Ulster Cycling News

Breck Epic – The Final 3 Stages

Breck Epic Stage 4 – 67km 1900m ascent.

Stage 4 was another big day on the bike and was also Conor’s first stage of the event.  This stage was my nemesis, and in the past two times I competed the hour long climb out of feed station 2 nearly broke me each time. As such it was not a stage I was looking forward to, but it was the stage I had returned to try and to conquer!  While I was positioned up front with the other leaders, Mark and Conor started the stage rolling out together.  The neutralised start was the same as Stage 2, too short to warm up on so despite feeling relatively good all day yesterday I went backwards as soon as we hit the first dirt climb.  After this short climb we were directed onto a 2-3km section of open swoopy singletrack which was bone dry and kicked up lung full after lung full of dust as riders processed along the trail.  My lungs couldn’t take any more dust and soon enough I was struggling to breath and coughing uncontrollably – I had to stop….   I waited for the riders to start thinning out a little so I could get enough distance between me, the rider ahead and their dust tail before setting off again.  This worked well for a while but once into less dusty trails it became clear that I had settled into a lower paced pack and with no opportunity to pass along the tight trails I was stuck!  We pedalled along a lovely long section of trail which traversed a bench cut trail to the top of a river gulch and back, then even more singletrack switchback trail on a steep hill overlooking Keystone town before hitting the aptly named “Vomit Hill” as super steep granny ring climb which seemed to go on for ages.  After another quick descent on to Feed Station 2 it was the dreaded super climb!  I started out of the feed station strong, the initial roll into the climb is more like a drag than climb proper but within 2km my back started to complain again despite spinning past riders with relative ease, perhaps riding up the whole of Vomit Hill hadn’t been such a good idea after all….  As with Day 2 that was the end of my climbing and I slowly started the death march back up the mountain.  Soon enough everyone I passed earlier in the day on Vomit Hill slowly overtook me again including one of the open women Kerri Armstrong who was currently sitting in 5th place – sigh seemed like the way it was going to be this week!   Another crazy dusty rooty rocky singletrack descent and I passed Kerri again and the route opened up towards Feed zone 3.  Stopping to collect some water and food at Feed 3 I overheard the marshall saying I was 4th placed women overall – brilliant, things not as bad as I thought then!   Back out into a rolling bench cut singletrack trail which meandered along the river valley side.  Some of this section of trail was very freshly cut, being very loose, dusty and loamy and as I rode at some speed along the trail my front wheel caught something under the loam and all of a sudden I was flipped over the front of the bike and” fell onto my face superman stylee – ouch!!  Luckily the trail was soft enough with plenty of wood litter that I only ended up grazing my chin and knee, however getting my handlebars back in alignment took a bit longer and I got passed again by Kerri – grrr!  I spent the rest of the race a little shook up and battling back cramps and trying to catch up with Kerri, always spotting her up ahead but never quite getting there from having to stop stretch out the back cramps.  We were to finish in the same place as the day before and thankfully there was no horrible 5km finish loop to deal with so after 4hr30 I eventually crossed the finish line a little “tired and emotional” but glad to be done after another bad day on the bike.  I hung around for Mark who came in about 20mins later and who had a relatively good day on the bike enjoying the trails but perhaps not so much all that climbing.  After another 30mins Conor came in across the finish line, smiling and looking as fresh as a daisy!  Eventually we heard he came 4th in his category only a few seconds behind 3rd – needs to work on his race gnarr!

Breck Epic Stage 5 – 40km 1300m ascent.

Stage 5 – Wheeler Stage a relatively short stage distance wise but one which traversed one of the higher mountain passes above the town of Breckenridge (Mt Wheeler) taking us up towards 3900m altitude.  In previous years we climbed up to the summit of the pass and then made a huge rocky descent towards the town of Frisco to the north of Breckenridge before the gradual climb back up to the town along the well-established resort Peaks Trail mountain bike trail – a 3 – 3.5hr stage… in previous years….  This time however we would climb up the pass over Wheeler, partially descend then climb back up over a second pass before descending and meeting the Peaks trail part way, THEN when we got back to Breckenridge resort make an additional climb BACK up above at the ski resort before descending down to the finish line.  We also had the added challenge of thunderstorms forecast from 11am onwards so it was not just a race against our competitors but a race against the elements.  We were started earlier for stage 5 for these reasons and were also started in 90sec timed waves to allow a little bit of room on the trail.  I was started off 5mins before Mark and 15mins before Conor.   I felt a little better on the day and it showed on the first section of singletrack climb – a rooty technical drag up towards feed 1 at 6km where I caught up with the two previous waves of riders.  At around the 12km mark the trail turned into a narrow rocky singletrack section, too steep to ride and representing the start of the 30min hike-a-bike section up to the summit of the pass.  I was a little worried about this section as in previous years I struggled with the altitude towards the top, needing to stop and start on numerous occasions.  The time in the altitude chamber seemed to have done its job however and between a bit of better pacing, and some chit chat with fellow riders we were soon at the top of the pass greeted by the smell of cooked bacon and handouts of skittles and sourpatch kids gums from Mr Elevated Legs & Friends.  I passed on the bacon and threw a couple of gums down before hitting the next section of trail – an open section of high mountain bog and meadow with tricky rocky sections not unlike Skull Alley in the Cooley Mountains only over 3000m higher up!  Eventually we were directed away from the descent and back up along the mountain for another section of steep terrain, a mixture of hike-a-bike and small sections of rideable trail.  As there was a little more riding in this section I was able to pass out a few more riders who had previously passed me on the last hiking section and descent.    At the top we were greeted by a section of scree rock that we had to scramble over before a long steep rocky descent back down to the second feed station.  At this stage the weather had started to come in and between the lower temperatures and holding on for dear life on the descent I had lost the feeling in both hands by the time I got to the feed station.  Unfortunately there was an issue with the bag transport up to the feed station and my bag wasn’t there so it was a matter of re-filling with water and using whatever gels I was carrying.  Eventually we met the fun Peaks trail up to Breckenridge and the weather turned colder, thunder cracking from the top of the mountain and hail stones rained down stinging my legs.  Again I really hoped that Conor and Mark had gotten off the mountain before the storm rolled in proper.  Between the 2 hour hike-a-bike, missing a bag at the feed station, getting hungry, the cold and the wet, I sort of lost the will to live along peaks trail – I was now nearly 4 hours into a stage which used to take 3 – 3.5hrs with another 20km to go – I think my head just went at this stage and I trudged back up the mountain.   We passed through the Peaks Trail car park area where in previous years we would have finished the stage and the last 10km section back up through the ski resort felt like an un-necessary piece of torture.  I crossed the finish line a full hour longer than expected to be greeted by Olivia who had come out to Colorado with Mark in support.  I was somewhat tired, grumpy and worried about Conor and Mark on a stormy wet mountain so we hung around, got my bike washed and waited for the rest of Team Summit to arrive in.  Eventually the two guys did arrive in, and again Conor surprised us all, happy as only an Irishman could be in the wet weather and again in 4th place in his category – well done Conor!

Breck Epic Stage 6 – 48km 1100m ascent.

The last and shortest stage of the race, more like a celebration stage as the top placed riders in each of the categories have usually consolidated their standings and everyone is in party mood, ready to get done and onto the evenings celebrations.  Although the chest infection was starting to ease off and I got a little more sleep than usual I woke up feeling pretty drained, my legs were fine but the rest of me was done.  Mark and Conor were in pretty good spirits looking forward to the last stage.   As I warmed up on the road I knew my body was telling me to stop there and then, but having put at least a good 3 hours onto second place in my category I just couldn’t back out at this stage – today would be about finishing, not racing.   As the previous day we were set off in groups of 6 in 30sec waves, the leader of the 3 day women’s race was with me which immediately set “race mode” into my brain despite the fatigue.  Our race was counted down and off we went, I went into XC race pace, up through the forest and hit the first section of climbing – the 2km swoopy descent we had been sent down on Day 1.  After about 10mins while honking up a steeper section of trail I suddenly felt awful and got really dizzy, I stopped to get my breath and about 10 people passed me out, head wanted to go, body said NO!  I pedalled up to the next marshall point and decided to wait for Mark who pulled up to see if I was ok – we had discussed riding together as a team today but the timed starts made it difficult – we both decided to wait for Conor and chatted with the marshall who was infact a 3 day rider from Canada who managed the first two days before calling it quits, another example of how hard this event is for everyone!  Conor pulled up as cheery as ever and we pedalled off together.  Eventually however we split up, everyone had their own climbing pace and despite feeling bad mine was still a little faster that the two boys.   Up over Boreas Pass and the Continental Divide for the first time with a feed station stop then it was a nice fast peddley descent through a section of forest and bermy twisty singletrack.  Being a faster descender Mark caught up with me on this section, my fuzzy head making me slower than usual.  We rode together again for a while and chatted with other riders during the climb back up to Boreas Pass – a 40min slog up a wide fireroad we were being made to pay for the lovely bit of singletrack descent!  I tried to get a few riders to latch on with Mark and myself but everyone was suffering in their own way.  Eventually Mark dropped off the back and I was by myself picking off riders as we crawled up towards the pass, watching the km’s and the elevation tick by slowly on the garmin.  A second stop at the feed station and the mood was celebratory with race supporters handing out tins of PBR beer and a bottle of bourbon to slug from.   I pulled on my jacket while coughing up a lung, a little shakey and trying to keep it together and headed off on the last section of the stage, the descent back to the start/finish.   The descent was a bit of a blur, fuzzy head, constantly on the brakes and nervous as we rode back down the fire road and then on to sections of loose rocky rutted tracks, through a river and along undulating singletrack.   Eventually as we popped out of the forest, I was never so glad to see a finish line gantry.  Three hours after the start and about half an hour longer than any other time I completed the final day but the 2016 Breck Epic done and dusted, in the pink jersey all week and first age category rider – phew!  Mark popped out of the forest just a few minutes later, clear proof of the slow brain fog I was riding on the way back down to the finish, then Conor not much later, big smiles all around!

Mark finished his first Breck Epic in a total of 26hrs50mins, my time was pretty much the same as past years at 25hrs56mins.  Conor showed how well he coped with the altitude and distances with his 4th placed 40+ category result, Mr Sneaky Fit!

By Ciara MacManus

Pics to follow if internet improves

Posted By Marian Lamb UCN : marianlamb@ulstercyclingnews.com


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