My entrance into the world of mountain bike stage racing began this June, when I received a last-minute invite from my team, Rocky Mountain Factory Team, to race in the infamous BC Bike Race (BCBR).
There is little that can be said about BCBR without starting me off on an hour-long monologue about my experience up north. The important thing about the BCBR is that it got me to take stage racing more seriously. Before this season, I considered myself a straight-edged cross country racer, whose training focused on one-day events where weeks of preparation could be completely nullified by simple bad luck.
While in BC, I quickly recognized my growing frustration with cross country racing. Simply by acknowledging the beauty of endurance stage racing, I found myself wondering why I had ever considered mountain bike stage racing a "step down" from traditional cross country events.
Upon returning home to Summit County, Colorado, from Canada, I felt like a new rider. Though I continued racing in cross country events around the States, I was newly motivated to use these events as training for the next stage race, rather than lose myself in the pressures and frustrations of every single-day race. The obvious choice for that next stage race was the Breck Epic, one of the newest and most successful stage races in the United States. Since I live only 20 minutes from the venue and have raced and trained on the courses since I started mountain biking almost 10 years ago, Breck Epic was an obvious target for my next big endurance event.
My knowledge of the trails and 10 years of acclimation to the claimed "90 percent above 10,000 feet," coupled with a month of solid training, could boost me into contention.
The point, however, to mountain bike stage racing is not the competition. It is true; racers will be putting everything on the line for those top three podium spots, but with a "bragging-rights only" award basis, and the inevitable comradery between racers derived from racing 240 miles and nearly 39,000 vertical feet in six days, the Breck Epic is certainly all about the experience.
Breck Epic is without a doubt the most extensive showcase of Summit County singletrack ever created. Due to record spring snowfall and a July 23 "gully-washer" thunderstorm that broke the 24-hour rainfall record in less than three hours, many of this year's courses are several notches more difficult than in previous years.
Though most might overlook such names as Heinous Hill, Nightmare on Baldy, Pennsylvania Gulch Grind, Wheeler Trail, and Little French Gulch, I can personally attest that their additions into these 40+ mile days through the backcountry will brutalize the already-weakened body and send even the toughest pros scrambling by foot in ascent. With an average elevation gain per-day of over 7,000 feet, the most optimistic of racers can look forward to an equal vertical of incredible descending.
One of the greatest things about endurance racing is that everyone has a different race background. No one "grew up" in this sport. With that in mind, one can always expect an eclectic group of riders. This year's Breck Epic is no exception.
With names from all across the sport - cyclo-crosser Tim Johnson, mountain bike legend Travis Brown, endurance specialist Josh Tostado, professional roadie Taylor Sheldon, and a slew of young cross country specialists like me - no one really knows who will be the strongest out on course.
As with any stage race, expect a dynamic week up until the final stage, where the strongest (and perhaps luckiest) racers will end up on the top step of the coveted Breck Epic podium.
Over the course of the race, I will be updating daily about each stage, including up-to-date overall standings, and my own personal experiences on the stage. As Sunday approaches, final preparations are being made, and the stoke-level is quickly rising. With favorable weather predictions for the week, the 2011 Breck Epic is sure to be a true backcountry race experience.
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