BRECKENRIDGE - As sure as fireworks and barbecue on the Fourth of July, 750 riders lined up for the annual Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge on Monday.
Twenty-three-year-old Colin Cares of Boulder finished in just under four hours for the first firecracker win of his young career. He outpaced veteran pro Jay Henry and Kelly Magelky, who took second and third, respectively.
"I just kind of kept it steady. There wasn't much of an attack. I feel good right now. It's a fun course," Cares said while still in recovery mode after the 54-mile race.
This year's course had to be modified due to unseasonably high snow levels and wet conditions. The race was extended 2 miles per lap (making for two 27-mile loops). While the grueling race isn't the longest in the region, many consider it as the most challenging because of its technical nature. Whereas other endurance mountain bike races are held on dirt roads for long portions of the ride, the Firecracker is almost entirely singletrack.
"Everyone who comes out to attempt this monster of a ride is a winner," said announcer Larry Grossman, who compared the many racers to barrels in the Donkey Kong video game as they came down the final set of switchbacks.
The race got off to a fast start with Peter Stetina, a road racer coming off the Giro d'Italia, setting the pace and making an early move. Cares managed to stay with him for a while, but the tempo was too high, and he fell back.
Also racing out of Boulder, Stetina missed an invitation to the Tour de France this year. His career highlights include a pair of U23 national time trial championships and a stage win on top of Le Mont d'Olmes. But he says the Firecracker is his favorite race.
The early rapid pace didn't last, as eventually Cares and Kelly Magelky, of Golden, went off on their own.
"We worked together all the way up on the second road climb. Towards the top, I think he just started to crack a little bit and I managed to get a gap," Cares said. "I just tried to push it all the way to the finish. I knew Jay (Henry) was coming for me; he always is at the end of these races."
And, sure enough, he was.
Henry, a former Firecracker champion who said the race doesn't start until the second lap, managed to also pass Magelky and finished just about 90 seconds back of Cares.
Cares has been racing the Firecracker for a number of years, and as a Colorado rider, it is definitely a race that he's happy to add to the resume.
"I think it just suited my strengths with long climbs and altitude," he said. "The course was a little bit different but it didn't affect the race - just a few different trails. It was in good shape - lots of puddles - so nice and dirty but definitely really fun. ... I'm really excited to win here," Cares said. "I've been racing the Firecracker since I was 16 or 17 years old. For Colorado guys this is one of the staples every year."