Editor’s note: The 2018 Breck Epic mountain bike race is underway, running August 5-10, and we sent Spencer Powlison up to Breckenridge, Colorado, to cover the event from a rider’s eye view. In addition to daily updates from the race, this series of “Breck Epic Basics” will offer tips on how to handle the challenges of an event like Breck Epic — or any multi-day cycling trip or event you might plan to do.
“I always loved stage racing because life becomes very simple in a stage race, you wake up, you eat, you race, you eat, you go to bed. You get this kind of tunnel vision, you’re in your own little cocoon. Of course, you have other stuff going on but that stuff seems to matter less,” says Todd Wells, winner of two editions of the Breck Epic.
Wells makes the six-day, 240-mile mountain bike race sound idyllic. It probably is at times, but for riders who aren’t multi-time national champions like him and who don’t have experience as pro racers, it is a big challenge.
And one of the toughest challenges is trying to find the right pacing for a week of high-altitude mountain bike racing. So, I talked to three-time Breck Epic winner Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) — who happens to run his own coaching company, Bishop Training — Amy Beisel (Orange Seal), and the now-retired Wells about how to make it through the race in one piece.
“Don’t go too much over your threshold. It’s an interesting thing I discovered pacing at altitude. I think it differs depending on how acclimated you are. But one of the things I found is you’re pushed against the O2 limit more than the fitness limit. If you can just steady your power out, you can make up a lot of time. Instead of trying to hang on with the super climbers on the steepest section, just find your rhythm and find your pace.
“Avoiding big single efforts is probably the best advice I can give. Makes a huge difference. Sometimes you have to go with a group at a certain point if you’re trying to race to win. That’s when you’re throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks. That’s a tough way to race. That’s kinda what we have to do at the front.
“Once you pop it’s like damage control and you’re paying for it the next five to eight minutes.”
“Last year [race director] Mike [McCormack] had brought in a lot of strong talent so there was really no pacing involved as far as it was for me. We went hard from the gun basically every day. I think the first day is going to be really important. The first day I’m gonna do a pretty good warmup to make sure I’m nice and ready to go and just race really hard that first day, see what happens. As far as time goes afterward and depending on what happens, look at that and strategize as far as pacing goes. If it’s going to be a wire-to-wire thing where we’re racing, it’s going to be a little different. I’m planning on going out really hard on that first day and trying to maintain it.
“My warmups will get shorter and shorter for the next five days. You’ll be in survival mode toward the end. Just a 10-minute spin, 10-minute tempo, and go to the line.”
“The climbs in Breck are so steep and there’s so many false summits. Not many people know those courses the way you would know a Leadville course unless you live in Breck.
“Every climb is very steep and you’re grinding and you can see a summit and you get there and then there’s another summit.
“The climbs are going to be hard, and what you see as being the top most times is not the top.”
“The only experience I have with stage racing is last year’s Haute Route Pyrenees, a seven-day road gran fondo. For that, I picked out a few stages that I really wanted to smash and rode more of a steady tempo the other days. That helped me pace myself and still feel pretty good by the end. I’m not so sure if I can use that same strategy in Breck, given the altitude and the fact that you don’t sit in when you’re racing mountain bikes. Above all, my point is that you don’t have to race every day as if it is your last.”