I’ve had a chance to recover a bit and re-oxygenate my brain and body, and can reflect pretty clearly now on my entire Breck Epic experience. People have been asking quite a few questions, so I’ll share a bit of my thoughts and hopefully can give people a good idea of the whole she-bang and what’s involved.
If you’re interested in some of the day-by-day replay, check out my reports from during the race:
There’s also some great photo recaps on mtbr.com here:
A lot of people have asked if this race is better than race X, or if I had to choose between the Breck Epic and other stage races, which would I choose. First off, I would definitely consider this a “bucket list” event that any mountain biker should do. Especially if you’re like me and use races and events as a way to visit and ride in new places, the Breck Epic provides fantastic Colorado riding. Although the riding itself is definitely less technical, and there was less singletrack overall than I expected, the trails themselves are really fun, very well maintained, and the scenery amazing. Ultimately, this event is more a test of brute fitness rather than your skills as a mountain biker, which is not good or bad, but just a different kind of challenge. Being at altitude makes this race completely unique, and it was a fascinating experience both on and off the bike.
I’m going to just say it – people were really freaking fit at the Breck Epic. It wasn’t just me that noticed this; you know the field must be a bit above average when a chiseled, hardened singlespeeder remarks how fit everyone is. I’m not sure if there are just generally a lot of locals that participate who are acclimatized to the conditions, or if a lot of racers come early to adjust, or if I’m just extra affected by oxygen deprivation (likely all three of these are partially true), but I spent most of every climb (and there were a lot) watching helplessly as people seemingly effortlessly pedaled past me as I huffed and puffed slowly pushing my easiest gear. The worst was the hike-a-bike sections over the continental divide and Wheeler’s Pass. I have never felt so terrible and out of shape even though I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. Yes, I could play the 27 pound bike card, and I’m sure it didn’t make the climbs any easier, but the altitudinal effects on my fitness and performance were both humbling and depressing at times.
On the plus side for me, while fitness seemed to be most people’s strength, technical skills and descending prowess were not. My bruised ego received a bit of pampering and rebuilding on every descent as I was able to pass by a lot of people who had ripped past me on the climbs and were clearly out of their comfort zone descending. The length and variety of the descents was also a really big treat; as a flat lander from Edmonton where our longest descents in the river valley are a minute or two, getting to descend for ten minutes or more at a time was absolutely glorious, and riding some truly rocky terrain was also very exciting.
Only having done it once, I’m clearly no expert on the Breck Epic, but I have formed some opinions, and here are some things to consider if you are thinking of registering:
- Flying vs. driving: We drove from Edmonton. It took 2 whole days and 20ish hours, and Wyoming is honestly the most boring scenery I’ve ever experienced. Pretty in its own way, but not for a 7 hour stretch. There is also a lot of small town America to endure. Again, scenic and interesting in its own way, but not in such a large quantity. While driving is probably more economical than flying, if I ever went again I would more than likely fly.
- Accomodations: One of the best things about the Breck Epic is that you can stay in one place in Breckenridge for the duration of the race. I did the stage race tenting/transfer/shower trailer thing once, and will honestly never do it again. I’m not afraid to admit I’m a princess. We rented a big and beautiful vacation rental home, and 11 of us stayed there comfortably and for a very reasonable price. Our place was just outside of town though (just south in Blue River), and this meant a great deal of driving and shuttling in and out of town. If you rent a place, make sure it’s right in Breckenridge, the closer to downtown the better. Trust me, the last thing you want to do after spending over four hours on your bike climbing at altitude is pedaling your sorry ass uphill out of town back to homebase.
- Eating: I’m still undecided on this one. The race offers a meal plan that some friends signed up for and said it was great and totally worth it, but the rest of us just ate out every night, which was also enjoyable and you could choose what you felt like to eat. For the record, there are a lot of great coffee shops (Cuppa Joe, Clint’s) and places to eat (Relish, Twist, Crepes a la Carte) in Breckenridge. I also wholeheartedly recommend the cookie dough cookie sandwich from Mary’s Mountain Cookies. The house we stayed at had a great kitchen, but my experience has been that when you race each day you don’t really want to go to the effort of cooking and cleaning. I also find if you cook your own meals you end up overbuying groceries and supplies that just end up getting wasted or thrown away after the race. Go with your gut on this one.
- Bike setup: this is a test of physical strength not technical skill, so I would definitely suggest a light bike. Most people at the front were on hardtail 29ers, and while I had a blast on my alloy dually with 120 mm of travel on the downhills, I was cursing life an awful lot on the hike-a-bike sections and on the long road climbs. Steve Martins had probably the best, most comfortable set-up of all of us with his super light Trek dually 29er. If you can afford something like that, do it. If not, sell some stuff or rescind your kid’s college fund and treat yourself. I’m a masher at the best of times, but with the physical stress at altitude I can’t even imagine using a 1 by set-up; among those that did, many (including Steve and eventually John Clark) were running 28-tooth rings on the front to deal with the thin air climbs. On the rubber side, about half the descents are fairly rocky and have been known to shred tires. I passed a lot of people repairing flats over the week and was quite thankful I decided to go with 2.25 tubeless snakeskin Schwalbe Rocket Rons. I was fairly careful about my lines and avoided sharp stuff where possible, but if you’re prone to just blast down the rocks it may be worthwhile to go with a burlier tire.
- Aid stations and bags: There were at least two aid stations per stage, and they were well-stocked with gels, fruit, Gu Roctane, and water. I, and most everyone else I know, only carried one bottle and never ran out of fluids, although I don’t typically drink very much. You get an aid bag for each station that you can fill with whatever you want (extra bottles, clothes, tools, food, etc.), and I took advantage of this the first few days, but stopped as I never ended up needing anything except what was already provided at the aid stations. We had really good weather though and never needed any extra layers; if the forecast had been sketchy it would have been a nice treat to have access to the extra layers or dry clothes I had stored in my aid station bags. On the bike I carried a multi-tool, a quick-link, CO2, tube, small pump, a couple gels, my bottle, a vest and arm warmers, my phone, a credit card, $20, and a bit of duct tape.
Overall, the Breck Epic was extremely well-organized and everyone was laid-back, super-friendly, and knowledgeable. I also felt really appreciated and valued as a participant, which tells you this is a real rider’s kind of race and not some corporate, money-focused endeavor. I will definitely return; hopefully with some climbing legs packed next time around…