Breck Epic: Up, up, up, and doooooown
By Jason Sumner
The raw numbers were ugly: 5,700 feet of climbing parceled out in four separate trips above 11,000 feet stretched out over 39 miles in the saddle. Sounds painful (and it was). But there was also plenty of sweet singletrack payoff during the first stage of the 2012 Breck Epic — and that made it all worthwhile.
Unlike many of its mountain bike stage race cousins, the Breck Epic has not forgotten that at its core, trails, not roads, are where fat tired bikes belong.
Sunday’s kickoff stage for both 3-day and 6-day participants was a romp of fun in an area known as Pennsylvania Gulch, which is essentially the mountains just east of Breckenridge, Colorado. The day’s highlights included a near-cloudless, deep-blue sky, ideally mild temperatures, a steady stream of big mountain views, and intermittent singletrack that at varying times was rough and rocky, tight and twisty, and buff and fast. No wonder the race sold out.
The only real knock on the first day, and it was a big knock for some, was that some confusing course markings ending up leading a few folks off course. I personally didn’t run into such troubles, which is one of the advantages of having limited genetic ability. When there is a problem on course, somebody much faster falls victim, alerts race staff, and then it gets fixed long before I plod along. Witness my 4 hour, 20 minute day compared to stage winner BenMelt Swanepoel, who cut the tape in 3:22:25.
After the stage there was some at times contentious debate about whether those who’d made the fateful wrong turn should get a time credit of some sort. But with no way of really knowing who should get what (no chip timing here), the consensus among the peloton was that the results would stand.
And yes, that’s basically how things work at the Breck Epic. This is definitely not the kind of race with a big thick rule book, or blue-shirted UCI officials roaming around. Instead, on the eve of the race, director Mike McCormack told this year’s crop of racers that the only two rules that must be followed are wear a helmet and don’t be mean. Key decisions are often decided on the fly with input, if not a vote, from the competitors, as was the case after stage 1.
Obviously that can be understandably maddening for the Type A hardcore racer types of the world. But it’s also a refreshing vibe in an amateur bike racing world that often takes itself a little too seriously. And hey, it’s stage racing. Shit happens (just ask the Leadville folks). Deal and move on.
Next up here in Breckenridge is stage 2 (aka the Colorado Trail stage), a 40-mile day with 7,300 feet of climbing that includes a slog up something called Heinous Hill. The good news is that the section of Colorado Trail we’ll be riding is has one of the buffest, fastest, most grin-inducing stretches of descending in the entire Centennial State. Payoff for pain. That’s what it’s all about.