Toast. Cooked. Cracked. Gassed. Shattered. Today I got to experience this firsthand: panting, legs burning, dull brain, feeling like I’m giving everything but the output is a trickle, a mile is a forever, a water bar feels like a three foot step-up, and I am spent!
Stage six had us going up and over Gold Dust on wiggly single-track, descending to the valley in a moss covered ditch that felt like riding a bobsled run, climbing a fire road back up Gold Dust, then a single track descent home. I was lackluster on the first climb but the fun terrain made up for my missing oomph. I felt like a rabbit dropping into the valley, but then was passed by one of my competitors making me wonder how fleet of wheel I really was. On the final climb, I was slipping back. The headwind was not helping but Dean and JP caught me in pace line formation and urged me to grab on. With tunnel vision to the wheel ahead of me (and JP’s prosthetic leg – so cool! He’s an Afghanistan Vet) I dug as deep as I could, but try as I may I just couldn’t hold on. The will to go harder was there but the tank was dry. I had slipped back to fourth position on the day but my effort would maintain my overall standing. Head down, put calories in, keep turning the pedals, get er’ done… that’s just what I did.
Finally, atop Gold Dust the second time, I was greeted with PBR and a raucous seven mile descent to reboot my energy. Ripping down root covered chutes and plowing along running creeks it felt like I hadn’t pedaled over 250 miles over countless mountain passes in the past six days. Elated, I hit the finish line and joined the riders sharing their glee at completing the Breck Epic. What a ride! What an adventure. Holy cow that was a huge undertaking. I loved it. I’m going to take a day off biking. Okay, maybe two. When do I get to do this again?
It turns out that competitive hike a bike is a misery loves company affair. Today’s stage began as a TT start based on our overall standings in the race to keep us spread out on the single track start. Quickly the trail turned upwards and we climbed to the top of Wheeler Peak in under six miles. Climbed! I’m sure the track was laid by mountain goats and the last half mile was mandatory hike-a-bike turf. But rewarded I was at the top; views, views, views, bacon frying and gummy bears were the reward. But it was a ruse! We were not going down, we were to traverse, descend a bit, climb, climb, climb, traverse, carry our bikes over talus, climb to another summit above 13,000 ft, and traverse more goat paths (Mike the race director called them primitive trails…). It was a hard task to ride up to 12,000 ft on the Queens stage, but pedaling very technical terrain above that for over an hour was a feat of mental stamina with a brain starved for oxygen. I have never been so happy for a descent. Loose and exposed at the top did not matter, as the altitude decreased my bliss increased. The descent was truly a trail of legends. What a big day!
As I mentioned yesterday, stage racing is the full monte of cycling experience: endurance, technical skills, tactics, perseverance, and luck. I had the third strike of oops today, the dreaded crash. Not really much of a crash. I was descending after the first summit, still unaware that I had another hour of hard riding at altitude in my future, on a section that was a pinball gallery of boulders on a steep hillside. My bike got bounced loose on my line and rather than go off the steep side of the “trail” I opted to lay it down on the uphill side. I scraped my arm on a rock and thought nothing of it. Much later a rider passed me and asked if I was alright. I was confused and said yes, and then another rider asked me the same thing as I overtook him. Again at the aid station I was asked if I needed medical. I decided that the scrape on my arm must be pretty ugly, but obviously not an emergency as I had no pain and arm and hand worked just fine so off to the finish line (in a downpour) I went. At the finish I was brave enough to look at my arm: a pretty meaty slash that was nicely cleaned by all the rain was my souvenir of the day.
My Dad came to watch my finish and I was so glad for some assistance, but sorry to have him see his daughter sliced up. I gave him the task of washing my mud caked bike as I found medical. They took one look at my arm and sent me to the ER. Sorry Dad! So off to the hospital we went. I was super lucky; the gash was so deep they could see all my tendons but none of them were nicked. A nice row of internal and external stitches later my arm is as good as new!
Tomorrow is the final stage of the race. It is rumored that most divisions ride as a parade (and take whisky shots at the summits) but I suspect the fierce ladies in the open field will want one more day of competition. Whichever way the race leader chooses will no doubt be the icing on the cake for me and this amazing adventure into the Breck Epic.
I’m feeling pretty darn good. I’m thirty three miles into a beautiful ride that has taken me from Breckenridge to Keystone and am headed back. I easily climbed Vomit Hill, kept my wits about me on the Aquaduct trail with a very exposed traverse, and steady-Eddie’ed the eight mile grinder climb out of Keystone. I’m munching on a Gu waffle and banana I grabbed at the last aid station and I’m starting to get nervous. I’m alone, and today the racers are very spread out so this is not unusual, but something feels off. My Spidy senses are tingling and I slow down. I must be off course. I stop and wait for another rider to come into view. No rider. Even though I’ve climbed two miles up from the last aid station I turn. Yep, I was off course. (As I was headed down a course marshal drove up to catch me – what a well run race!) Right after the Aid station there was a right turn onto new single track and I must have missed the course marking (the course is really well marked) as I was stashing supplies into pockets from the aid station. Doh!
Though I added four miles to my day and at least ten minutes to my time (I really don’t want to look at my Garmin data to see how bad it really was), I got back on track. I decided to ask my body to pick up the pace just a titch and see if it would respond. Yes! For the first time at altitude I could push a little harder without my heart rate spiking. I slowly passed riders I had gone around two hours earlier, and moved back into second place for the day. The women I passed the second time were quite confused to see me again, but they gave me kind words for my error. A gentleman I was riding near heard about my mistake and as we hit the last big descent he invited me to follow his line, he was a local and had it dialed. So with blazing speed I would not dare otherwise on a descent I’ve never ridden before I zipped the last four miles to the finish.
Wow. Stage racing is such an adventure! Mechanicals, getting off course, crashing (cross your fingers for me that I continue to kept it rubber side down), weather… I suspect every rider has to manage at least one of these blips. The race is long. Ride your race. I’m having so much fun!
Lightning and thunder (fortunately I was in the valley between the two big climbs)
Ear to ear grin downhills
Walking my bike for about a quarter mile because it was too steep (even Todd Wells walked)
Technical descending in a downpour (all the skills sessions I’ve been leading this year really came in handy here, I passed so many people who were walking and I was giggling with glee)
Views! The climbing was so slow I had lots of time to look around.
Skittle hand-ups on the summit
Today’s course was the Queens stage, a climber’s day. I fancy myself a climber so I was excited about riding my bike over the big passes that would have me pedaling at an altitude I’ve not been on a bike at. Three days into this race and the field is friendly; passing is made simple, if you are off your bike everyone will slow to offer assistance, veterans will give you beta on what is up ahead, and several men gave me a little push uphill as I passed them while they were walking. I tried a new hydration/ fueling strategy that worked better for me than previous days and the aid stations were stocked with bananas and Gu’s waffles that were a welcome treat to gels (ingesting gel #15 today still required anti-gagging tactics). And I have found my inner bike Buddha and no longer care what other riders ahead or behind me are doing; I ride my race, trust my training and listen to my body.
My legs definitely did not have the oomph in them I was hoping for, so today I listened to them and backed off when the burn started to be ignited. My bike is sporting a new rear shock and rear tire today so I attacked the descents, which were first class fun-fests. I came across the finish line third in my division, but was elated. (I’m still second overall.) My Mom was volunteering at the finish line and her friendly cheer made me feel like a celebrity. I had the most excellent day on the bike. Though tired, as one would be after riding 44 miles and climbing 6400 ft, I felt great! This monster of a day is one I’m proud of putting in my personal record book, and feel tomorrow I will be even stronger. Look out top of the podium!
I was so excited for another day of this race that I didn’t sleep. All night I fretted about my rebuilt shock, how much extra stuff to carry for endless flats, and how to refine my strategy. Since I wasn’t sleeping I looked over my bike again, ate a monster breakfast three hours before the race start and was at the start line (to make sure I was not 200 deep) before the race officials even showed up. Nerves. Mom took a picture of me heading out that I am sharing so you can laugh. She also said I, “looked scary” meaning it as a compliment (she also thought the gel packets hidden under my kit leg cuffs were my bulging muscles).
I survived the mountain bike peloton up the road for the first three miles, this must be the same as riding in the crash-four group as a road racer, and was relieved to hit the dirt and get spread out on Heinous Hill climb. I was surprised at how strong I felt early in the race, but that was not to last. Mile 16 to 19 we climbed over 2000 feet to top out at 11200 and I was the turtle not the hare. I did put some good distance on Amy (race leader) but on the descent she passed me never to be seen again. My pace was sustainable, I was taking in calories like a metronome but still had minor cramp twinges at mile 28 reinforcing my attitude to have patience with the race and ride my race.
I am a power house and (not to brag) can drop just about anyone on a climb if I want to. In a stage race doing this will gobble up your glycogen (what fuels your muscles) and it takes days to replenish so your legs are cooked for the rest of the race. It is taking Yoda whispering in my ear to keep me from powering up to drop a rider just because I can. Who knew I had so much ego! Fortunately the sage Emma gets to chat with other riders on climbs, take in the views and get some air on the flow trails as we descend back into town.
I finished the day moving into second place overall, but lost a few minutes to Amy. Tomorrow is the Queen Stage featuring a climb over 12,000 ft, biking through snow, climbing over 12,000 ft again, descending through bear territory, a wall (but it’s short? What is short 38 miles in and having climbed 6800 ft already?), and then my Mom will be at the finish line volunteering for the race. Epic.
Stage racing is the real deal; no wonder the road scenes crown jewels are the grand tours. We lined up is a grand mess with no regard to category for a neutral start with a police escort up the pavement until we hit the trails. This should have spread the race out a bit, but there were a lot of nerves urging many people to sprint. After a flowy descent (stuck behind a team of guys who insisted on zipping ahead of me as we approached the trail but didn’t have the descending skills to match their enthusiasm) the real climbing began on two track and the field finally spread out.
My plan for day one was to stay in the middle of the open women, to copy their pace and learn how they managed aid stations and working with other riders. However, with a mass start I didn’t even know how many women were in my category, let alone know who they were; so I relied on an even pace I knew I could sustain all day (which had me walk a few loose hills I could have ridden but my legs would have been on fire) and forcing myself to consume 100 calories every 20 minutes and electrolytes on the hour. I took my time at the aid stations to restock my supplies and devour a banana.
I felt strong and was breathing with ease as I crested the last big climb and had been informed at the last aid station I was the first female! I was STOKED, the day could be mine. And then I flatted on a relatively smooth fire road. My tire had a double puncture. A nail? Who knows. I took my time and put a tube in after sealing the inside of my tire with a Gu packet. The race is long, it is better to do things right instead of making a flustered mistake and getting another flat down the road. (But I did realize my rookie mistake of not having a back-up tube and CO2 cartridge in my drop bags – I will remedy this for tomorrow.) But as I was putting my tire back on I heard a whoosh. Oh no! I was confident I repaired my rear tire correctly. It was not my tire but my rear shock decided right there to loose it’s seal and release all of it’s fluid. No rear suspension – just a fully squished shock. Nothing I could do about this but ride gently the remaining eleven miles to the finish, which was mostly downhill. I rode smart: a bit slower and more conservative than I would have liked but I got to the finish without a hitch.
Somehow I finished in third place today! I’m thrilled to be on the podium, and think not having the pressure of the leaders jersey will be an advantage tomorrow. SRAM generously spent the afternoon “fixing” my shock (fingers crossed) and fortunately I ride for Rolf Prima so I have a back-up set of wheels to ride tomorrow. I now know I have what it takes to do well in a stage race, and success will come from being patient and sticking to my own plan. Can’t wait for stage 2.
I am a cross country mountain bike racer. My races are two hour sprints on trails. Strategy choices play out in minutes. A mechanical is a DNF. I don’t even slow to slurp down a gel mid-race. Fast, intense, then over just like that. I love them. However, I’ve listened to friends gush and groan about their longer race escapades. Tales of finishing a stage with a duct taped derailleur, eating Twinkies at mile 42, taking pictures at a vista and still landing on the podium. This is a world so foreign to me, so curious and seductive I have to give it a try. So I signed up to race the BreckEpic in August in blissful ignorance of what is involved to do an event like this one.
The BreckEpic is a six day, mountain bike stage race in the mountains around Breckenridge Colorado. Each day features a BIG ride of 30-50 miles of single track and climbs topping out over 13,000 ft. This is a very different mountain bike race than the Pro XC format I focus on where my race is 105 minutes of sprinting on a 5 KM loop. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I have a lot to learn to be successful. So come along for the ride. I’m going to share my learning curve, you can be my teammate, and maybe my antics will inspire you to do a stage race too!
Project Proposal: BreckEpic 2016
Goal: To race and complete the Breck Epic 2016 as a solo rider.
6 back to back days of hard mountain bike riding
30 – 60 mile days taking an average of 5 hours of pedaling