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Fireworks and stars and stripes at Saturday’s Firecracker 50

For most Americans, the Fourth of July is associated with flags, fireworks, parades, and independence from another English speaking country. For the 750 registered racers of the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado, the Fourth of July will represent four to seven (the time limit) hours of exhausting singletrack followed by all those things that normal Americans do on this holiday.

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By Robbie Stout

For most Americans, the Fourth of July is associated with flags, fireworks, parades, and independence from another English speaking country. For the 750 registered racers of the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado, the Fourth of July will represent four to seven (the time limit) hours of exhausting singletrack followed by all those things that normal Americans do on this holiday.

Beginning in 2001 as a grueling mountain bike race to celebrate our sovereignty, in 2007 the Firecracker 50 became the event to determine USA Cycling’s marathon mountain bike national champion after the original venue in Mount Snow, Vermont, ran into some logistical problems.

The fuse will be lit for the Firecracker 50 at 11 am for the pro men and women. Before tackling an initial long climb up an old narrow gauge railroad grade, racers will participate in a neutral rollout as part of the Breckenridge Fourth of July parade. Riders will do two 25-mile laps, making for a total of 50 miles and 10,800 feet of climbing. The course features plenty of long climbs, short power climbs, fast narrow descents, and of course, it’s mostly on pristine backcountry singletrack.

The 2008 winner, Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale-Monavie) is hoping for another national title on Saturday. Off to a great start this year, Bishop has been spending more time doing events that make the Firecracker 50 look like a warm-up ride. Some of his recent successes include the Mohican 100 in Ohio and the 12-hour Dirt, Sweat, and Gears race in Tennesee.

The Virginia native is approaching the Firecracker 50 with a laissez-faire attitude. He noted, “I have no real expectations this year, just hope.” In 2008 Bishop crossed the finish line unaware that he had won after major mechanical issues, and after some of the early favorites dropped out because of exhaustion and mechanical problems. On the symbolic importance of winning a national championship event on Independence Day, Bishop recalled, “It was a dream come true … An absolute honor to win the marathon title last year.”

Bishop is also looking forward to, yet again, another increase of national pedigree riders for 2009. He said that a more competitive field would “lend additional credibility to the championship.” He expects Colorado locals Dave Wiens, Jeremy Horgan-Kolbelski and Todd Wells, and Utah-local Burke Swindlehurst to ensure stiff competition. Due to the high elevation of the race (9,300 feet at the start, 10,000 feet elevation average, and capping out at just over 11,000 feet) Bishop says that the Firecracker 50 suites a high-altitude climber like Swindlehurst or Wiens. But equally important is familiarity with the course, he says; he doesn’t expect to beat the Rocky Mountain natives but he certainly hopes to.

In the women’s pro race, Sari Anderson is a strong favorite to repeat her 2008 win. The professional adventure racer beat local Tokyo Joe’s rider Gretchen Reeves by five minutes last year. However, early 2008 race favorite Pua Sawicki should be looking more determined than ever to finally win a marathon national title. In 2007 Sawicki finished second to Shonny Vanlandingham. Then in 2008, she crashed out during an early lead and was later forced to abandon after snapping her chain.