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  • Breck Epic Will Kick You in the Teeth, Then Rub Your Face in Your Ego – Served on a Silver Platter

     

    Thank you, sir, may I have another Stage, please?

    I knew Breck Epic would be difficult. It is a six-day mountain bike stage race in the Colorado mountains, Summit County. In my pre-race blog I wrote about the miles and elevation gain in each day, you can find that information at this link. I pre-rode every day except stage 5, so I knew what was in store for me. I did sign up and pay the entry fee before pre-riding any of the stages and in hindsight that was probably a good thing.

    I had every intention of writing a short blog about my race experience each day. That didn’t happen. It was all I could do to finish the race, get my bike taken care of, clean up, prep for the next day and try to spend some time with my family in the middle of this selfish affair before going to bed exhausted.

    Each stage is listed below with a hot-link to the race video in the title to each. My Strava file link is listed with each stage so you can download the gpx file if you’d like. Brief descriptions are included with each day. If you have more questions on any day, feel free to email me at gale@galebernhardt.com.

    Because I’ve completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race 14 times, a frequent question I get is “How does Breck Epic compare to the Leadville 100?”

    Both races are held at altitude in the beautiful Colorado high country. The similarities end there.

    Leadville is a single, long day in the saddle. There is limited single-track at this event. The most technical part of the event is descending the Columbine Mine climb while others are pushing bikes up the climb. Choosing the best line is often not an option in either direction.

    The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race hosts road racers and Ironman triathletes due to the minimal amount of technical mountain biking required.

    Breck Epic is day after day of technical climbing and descending at altitude. You must do the work to have technical mountain biking skills or you put yourself and others in danger. To be direct, roadies and triathletes can enter this event – but will not be successful unless they have worked on technical skills  prior to entering this race.

     

    Stage 1 -  Pennsylvania Creek: 36.4 miles/58.6km, 5700’/1737m

    In 2019 at the start of the race weather apps disagreed about the chances for precipitation for the day. I took one look at the sky and decided to begin in knee warmers, arm warmers and carry my more serious rain jacket.

    I don’t know exactly when the rain began, maybe after the first hour or so? Though it was raining, I was warm enough climbing and didn’t need to put on my jacket until the Boreas Pass descent. The rain got worse from here on out. It was the most cold, miserable day I’ve put in on a mountain bike.

    This day includes the infamous “Little French” climb used during the Firecracker 50 event as well as the Breck 32, 68 and 100 events.

    My finish chip time was 5:32, Strava file here. I did screw up the start, so race beginning is here.  

     

    Stage 2 Colorado Trail: 41.4 miles/66.6km, 6565’/2001m

    I just love the Colorado Trail section included in this stage. Also, I was so happy for no rain predicted for today or the rest of the week. I still carried a rain jacket because I’ve been caught in “no rain predicted” before.

    Finish chip time was 5:57, Strava file here.

    Stage 3 – Guyot: 39.2 miles/63km, 7100’/2164m

    Fatigue is surely setting in today, my sleep at night is broken and restless. This stage was at risk prior to race day. Colorado had a heavy winter of snow and there is still evidence of it on race day. We hiked over several avalanche/snow fields and rode (or foot-skied!) down a giant snowfield. This day included a big hike-a-bike section to the top of French Pass (Not to be confused with “Little French” for those that have raced the area in past events.)

    My asthma began acting up last night and I am coughing up crud. My otherwise well-controlled exercise-induced asthma has begun causing me trouble. I had trouble throughout the rest of the event, so I won’t mention this issue again. I normally take an inhaler before exercise only, but began using it every 12 hours. I think I was able to mitigate the problem, it got only slightly worse as the week went on.

    This day known as the Queen Stage kicked me in the pants – it had tough climbing and several long, rocky, technical descents.

    Finish chip time was 6:08, Strava file here.

    Stage 4Aqueduct: 41.2 miles/66.3, 6473’/1972m

    Yay, more sun today! I traded carrying my heavy rain jacket for a light shell.

    Each morning I find that my legs feel pretty bad. Based on an experience I had in a 3-day mountain bike stage race, I made myself a promise I would begin each day and ride for an hour. If I felt worse after an hour, consider pulling the plug on the event. Every day, I felt better after the first hour. Our bodies are amazing – what they can endure and how the respond.

    I also loved this course – something about the even-numbered days.

    Finish chip time was 5:56, Strava file here.

    Stage 5 Wheeler: 24.00 miles/38.6km, 5227’/1593m

    Wheeler is the only day I didn’t pre-ride. I heard from others that it is A LOT of hike-a-bike. Pushing bikes up to the top of the Ten Mile Range wasn’t much fun – but the views were stunning. I could see Breckenridge and Copper Mountain ski area lifts along with the mine tailing ponds on the road to Leadville. There was a lot of cussing during this stage – from me and everyone around me.

    The upper descents on this stage are exposed – one wrong move and you will tumble down the mountain for perhaps hundreds of yards. I was satisfied to walk the most exposed sections and let those that wanted to ride go around me.

    After getting off of the exposed mountain, the remaining single-track descent is often describe as “rowdy.” Think loose, rough downhiller course.

    The climb back to Breck is on a fun trail called “Peaks” – I normally love this trail but my legs are so fatigued that a pebble could put me off the bike.

    Finish chip time was 5:59, Strava file here.

    Aug 16: Stage 6 Gold Dust: 29.3 miles/47.2, 3740’/1139m

    I love this stage. It’s the shortest stage and a nice way to finish a hard week. The Gold Dust descent is flowy and fun. The climbs can be as hard as you make them. The Boreas Pass road and forest service road before that can be really windy. I was able to find a paceline for this climb. Though I couldn’t hold on for the entire climb, the help I was able to get (and give) was great.

    Finish chip time was 3:37, Strava file here.

    Summary

    I felt really good about how the week went. My number one goal was to finish and I accomplished that. My race chip times for the week totaled 33 hours and 11 minutes of racing. Ooofta. No wonder I’m tired.

    At age 61, I was put into the 50+ category for women. I achieved four stage podium spots (one 2nd place and three 3rd places.) I ended up 5th GC in that group. This was a nice bonus.

    A few notes and recommendations are below.

    Can you complete the Breck Epic?

    Yes…but…

    You must do your homework on endurance training and technical skills. Even if you keep your ego in check, the race will hand it back to you - though nicely served on a silver platter.

     

    Notes and recommendations

    • Quality sleep each night is critical. If you have trouble getting quality sleep, consider remedies such as chamomile tea or melatonin.
    • Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) that is well-controlled for one-day races may not be controlled in stage races that have many items that aggravate asthma. (Altitude, dust, cold, high-intensity exercise.) Speak with your doctor ahead of the race to outline strategies.
    • Make meals ahead of time and portion them out frozen or refrigerated if you don’t have a support team to help in this area.
    • I did self-massage daily with Arnica massage oil.
    • I took spare shoes and a spare hydration system. I rotated my shoes because each day included water crossings, if not rain. I lost my bite valve on Stage 5 and was happy to have an extra. I took other spare items, I’m not recalling all of them now.

     

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