode.
Vomit Hill: After roaring down the Trailer Park Switchbacks section of Colorado Trail, you take a hard right, drop into your granny gear, pedal a few times, then realize it’s a fruitless effort, and get off your bike and start walking. And walking. And walking. Up Vomit Hill, a rock choked “path” through the woods. There’s a slight respite about halfway up where you can get back on your bike, but then it ramps up again, with pitches well above 15 percent. This upper section is rideable… barely. And yes, at the top you feel like repurposing the GU sloshing around your tummy.
Start of Aqueduct Trail: A terrifying confluence of partially buried metal water piping and singletrack. The trails jogs right to left just as the pipe rises out of the ground, meaning you need to ride over it. At normal speed this isn’t a big deal, but hit it at race pace and it’s sketchy as hell. True fear is feeling your back tire start sliding sideways on the pipe while you stare straight down at a connector joint that has a large bolt head sticking out of it. Fortunately no one was impaled or otherwise maimed.
Drop Bags: Each morning you load a pair of color/number coded bags up with whatever you think you might need for the day, and each day the Breck Epic staff schleps them to designated aid stations. Popular contents are spare tires, tubes, CO2s, tools, food, drink, and foul weather gear. You can also ditch items during the stage, say a rain coat if you’re convinced Ma Nature is going to take it easy on the field. It’s immeasurably reassuring to know they are out there just in case, as when they provided mid-race access to a near-life saving pair of cold weather gloves during stage 2’s arctic monsoon.
Colorado Trail: Stretching from Denver in the northeast to Durango in the southwest, this 500-mile trail is one of the Centennial State’s great (man made) natural wonders, providing a vast doorway into the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Here at the Breck Epic, the Colorado Trail is purveyor of both pleasure and pain, with its endless uphill climbs, and stunningly spectacular stretches of speedy singletrack. On stage 4, it was primarily the later, as the course sent riders grinding uphill via a jeep road on the backside of Keystone, before launching us down a sustained section of mach 10 trail.
Volunteers: An integral part of any successful bike race, the Breck Epic crew are top top. Roll into an aid station and immediately there are 3-4 people asking you what they can do for you. Fill a bottle, take your GU trash, grab your gear bag, hold your bike. Thanks to one and all.
Rock Island Gulch Road: If Rock Island is not in any way a reference to Alcatraz, I am now going to change that. Because, ugh, there was no escape. You’d think that after 35 miles and a shit ton of climbing already in the legs (remember Vomit Hill), maybe you could put it in cruise control for the last 7 miles of the 42-mile stage. But nope, get in your damn granny gear and pedal very slowly for 30-40 minutes… and then you can descend down to the finish line.
Turk’s Trail: Check that. After descending down across French Gulch road, instead of coasting down to the finish (which you can hear in the form of PA man Larry Grossman’s voice), you ride the opposite direction of that sweet sound for a while, zigging and zagging through the forest on the rooty mess that is Turk’s Trail. Normally this would be ton of fun, but at the end of this big day it’s more gut punch than glee inducer.
Up Next: Stage 5 aka the Wheeler Loop. Race director Mike McCormack calls this the signature day of his event, a 30-mile grind that takes riders up and over the Ten Mile Range, via a long hike-a-bike and then a precipitously steep descent. Legend has it that Rad Ross Schnell took 10 minutes out of Jeremiah Bishop on the downhill along a couple years ago. “You make your bones on Wheeler,” says McCormack.