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Breck Epic stage 5 takes riders to the brink

After racing over four hours every stage for the last four days, many racers were pleasantly surprised with stage 5 of the 2011 Breck Epic, which the top-10 finished in under three hours. Without the neutral rollout at the start today, the pace set by the leaders headed up the first climb was a blistering one, and led to an early disintegration of the main field. Unfortunately for some, this fast start had its repercussions, as 10 or so of the lead riders followed eventual-winner Colin Cares off course in the first singletrack.

I started the day at my maximum, hoping to pull off another top-ten finish as I did on stage 1. Even so, I was not able to hold the high pace of the leaders on the road, and fell back just out of sight headed into the first singletrack. My lack of speed ended up being a blessing in disguise, since I did not see the lead group take the wrong turn at a fairly ambiguous Y-intersection. Without realizing it, I raced into the first climb of the day, The Burro Trail, in the lead position. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of Spruce Creek Road, a steep fireroad leading up to the 10th Mountain Division Hut "Francie’s Cabin," that I realized the leaders’ mistake. Colin Cares and Federico Ramirez passed me as we reached the first Aid Station, which surprised me. I looked over to find a train of top contenders hot on my heels.

Once the groups had rejoined, we reached a pivotal part of the day’s course: The Wheeler Trail. Climbing across the Ten Mile Range at over 12,500 feet above sea level, The Wheeler Trail is the classic connector from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain... for hikers. Rarely is this trail ridden by cyclists, though the Breck Epic and the Breck 100 mountain bike races choose to make their fields brave this painfully-high hike-a-bike experience.

Riders today reached the top of Wheeler today in less than 1.5 hours after more than 30 minutes of hiking above timberline. The most stubborn racers, such as Macky Franklin and Travis Brown, took any opportunity provided to get in the saddle, but such efforts were short-lived.

At the top of the saddle, I found myself in the top-10 after a strong hike. My riding legs felt great, having exercised a different set of muscles, and I was able to descend into Copper with a hefty bit of local knowledge up my sleeve. Luckily, there were no outstanding crashes on this descent today, since any error speeding down into Copper might take you 2000 feet down to the highway below.

After a quick jaunt down the recpath to Frisco, the course took a right onto one of the highest-trafficked trails in Summit County: The Peaks Trail. What 10 years ago was one of the most technical rides in the County has now become a multi-use super highway due to over-compensation "for all abilities" by the Forest Service. Despite this "paving," the Peaks remains one of the most fun trails in the area, and riders certainly enjoyed it’s fast and flowy route back to the finish in Breckenridge.

Leader "Lico" Ramirez finally got a dose of Colorado competition today; former U23 National Champion Colin Cares was able to pull off the win by holding his own against an ever-dangerous Ramirez and Josh Tostado. After three days of poor form, I was finally able to bring things around today on one of my favorite local rides, holding off strongmen Travis Brown and Chris Baddick to finish fifth.

I’ll end today’s post with a scene from today’s finish... I know present to you, what I’ve come to call the PB&TJ SANDWICH (a Tim Johnson creation):

In the following order, and with ample amounts of each ingredient: Wheat Bread, Crunchy Peanut Butter, Nutella, Sliced Banana, Ruffles Chips, Pretzels,Marshmallow Fluff, Wheat Bread. Are you satisfied?

Stage 6 tomorrow: We’ll be conquering a local big-ring gem known as the Gold Dust Trail. Then the party begins.

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Kevin Kane is a 20-year-old professional mountain bike racer for the Rocky Mountain Factory Team. He is also the Vice President of the Summit Fat Tire Society, and a creative writing student at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Kane is competing in the 2011 Breck Epic mountain bike stage race in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Follow his adventures throughout the race here.

Kane has been racing mountain bikes professionally for the last three seasons--ever since he turned 18. He raced in World Cups for the U23 National Team and earned two top-10 finishes at U23 nationals before even turning 20.

After a last minute invitation to do the BC Bike Race this year, he began to focus more on the endurance side of cross country racing, despite his relatively young age among the endurance set. At the BC Bike Race, his first-ever stage race, he pulled off a top-20 solo finish despite mechanical issues and sickness early in the week.