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Details, details, details

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

Colby Pearce is racing the 2010 Breck Epic for Tyler Blick, a young boy suffering from leukemia (Image credit: Colby Pearce)

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.

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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.