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First day, stage 2.5
Today was the first stage of the 2012 Breck Epic. Well, for almost everyone, it was stage one but for me it was stage 2.5, because I had the bright idea to race the Leadville 100 yesterday.
Why would I race a 100-mile MTB race and then follow it with a 6 day MTB stage race? It was a function of timing really, which is out of my control. I’ve raced the Breck Epic every year they’ve put it on. It’s 240 miles of pain, suffering, and roller coaster shit-eating grin singletrack in my back yard.
The race has a refreshing low-key vibe that embraces all that’s important about bike racing. By default, it also therefore casts aside all the bullshit…which is also part of bike racing. Because of those two facts I feel compelled to come and enjoy. Every year. Even though it doesn’t really suit my riding strengths (no wood sections or banked turns) even remotely.
Sometimes you just have to show up and get your teeth kicked in. It keeps you from feeling too self important, which is something many people on this planet could use some work on.
So I had a seven-hour warm up the day before. Leadville is always a race I’ve wanted to experience, and it didn’t disappoint. The 2,000 riders descended upon a mining town of modest roots, which has been resurrected from the dead by the LT series of races, who’s riders feed upon it like locusts.
Riders crashing, going off course, some of the most dangerous feed zones I’ve ever seen, endlessly enthusiastic crowds and an extremely challenging, albeit mostly dirt road course. Despite all that, it’s an amazing event and should be on every serious off-road racer’s bucket list. Its half race, half circus, and was a total blast.
Technically I think I could call today’s stage 3.5 after the week I’ve had, but I won’t digress into my personal challenges. Suffice it to say that by the time I (barely) made it to the line at LT100, I was thinking something like “well, I’m here, let’s see how it goes.” Every time during the race that my mind drifted to the six subsequent races I had scheduled post LT100, I forced an immediate change of thought. There are some facts you can’t look straight in the face.
The pre-race meeting for LT100, which was 2,000 riders crammed into the Leadville HS gym (maximum capacity: 1200) felt more like a Sarah Palin rally than a pre-bike race meeting. Ken Chlouber, the promoter has a reputation for speaking in a rather evangelical manner. He told us how we were now part of the Leadville family, and how he wanted to meet every one of us, invite us into his home, and have us meet his dog. His living room must be a lot bigger than that gym.
All said and done, I finished the race in 24th, ate an entire pizza and drove to Breck for the next chapter. Today’s open men’s stage was won by Ben “Melt” Swanepoel (Squirt), a nice chap from South Africa who showed up in CO about 2 months ago before the Firecracker and unassumingly has been kicking ass all over the place ever since.
I finished about 35 minutes behind him, which isn’t bad considering it’s the first time in my life I didn’t clean the Little French section of the Epic, and how unbelievably slow I was going at times.
I don’t know what “Swanepoel” means translated from Afrikaans but I am pretty sure it must be “Hi! I’m Swannie…and I’m going to kick your ass in this mountain bike race now. SUPER nice to meet you!” (Ben really is exceedingly nice.)
Today my middle name was “Eddie” (as in Steady, Eddie!) and I made a conscious effort to not dig deep in the first 2 hours of racing, which proved to be smart because that’s about when the bottom started to fall out and I had to have a serious caloric replacement episode. It all worked out in the end, however. I was just operating with zero top end at this point as I left it all out on the course yesterday, passing 10 riders on the way home from the turnaround including one guy in the last 400 meters (poor dude looked back at me 7 times in the last KM and probably had no idea he was racing a trackie!). Yesterday was 4800 KJs and 7:20 of racing, with the last 2 hours pretty much flat out. The tank was empty today.
We had minor drama today as some riders went off course, but not do to sabotage (like last year here) or confused course marshals (which happened in Leadville) but because someone accidentally parked on top of the course arrow. What can you do?
In the end, after much discussion, no adjustments were made and riders just had to deal. Five more days of racing and it will all come out in the wash. Otherwise it was a perfect day of racing with ideal weather and lots of fun trails.
Later this week: more details, photos, and other fun stuff you never thought could be included in a race blog.
Thanks for reading,
Stage 3.5: When it rains, it pours
Today’s stage was a cliché – it was indeed, Epic. I knew we were doomed when, waiting on the start line for the police to give us a neutral escort out of town, race director Mike McCormack proudly proclaimed “We will be fine, we have only had 15 minutes of bad weather in three years at this race!” I never believe in the ominous nature of a specific event or thing without logic or reason, unless it is Mike talking about the weather.
The rain began just as we started, and never stopped all day. On the start line, open men’s race leader, Ben Melt Swanepoel asked me if a vest or a jacket was the advisable wardrobe choice; I told him that if the weather comes, the warmest option always wins when you are above 10,000 feet. After the stage, he agreed it was the right choice.
Considering the last 48 hours of my racing life, my legs felt great today. On the first major climb, I was following the leaders without great difficulty, and it was probably the best I have ever felt on Heinous Hill.
But a flat tire on the first big descent quickly put me out of contention. My wheel was so covered with mud that it was impossible to locate the source of my pneumatic difficulties. I took my time and rinsed my rim and tire in the nearby creek to cleanse them of debris and sealant (hopefully my wheel rinsing will not have any negative environmental ramifications.) After installing a tube, I was off again and picking my way through the field.
The trip down the huge descent on the Colorado Trail was just as fun as always, however by the time I reached the bottom I was pretty cold. Being warm blooded by nature, I tend to be ahead of the bell curve on cold racing days. When I was a young senior rider, I contested a road race in Moab, UT where it began to snow. Using the powers of my internal furnace, I was one of the few to make it to the line that day with semi-functional usage of my limbs. It was a dreadful race.
Thus, when I get cold, I know other riders are really in the hurt locker. Mike made the decision to stop everyone racing at the last aid station who had not reached it by a specific time deadline. This meant some riders did the full distance and others did not (but received a pro-rated, adjusted time).
It was a smart decision given the conditions; no one’s health is worth putting at risk for a race. There was definitely a risk of hypothermia today.
There was so much water on the course that most of the singletrack had a small stream running down the center of the trail. The rain only became heavier as the day went on. My bicycle began to protest forward motion with grumpy shifts and chain suck. At the end of the week, every bearing will need to be replaced or overhauled.
With about 15 miles to go, I stopped to help writer Jason Sumner in an attempt to re-attach his rear derailleur cable, which had come loose, relegating him to only one gear. We struggled trailside for 10 minutes, wrestling cables with frozen fingers and biting cable ends off with my teeth.
Eventually help arrived, and I rode off at a very quick pace, not because I was concerned with my stage time (I lost 52 minutes today all said and done) but in an attempt to generate body heat, which was at best semi-successful.
Upon race completion, I rode straight through the finish line and kept the exact same pace all the way to the condo door, marched directly into the shower wearing my entire kit, helmet and shoes, and began to thaw. I slowly disrobed one piece at a time, washing as I went. I’m not sure how long the shower took, but it was a lengthy affair. Upon removal of my shorts, I found mud inside my chamois (exogenous) much to my surprise. It was that wet out there.
Tomorrow is Mt. Guyot, and Mike has assured us that there is definitely, most likely, probably not snow on the pass after today’s monsoon. The pass tops out at close to 12,300 feet, so tomorrow will tell.
Thank for reading.
Additional pneumatic challenges
Today was the third stage of the Breck Epic 2012. I’ll officially stop saying I am 1.5 stages down because of my Leadville start, as I felt pretty reasonable today. Stage report, Colby – centric short version: I was in the top 10 the entire stage until I flatted, again. Forest elves undoubtedly retreated to their caves as I shouted several expletives into the wilderness at the onset of the puncture.
After riding hard for 3 hours and 15 minutes, surviving long steep ascents and not dying on goat path 25% downhills, to flat within 20 minutes of the finish is a straight-up kick in the balls.
The stakes weren’t that high for me today – my GC is done after completing Leadville and starting this race the very next day. I accept that. But it was fun to be near the front of the race for the majority of the stage, and then extremely frustrating to have it taken away at the end.
There are riders, however, who have suffered much more at the hands of fate. Two examples, which come to mind immediately, are Steve Larson at the 2000 Olympic Trials, and more recently Shelley Olds in the London Olympic road race.
Cycling is of course a mechanical sport, one in which we depend on our machines to convert our muscular energy into forward momentum. Universal laws of entropy dictate that sometimes those machines will fail us.
I must, however, make a plea to tire manufactures worldwide:
Dear tire manufacturer: Please make a tire which does it all. I don’t mean to disrespect the engineers who have put time and effort into these projects, and I’m not a tire engineer or designer, but I know you can do better. We sent a man to the moon sometime in the 70’s, I know we can make a tire that is competition weight, handles well, and does not puncture unless someone shoots it with an elephant gun. Your challenge has been issued. By me. Right now. Go forth.
The cut in my tire was only a 2mm slice, almost in the center of the tread. In spite of copious usage of tire sealant, the cut wouldn’t stay closed.
And while we’re on the topic, changing a flat trailside with a 142x12mm through axle is a complete pain in the huevos – there’s no way to do it fast or easy. Thru-axles are great, they are all rigid and stuff, but it comes at a high convenience price when you’re in a hurry to get air in your tire.
Yesterday, I forgot to mention an onus which presented itself at the stage start: just as Mike was assuring us the weather would cooperate for the day, a fox appeared in an alley about 30 meters from the start line. The critter had pointy ears, white tipped tail and a golden sable color, and seemed curious about all the commotion.
He took a good observation post on top of an SUV and watched us depart. Straight out of the movie “Hot Rod,” I took his presence as my Totem Spirit Fox for the day. Apparently foxes don’t like tires with air in them. After two flats in as many days, I’m looking forward to a (hopefully) clean run for the rest of the race, but I’m not holding my breath, because: 1. I have a really good multi-year streak going with my bike falling apart in MTB races and 2. Holding your breath during a stage race is, generally speaking, a bad idea.
One really positive experience was being passed on Georgia Pass by the leader of the singlespeed race, Brady Kappius. It was positive because he is my athlete – I’ve been coaching him for many years. I was in the top 10 (stage) at the time and seeing Brady come flying past us on a bike with one gear (given the amount of climbing we had done on the day) left me pretty floored.
Being a track racer most of my career, singlespeed racing is something I’m not sure I could ever be even remotely successful at. My (meager) riding talents gravitate towards the souplesse end of the spectrum much more than the power/strength end of the spectrum. Brady was a beast today, however, and took the lead in the SSSRWC (singlespeed stage race world championships!), a race category which was adopted by Breck Epic promoter Mike McCormack as much for its amazing acronym as it is for its bad–assedness. Brady’s closest competition is Macky Franklin, and with three more days of hard racing ahead, the war is not yet won.
Russ (Brady’s dad) and Brady, makers of the world’s coolest hubs (Kappius Components), are now leading their respective categories at the race. How cool is that?
Thanks for reading.
Imaginary trumpets and real donuts
Today’s stage stats: approximately 42 miles / 7300 feet of climbing.
Total time including warm up and ride back to bike wash and condo: 4:22
HR avg: 128 BPM
Singletrack: blazing fun
Suffer factor: medium-high
Pre-race belly fire: low
During race effort: high, out of necessity to continue moving forward
Stage place: 17th (I think)
Time down on winner: A lot
It’s normal to feel a certain undulation of energy levels during endurance efforts, especially multi-day events. I was unpleasantly surprised to feel a new low of energy today however. I was nearly as worthless today as I was in day 1 (the day after I competed in the Leadville 100). Riding at the front of the race yesterday had apparently taken its toll.
I started stage 4 of the 2012 Breck Epic with aspirations of finding a good rhythm and flow and enjoying the plethora of singletrack served up on the legendary Colorado and Aqueduct trails. Instead, smooth rhythm escaped me for most of the day and I was fighting the bike, struggling over technical obstacles, and counting miles to the finish during the entire stage.
There were a few bright moments. The first came when I got to watch Ross Schnell break the sound barrier on the first descent, which was a four-mile drop straight down the side of some random mountain, littered with baby heads and no clean line. Ross passed me just as we began to plummet, and quickly disappeared into the center of the earth. He seriously put two minutes on me in about 500 meters. Granted he’s riding a bike with a 59mm stem and like 12 inches of travel, but that guy has mad skills.
Next was at the top of the aptly named “Vomit Hill,” which is not terribly long but is ridiculously steep. When I reached the top, I was certain I was hallucinating; I had to take a video to confirm there was a woman playing a trumpet and offering riders donuts and PBR. And if you also don’t believe me, here’s the video to prove it.
The next bright spot was riding up Keystone road, where the pedals seemed to turn over easily. That lasted about 20 minutes, until I picked up an anchor, hugged it, and threw it overboard, dragging it all the way to the line. I don’t think the small portion of donut I ate helped my situation, but I also believe my low energy was a result of being slightly underfed, under-slept and under-watered from the previous day. Thus, I’ve eaten more, slept more and consumed more fluids today in an attempt to help my general well being.
Since I’m on a rant of glass half-full stuff, I also kept air in my tires all day today, which is a big plus. No forest creatures need be offended by my foul colloquialisms.
The final positive experience of the day was the last mile of trail, called “Bomber” because there used to be (and possibly still is) a guy who lives near the trail who apparently made bombs as some type of hobby. Breckenridge has lots of colorful characters and Mike shares great stories about all of them with us. You have to love a race meeting with character. Bomber is a great way to end the stage, it’s real old school, keep you on your toes with ADD-style, constantly changing singletrack.
Today I had the chance to try some new equipment, courtesy of Rotor (thanks Kervin for the late-night install!) I’ve used Rotor rings on my CX bike in the past, and a bit on my road bike, however logic dictates that a mountain bike is the best place for these rings with steep, grinding climbs. My XX rings were beyond done so the timing was perfect.
Reviews I’ve read indicate that some rider adaptation is necessary for switching to shaped rings. Kervin and I discussed this and decided that my legs are so trashed at this point, it probably doesn’t matter. We agreed that I would go forth and pedal. I can clearly feel increased leverage point at 3 o’clock on steep climbs, which sure is nice when I am so cross-eyed I can barely get up the hill.
Today’s stage ended on a particularly long and steep grade and I was barely creeping up it, although I did stay upright.
Tomorrow is Wheeler, which as Mike put it in the meeting tonight, “may involve a bit of walking.” Translation: 20 minute hike-a-bike. Good times.
Thanks for reading,