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Breck Epic Blog: Colby Pearce

Colby Pearce (Panache) wins the final stage.

Seeing the future on the final day

Colby Pearce
August 30, 2010, 18:40 BST,
August 30, 2010, 19:44 BST

Pearces pushes to stage win on final day

Today was the sixth and final day of the Breck Epic stage race. It was a perfect bookend to the week for me.

We climbed Boreas pass twice, once outbound and once on return, with singletrack loops at either end. The dog bone shaped course is the most road rider friendly stage of the race by a good margin. Boreas pass offers a long steady grade and a chance to make a good gap before the technical sections.

Last year, Jorge Espinoza rode away solo from the lead group to take the only stage victory from Jeremiah Bishop of the week. At the start today, I said to Jorge, "Let's do it like last year, except I will win this time!" to which he replied, "Ok sounds good!"

Yesterday's trial by fire on the 29er ended up being good in the big picture, because it gave me a day to remember how to ride that bike for the final stage. On today's roads, the Flash was definitely the bike of choice. All four Cannondale factory riders in the lead group today chose Flash 29er bikes for this stage. The big wheels roll so much better on days like this, is was not a hard choice.

After the initial singletrack climb, I was off the back a bit from the lead five riders, but I did not panic because I knew there would be a chance to close the gap on the pass. My legs were not quite firing yet on the snappy sections of trail, but they were coming along as I went further. Better to not push too hard when you are not fully open, cycling is a "momentum" sport: you go your best on a bike after a long warm up and with time to allow your vascular, nervous, cardiac and muscular systems to open up. Didn't that sound scientific?

Sure enough, as soon as we hit the road, Jorge caught me and we motored up to the leaders. I felt strong and took the group over the pass on the way out. We descended the Gold Dust trail as a group and then negotiated the "Flume" trail at the far end of the course, in which you ride a dry aquaduct. Its like mountain biking down a kid's water slide for about 20 minutes, and is about as much fun as you can have riding a bike. Both sides are heavily banked, so you rarely touch the brakes and use the walls to swoop down the course like you are in a half pipe. I am sure we were all smiling. Cannondale factory rider Alex Grant had a helmet camera going today, and I am sure he will post some sweet footage of this trail, so if your interested, I am sure as an internet savvy reader, you know what to do.

When we exited the singletrack and resumed climbing on the road, I surged over a small rise and found myself with a gap. It was 14 miles to the finish with a long steady climb and a headwind, but the opportunity was there and I had to take it. I began to apply pressure with an intentional bit of reservation, knowing that if I got too excited too soon, I would be blown for when my effort was needed the most: over the top of the pass.

For the next 30 minutes, I climbed Boreas Pass at a steady rhythm, always applying pressure to the pedals. I would stand every few minutes and count 12 breaths to increase my pace and stretch my back. I reminded myself to push on the bar with my left hand, as when I am tired I have a tendency to lean on my right arm and slowly twist around the saddle. This eventually causes my lower back to complain a lot.

As I climbed, I began to think about what it would be like to win the stage. I saw myself crossing the line and raising my arms and imagined how gratifying that victory would feel. Any bike racer knows that winning does not come that often and that every win in this sport is hard earned and to be savored.

I thought about my wife and daughter at home this week, embarking on the first week of sixth grade, while I have been up here racing. For those of you who have kids, you know that sixth grade is pretty much the kid equivalent to the scariest job interview you have ever had. The have endured the stress of a new chapter without me, and I am grateful for their support of my sporting career.

I thought about Tyler Blick, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four, just a few short months ago. I can't imagine what this child and his family are going through right now, but for whatever its worth, he was in my thoughts as I labored to climb the pass as quickly as possible.

I only allowed myself to check the gap a couple of times, so that maximum intention could be applied towards forward momentum. No matter what thoughts floated through my consciousness, I relentlessly pushed on the pedals with a subtle but powerful effort. It was like a common denominator which defined the parameters of my consciousness.

Random distractions, pains, and energies came and went, but I always brought them back to the prime directive: speed. It was hard to breathe, my back hurt, my arms hurt, my legs hurt, my ass hurt. Weird mountain birds chirped and squawked angrily at me as I sped past. People cheered, trucks drove past me in both directions, and a family with wandering small children stood in the road. I wondered if I would be caught. I wondered if I would crash on the final descent. None of these immaterial thoughts slowed my pace, my mind was working on two different levels.

It took me about 30 minutes to ascend to the final aid station, where Yuki Saito of team Topeak/Ergon was gracious enough to hand me up a bottle as I flew by at maximum speed. I metered my effort so that as I crested the pass, I could lift my pace. I knew the chase group would be organizing to hunt me down, and I was fighting a headwind, so they had they advantage with numbers. I flew down the pass as fast as possible, passing a truck on the left and wrapping out my gear all the way. Getting aero on a mountain bike is quite difficult but I did the best impersonation of myself on the track that I could muster. I slammed coke down my throat to keep the blood sugar levels up after six days of racing and made it to the final singletrack with no one in sight behind me.

All that remained now was to dedicate 100 percent of my effort to one thing: relaxed flow. Descending on a mountain bike is the ultimate expression of calm in the face of disaster. I did my best to put the pressure of winning the race out of my head and instead focused on getting down the mountain as fast as possible. I pushed the absolute limit on one section and for a fraction of a second, I thought I was going to eat colossal shit on a steep, narrow section covered in scree. Somehow, I made it through upright and kept going.

There was one short paved section before the last trail, and I hit it like the final 200 meters of a criterium, absolutely flat out. I snuck a final peek back just before the trail and saw no one. Baring disaster, I was going to win.

Yuki's estimate of my gap at the final aid station was 45 seconds, and my gap at the finish was perhaps 25 (I have not seen official results yet). Jorge won the sprint for second place, and we gave each other a victory high five after the line. It was the perfect end to the week for me. Thanks to everyone who worked hard to put on and support this race, it is a unique and rewarding experience.

My final Breck haiku:

effort of racing
pushes me to the limits
always a reward

Colby Pearce crests Wheeler Pass during Stage 5 of the Breck Epic

A rough ride

Cycling News
August 27, 2010, 17:03 BST,
August 27, 2010, 18:03 BST

Formulas for the day

The fifth stage of the Breck Epic was a bit of an adjustment for me. After putting a hole in my dual suspension Cannondale Scalpel yesterday (from a satanic igneous rock), I chose to ride my 29er Flash Carbon hardtail.

I am lucky to have multiple options in my quiver, but today was a bit rough. I stopped twice to let air out of my tires, and really felt like a pinball in the technical, rooted and rocky sections of trail. Going from a Scalpel to a Flash on a stage like today is similar to taking all the cushions off your Lazy Boy and replacing them with two by fours. Thus, one formula for the day was:

rigid bike + fatigue + reasonable but rusty handling skills + a little bit too much air = get jackhammered

Luckily for me, Daimo at The Service Course has been repairing my bikes every night after I destroy them. He has washed away all the mud, dirt, regurgitated race drink, empty gel packaging (Cannondales have hollow head tubes which make perfect trash receptacles while riding) and horse poo we find on the trail. He has fixed flats, fixed disk brakes, fixed hubs and fixed everything else we break. Our bikes are clean, lubed and ready to rock every morning. It makes this race so much more fun for me to not have to worry about dealing with putting my bike back together. So when we discovered a big hole in the downtube of my Scalpel, Daimo fired up the Flash, and it was ready to rock. The Service Course is based in Boulder and does professional bike repair. What is cool about them is that they will pick up and drop off your bike from your house, so you don't have to schlep it across town to a shop. Totally pro.

Today's stage contained the hardest single obstacle in the entire race: Wheeler pass. This mountain is a 3,000-foot climb, which is formidable on its own, but the route (Promoter) Mike (McCormick) chooses to send us over it is what makes it a doozy.

We scale the mountain on a narrow, mostly unrideable singletrack which is littered with a smattering of golf ball sized rocks. Many sections are extremely rocky, loose and rugged, and are just unrideable. A long stretch of the trail is very narrow and at the perfect gradient which teases you into trying to ride it. I got on and off the bike several times trying to make up ground on the leaders, who were only a few meters ahead of me. 200 meters equates to a couple of minutes at that altitude and rate of ascent.

I could clearly see the race for the stage win developing ahead of me on the long stretch of the pass. While I pushed my bike up the side of the slope at maximum speed (about 2km/hr, in case you are wondering) I saw Ross Schnell riding and hiking his way up to the leaders. In a silent moment of prophecy, I decided he was my pick for the win, knowing that a monster descent was still ahead of us. Ross is a stellar bike handler and this was going to be his best chance for a stage win on the week.

All this betting was a distraction from the effort of pushing my bike up the slope and the pain in my calves from toeing my way up the trail in stiff carbon-soled shoes.

My training for this 20 minute hike-a-bike at 11,500 feet consisted of hiking with my family at Brainard lake last week. I probably should have carried my bike on my back to make it more authentic. Instead, I had a wrestling match with my 112-pound black lab. I also practiced my bike handling skills by riding on planks of wood which traversed poisonous mercury dust from an old mine. Not quite as much negative feedback as falling off of Wheeler pass, but good motivation to ride straight none the less.

As I crested the summit of the climb, my attempt at hydration was foiled when I tried to breathe while drinking, which resulted in a cataclysmic barfing of race drink all over my top tube. Hence, another formula:

pegged heart rate + 12K Altitude + too much fluid + desperate need for O2 = nearly drowning in race drink on top of Wheeler pass.

I have descended Wheeler three times in my life and this was definitely the slowest. I even went faster at the Breck 100 in July when I was still processing my melatonin from the previous night and rode like a drunken singlespeeder. The 29er is a very capable machine in the right hands, but I just did not have the feel for it yet, and opted to make my personal safety a priority.

The stage ended with the Peaks trail, which amounted to more pinball action on the rock gardens and old, rickety bombed out bridges. I rode the trail with another rider and gaps formed quickly on the more technical sections as I was left behind.

riding a hardtail + reference of another rider = realization that my handling skills need work

Next year, if I do this again, I will rig a video and instant shot camera so I can show all this stuff to my readers. No time this year to pause and pull out the iphone.

Even though Ross made a huge bid for solo victory, J-Bish (Jeremiah Bishop) caught him in the final miles of the race and edged him out for the victory. I have now clawed my way up to ninth on GC, which is not bad after all the punctures I have had this year. One stage left so we will see how it all wraps up.

The leading team for the open men's duo race had one rider crash today in the final mile of the race, there were some very high speed sections with big water bars. I think he was bucked off his bike. He crossed the line bloody but functioning and conscious. We are all wishing Clint a speedy recovery.

Colby Pearce's bike broke in a crash with a rock during stage 4 of the Breck Epic.

Broken bike

Colby Pearce
August 26, 2010, 16:02 BST,
August 26, 2010, 17:07 BST

More haikus, this time describing stage 4

Today's stage 4 will be described in Haiku poems.

the sun come out now
crisp air forces warm clothing
I am not awake

coffee oatmeal eggs
fueling up for the effort
the drill established

start the day rushed
some last minute adjustments
barely make the start

climb begins early
Jeremiah attacks
the rest settle in

descent approaches
rutted vertical loose rocks
I barely survive

a new course today
smooth and flowing singletrack
Colorado trail

I find a rhythm
fatigue tells me to quit
but I forge ahead

somehow drive to ride
faster and faster over
the trail prevails

feeling flow on trail
rocketing down the mountain
rock and bike collide

I speak out loud alone
apologize to my bike
but damage is done

finish the stage 6th
happy with my ride, eating
no flat tires today!

later I see the hole
straight through my scalpel down tube
I am sad. broken bike.

two stages to go
now the Flash will come to play
big wheels tomorrow

Be careful with those CO2 cartridges or you might end up with a blistered finger like Colby Pearce.

Nailed it

Colby Pearce
August 25, 2010, 20:21 BST,
August 26, 2010, 8:37 BST

Flats, cold weather and 40+ percent grades challenge on stage 3

This morning in the parking lot, I overheard a conversation between a mechanic and a rider.

Rider: "So, did you get all the issues with my bike sorted out?"

Mechanic: "Well, yes. Most of them."

Rider: "Really?"

Mechanic: "Your crank was about to fall off. Oh, and your bottom bracket was loose. Otherwise everything was good, I think."

Today's stage was a challenging stage which included a jaunt over French Pass which tops out at over 12,000 feet. I did manage to bring my total number of flats for the 2010 edition to four today, somehow finding a three-inch rusty nail on the trail about eigh miles into the race.

It was about the best case scenario for a flat tire however, because I flatted in the first feed station. The race mechanics were there, so they put a tube in while I rehydrated. I was back on the bike super fast, they even had a compressor set up! I asked them to save my rusty nail as a souvenir. At least the cause of my flat was easily ascertainable.

This left me heading into the race going right into French Pass, which takes about an hour to get up and over, including two hike-a-bike sections (unless you are Matt Shriver, then it only has one hike-a-bike because he was one of the few who rode the second section).

Over the top of the pass, I was just behind "All Mountain Ross Schnell", who is a legend in the world of mountain biking, in case you don't know. He put some distance between me on the rugged descent down the far side of the pass, but I was really happy when we began the next climb up Georgia Pass and he was not light years ahead of me.

It was raining and cold on the far side of the course, and many riders were forced to stop and find clothes in the second aid station, but I brought along my internal Old Man heating system, and it did its job well. 45 degrees and raining, and somehow I was fine in a summer base layer, arms and long-fingered cross country gloves.

The sun came out for the impossibly long and steep American Gulch climb back towards Breck. My only salvation was knowing it from the year before, which basically meant little voices in my cerebellum reminding me that it was not over yet, even though the voices in my cerebrum insisted that each steep pitch must be the top.

I toggled my Garmin to register percent gradient on the climb, and was quite interested to see it registering between 40 and 50 percent repeatedly. The climb was really, really steep, but somehow I don't think 44 percent was right. Makes for a good story though.

Shifting was a bit challenging at times today, due to the huge blister on my left finger from yesterdays CO2 explosion. Those things are dangerous, don't underestimate them. Check out my photographic evidence if you are not a believer.

After the stage, we utilized the highly scientific "dunk your legs in a freezing sludge pond to severely constrict the blood vessels" technique. I could not walk for about 15 minutes afterwards, but other than that, it was great.

Tomorrow's stage is the new one - Keystone. I am sure there will be more stories to tell.

Colby Pearce stands up out of aid station #2.

A day of flats

Colby Pearce
August 24, 2010, 20:26 BST,
August 24, 2010, 22:42 BST

Pearce contemplates an offering to The God of Sharp Objects

Breck Epic Stage 2

Today's race experience can be summed up by two words: flat tires.

Actually that is not really true at all. There were many other things to take away from today. It is true that I suffered three punctures, went through four compressed air thingies, gave my left index finger CO2 frostbite when one of the canisters went berserk and nearly blasted me in the eyeball and had to borrow two pumps in order to finish the stage. In the end, I finished about 45 minutes down in spite of my best efforts to be prepared for any trailside emergency.

There were some positive things to take away from today however. For the second time in six months, Cannondale Factory racer Garth Prosser rescued me from certain death. The first time was last year at the Pisgah Stage Race in Brevard, North Carolina. I was climbing a steep section of trail when my chain went between my spokes and the last cog. By "went between" I mean, it was wedged in there with an extreme disposition. I pulled on that thing for a full 10 minutes with all my strength and it was not going anywhere. Along came Garth, who saw the expression on my face and quickly synopsized that I was at my wits' end. Together, we summoned our collective bike racer muscle and pulled the chain out.

Today, he gave me my fourth CO2 after the previous three had proven ineffective. Thanks, Garth! This was enough air to get me halfway down the descent, where I stopped by a huge tree which was requiring everyone to dismount. This was an optimal place to solicit an inflation device, because my tube was holding air, but not enough to make it home. First, Charlie Hayes stopped. Actually, he was in a bizarre ballet stretch when I got there, attempting to loosen up his back. Unfortunately, his pump did not work. Thanks, Charlie, you need to buy a new pump.

Next Jeff Kerkove came along with his coed duo partner, Sonya Looney. They are leading the race in their category, but they were gracious enough to pause and loan me a pump. Thanks Team Topeak-Ergon!

This is what is cool about mountain biking: the event is extremely competitive, but there is also an understanding that ultimately, the primary battle is the athlete vs. the mountain, and there is camaraderie and mutual respect in that regard. Riders look out for each other on the trails.

Now that I think about it, Jeff and Sonya's teamate Yuiki Saito saved me from an unfortunate fate last year on the Guyot stage when he gave me a CO2. I was at about 10,500 feet and 40 miles from anywhere civilized at the time. I guess I owe their whole squad a round.

I also got to ride some of the best singletrack on the planet. We were on the Colorado Trail for about 90 minutes today. About 30 minutes of the stage included some new sections which I had never ridden, and it was a treat. So in spite of my mechanical misfortunes, I was able to enjoy some great riding.

If things go smoothly for the rest of the week, I might be able to claw my way back into the top 10 by the end of the race, which would be a good ride considering the competition here. I could be bummed out about my puncture today, but that is bike racing, especially mountain biking. The rock which went through my tire today was pretty much a shale arrowhead, and it would have deflated a tank tread.

So what can you do? Perhaps I need to make an offering to The God of Sharp Objects.

I would normally not be so bold as to suggest an award for myself, but maybe Mike will elect to find a used, rusty Big Air CO2 cartridge on the side of the road somewhere and spray paint it gold with cheap krylon paint. He may then choose to award it to me as the unluckiest rider at the Breck Epic for two years running. I narrowly beat out Blake Harlan last year with five flats in one stage, over his four. Now I have a running total of eight.

Of course, the race is not over yet...

Colby Pearce is racing the 2010 Breck Epic for Tyler Blick, a young boy suffering from leukemia

Details, details, details

Colby Pearce
August 24, 2010, 15:05 BST,
August 24, 2010, 16:24 BST

Getting the equipment and the body going

Breck Epic Pre-race and Stage 1

My Breck Epic started one day early actually. After years of road and track racing, I have come to the conclusion that it is not only track racing which challenges an athlete on multiple levels, but bike racing in general.

I was under the impression that track cycling was the most equipment-intensive discipline by a significant margin; however I have now learned that mountain bike stage races are at least equivalent, if not more demanding of a colossal list of tiny little details which are critical to your performance, or at least potentially critical to you not sucking. A good example of this is remembering to twisty-tie the zipper closed on your saddle bag, lest the contents of said bag be strewn randomly over the trail you have just negotiated.

And while I am on this topic, to whomever found my mini tool, tire lever and tube after my Firecracker pre-ride, Merry Christmas.

After spending a good portion of the day rummaging through my garage checking off an extended list of items which were mostly in the event of mechanical mishap or disaster, I filled my entire Subaru wagon with my equipment, food, drink mix, clothes, race wheels, spare wheels, half of my wife's leftover "piglet" sandwich (lunch) and a Light Beam Generator (google it if you are curious). While it was not a perfectly engineered packing job, there was not a lot of void space to be filled.

This packing and the lengthy checklist of small parts and details occupied a large percentage of my brain power and energy levels the day before the race. In combination with a minor suspension fork emergency, by the time I made the drive to Breckenridge, I was feeling a bit drained and looked a bit glassy-eyed. Only four hours of maximal effort racing for the next six days remained, so its not like I needed to be rested.

For those of you who have never raced a mountain bike race, they are really, really hard. You might think I am making this up, but its pretty much flat out from the gun from start to finish. In events such as the Breck Epic, the descents are challenging enough that you don't really recover, the pain just moves from your legs and lungs to your arms, shoulders, and some weird muscles in your rib cage which I have never been able to identify or feel working in any other capacity. On your good days, you settle in and find a rhythm. You find comfort in your suffering because your head is wrapped around it. On the bad days, you crawl and the sun is ten percent dimmer. Every bump and steep gradient becomes a brick wall to be scaled, and your bicycle cockpit becomes a carbon fiber prison.

The day before the race, it was as if I had performed an extended prologue. The expenditure for the day was not as intense as a race effort, but it was the physiological equivalent, spread out slowly over 12 hours.

Anyway, today the race started officially. The field this year in the open men has significantly more depth than last year, a fact I discovered at the first race meeting last night. Most of the stages are longer and harder than last year, except for the Wheeler stage, which was already a monster anyway, with a 20 minute hike-a-bike up to about 11,500 feet.

A random collection of my thoughts from the stage:

  • "I don't know what everyone else is experiencing, but this is definitely faster than my 'neutral'."

  • "We are now 10 minutes into a 24-hour race and there are 10 riders left in the lead group."

  • "Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch. Go faster. Ouch."

  • "I think I know where this part of the race goes. Wait, I am lost. No, there is a course marker. Where am I? I think I know where this part of the race goes."

My day could more or less be summed up by: 1. Legs feel good. Apply pressure. 2. Lower back hurts. Apply less pressure. 3. Descend. 4. Repeat.

It was not my strongest day ever on the bike, but I was able to keep a decent pace for the majority of the stage. One minor crash and a brief stop for pressure adjustment to front and rear tires, and otherwise I was pretty solid. Although, I will say I seemed to be the only rider stopping at rest stops to change bottles...maybe some of these guys are part camel.

The final descent into Carter Park always throttles me. I have done that trail so many times, and I have yet to really fly on it. At the end of the first lap at the Firecracker this year, I was passed on that trail by a guy riding a fully rigid bike. Meaning, he had no suspension, at all. Why not just kick yourself in the balls? I could not decide if I was more impressed with his handling skills or his obvious lack of common sense. Today was no different, except that at this point in the year this trail has been so over ridden that all the rocks have been extricated from the earth as if they were an anthropological discovery. Hundreds of Megalodon prehistoric shark teeth hungrily waiting to bite my sidewalls or puncture my femur. Fortunately, today they went hungry.

Upon finishing, I was shocked to see Pua Sawicki, the winner of the women's race, finish just two minutes behind me. I have come close to being "girled" before by Heather Irmiger in Winter Park, but she was within five minutes of me in a 90-minute cross country. Pua finished about two minutes down on me in a 38-mile cross country race, which took over three hours. This was an extremely impressive ride. My mission for the rest of the week is now crystal clear.

Two notes:

  • Wishing Colin Cares the most rapid and healthful recovery, he crashed out of the race today with a punctured lung. I am sure he will be back up and riding in no time.

  • I ride for Tyler Blick at the Breck Epic this year. Best to him and his family.
  • Next time: my bike.

Breck Epic Blog: Colby Pearce

American Colby Pearce has raced for years on the road and track and he's collected many national titles in events like the madison, team pursuit and points race.  In 2004, he raced the points race at the Olympic Games and from 2005-2007, he worked as the US National Endurance Coach.  More recently, the 38-year-old has also been spotted in mountain bike stage races.  Last year, he finished fifth in the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race.  In this blog, he'll chronicle his adventures in the Breck Epic mountain bike stage race.