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Cruel and unusual punishment

It is unclear what exactly course designers were thinking when designating a route for stage 4 of the 2011 Breck Epic, but the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” is probably close. As promised in the course description, climbing was the name of the game today. From the gun, racers faced a menacing slew of notorious Summit County climbs. The first of these climbs, as on stage 2, was Heinous Hill. From there, riders descended the sketchiest mining road of the week, Galena Gulch, down to the Dredge Trailhead and entered the singletrack heaven known as Horseshoe Gulch.

Despite literally hundreds of miles of incredible singletrack in Horseshoe Gulch, race organizers had to consider conflict with daily users when routing through this popular area. For this reason, riders were once again routed on the painful Vomit Doubletrack, this time in the opposite (and more difficult) direction. These first two aptly-named climbs were only the beginning of the stage’s vertical, however.

Riding from Horseshoe Gulch to Keystone Gulch served as a nice break from the day’s climbing. I was excited to ride one of my favorite backyard trails, The Aqueduct, which led riders to aid station 1. It was at this point in my race when I decided to back off the pace in conservation for the rest of the week. From aid 2 to aid 3, along a section of the Colorado Trail, I tried my best to enjoy the flowy singletrack and give my legs a break. During this section, riders climbed the West Ridge logging road, which switchbacks up nearly three miles to the Colorado Trail.

My tactic of slowing down for part of the day paid off, and I was able to climb the last ascent up Rock Island Gulch at full-gas. At the end of the day, I sit in a solid 12th place overall, 15 minutes behind Epic Endurance rider and fellow CU student Sam Morrison in 11th.

After today’s stage, riders are finally over the hill of the week. With two more “honest,” yet difficult stages left, hopefully everyone will be able to make it all the way to their Breck Epic belt-buckle at the end of day 6. Tomorrow, we face the hike-a-bike sensation known as the Wheeler Trail, which climbs up above 12,000 feet en route to Copper Mountain. After this brutal climb (with a snowfield on top), and a wicked fast descent, riders will loop around to Frisco on the bike path and trek south back to Breckenridge on the famous Peaks Trail. Possibly the biggest obstacles of the day will be blisters (from all that hiking) and tourists on the bike path. The Wheeler Loop is one of my favorite day-rides here in Summit, and so I’m excited to see if my time spent recovering today will pay off with another top-10 finish tomorrow.

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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.