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Editor’s Note: Colby Pearce, best known for his track racing, also like to race mountain bikes. On the track, Pearce was a 2004 Olympian, Pan Am Games bronze medalist (2003), 14-time national track champion, U.S. hour record holder, 11-time track world cup medalist and the U.S. National Track Team coach from 2005 to 2007. Pearce will be blogging from the Breck Epic this week.
This is the third year I have raced the Breck Epic stage race. The last two seasons I have really enjoyed racing here. By “really enjoyed racing here,” I mean that I suffered like a beaten dog, and then about a week later when the pain had faded from my memory, I thought about all the pretty singletrack I rode, and decided I wanted to come back next year. It’s funny how bike racers don’t really remember pain.
My preparation has consisted of exactly four mountain bike races this season, two of which were long (Laramie Enduro and Bailey Hundo) and two of which were short (Wednesday night short track races). Oh, and I raced some criteriums with my team, Horizon Organic / Panache Development.
This season has been a bit frustrating in terms of road results for me personally, as I have about 95 second and third places. The team has been racing very well and I have helped teammates win on a few occasions, which has been very satisfying; however I have had several near misses. One of the differences I appreciate between road and mountain bike racing is that in road events, you can be the strongest rider in the field and get beaten; however in cross-country racing, barring flats or crashes, the strongest rider always wins. The events are just so selective; it is impossible for there to not to be separation when motivated athletes do battle.
In my years of racing I have come to realize that less can definitely be more, especially when it comes to training before long MTB races (particularly stage races). This week was fairly conservative in terms of training, although I did ride for about 4 hours mid-week with quite a bit of tempo work to prime the glycogen tank. Muscles are like sponges, and to get them to suck up the fuel, it helps to empty them out.
Today I was almost a victim of my own tinkering, for only the millionth time in my career. I will spare you the details, but it boils down to the last-minute switching of pedals. When I trained this week, my back was not happy. The pedals felt strange, as though they were attached to crankarms that changed length of their own volition. When I got home, I looked, and both cranks still said 175mm. My lower back felt as though it was tied in a knot. Fortunately, for the race I managed to diagnose my own near screw up, made some last-minute equipment changes, and it all worked out.
Just for the record, I have a very well-earned reputation as being a cleat, shoe and orthotics princess. I would be willing to go so far as to say that I am world class in this department. When things are dialed, I am happy, but when they are not, I am … distracted. Even though I changed things for the better before the race started, it still had an impact on my day.
Today was stage 1, which was 40 miles long had obstacles of nearly every variety one can meet on a mountain bike. Steep rocky jeep climbs, flowing single track, river crossings and all manner of trail you can imagine.
I began the stage and had a difficult time getting going. My legs and back were tight, and I was struggling to find rhythm. So I rode my own pace and settled in. After an hour of getting my back straightened out, there were around a dozen guys ahead of me. These included 2011 Firecracker winner Colin Cares (Kenda), 99-time Breck 100 champion and local Josh Tostado (Bach Builders), Trek super star and Sydney Olympian Travis Brown, and multi-time La Ruta de los Conquistadores champion Lico Ramirez.
I began to feel much stronger and started passing riders instead of being passed; I fought my way through the field and negotiated the very weather-beaten climb of Little French Gulch feeling strong. In spite of the fact that it looked like a Star Destroyer tried to land there last week, I think I went faster up the climb today then I did when it was practically a paved bike path on July 4th during the Firecracker. Apparently there have been some nasty storms here recently and the trails are more rugged than ever. In some places Little French was barely recognizable. I can hardly wait to go down it in a couple of days …
I also was the unintended benefactor of some unfortunate circumstances for other riders. At the top of Little French I saw a tube in the trail. A few miles later Cares was on the side of the road fixing a flat. He was delayed because it was his spare tube that had fallen on the trail. Brown had been generous enough to give him a tube. Several miles later again, I found Josh Tostado on the side of the trail, again fixing a flat with a tube donated by the philanthropist of the day, Travis Brown. Proving the maxim that no good deed goes unpunished, I passed Brown about a mile from the finish, fixing his own flat.
Macky Franklin was also ahead of me early but snapped a cable and spent half the day riding with four gears and a rock wedged in his derailleur. I only beat him by a few minutes.
After three hours of racing in which I had slowly accrued more speed and confidence, I crashed, just as I entered the final section of singletrack. I was flying and had one hand off the bars to flip the lever on my rear shock in preparation for the descent, and just ate it. I landed on top of a couple of small trees and ended up with a few minor abrasions and a nasty headache, but in one piece. Considering how fast I was going, it could have been much worse.
In the end I crossed the line fifth. The winner, Ramirez, had over eight minutes on second place local Kevin Kane, who started racing under the guidance of Breck Epic race director Mike McCormack ten years ago. The rest of the top 10 were relatively close in terms of time. Cares finished a few places behind me, after passing me and then flatting again. Tostado lost more time and reported that he rode several miles on a completely flat tire.
Day 1 completed, tomorrow is another battle — the Colorado Trail stage 2, which is again about 40 miles. It has lots of smooth flowing singletrack, a perfect opportunity to be one with the trail and my machine.