For the first time in the race's history, the Breckenridge 100 recognized a champion not named Josh Tostado on Saturday.
Jeff Schalk completed the 100-mile course in a record eight hours, eight minutes and 53 seconds, just six minutes in front of the Alma resident, who has won the previous six Breck 100 mountain bike races - every single one since it's introduction in 2005.
"Schalk was on fire today. I mean he was just hammering. I felt good as well," Tostado said. "I just couldn't catch him. He's the hundred-mile national champion for a reason. He had a great day. I had a great day. I can't complain."
Although slightly disappointed, bloodied and bruised, Tostado, who crashed "hard" on the first lap, was able to focus on the positive, that is, he actually improved on his own record-setting time from last year; it just wasn't quite enough for a win in 2011.
Tostado, Schalk and Kelly Magelky road together for the first two laps. It wasn't until about halfway through the final lap that they dropped Magelky. Then, Schalk was able to put a gap on the defending champ climbing up Indiana.
With Schalk within vision, Tostado briefly made up some time on the descent down Gold Dust but couldn't ultimately hang on coming back over the pass. Christian Tanguy, another contender in the National Ultra Endurance Series, came in third.
Climbing 13,719 feet over 100 miles, the race consists of three cloverleaf loops that start and finish in Carter Park. The 29-mile Loop 1 offers some spectacular scenery. Loop 2 stretches out and around 33 miles utilizing part of the Colorado Trail and features classic Colorado singletrack. Finally, on the Gold Dust Trail that takes you to the other side of the Continental Divide, the 36-mile Loop 3 is a "hidden gem" of a ride.
Schalk, who was the runner-up one year ago, said he went into the race with a new strategy compared to the last three years.
"I have always been kind of aggressive, trying to attack early and trying to get gaps on Josh (Tostado)," Schalk said after the race. "I think I've warn myself out in the past. I figured if I had a shot at all of beating him today - and he's the man here - I figured I should just shadow him, conserve energy, stay seated and then make a move."
Schalk said he didn't think halfway through the race he would win because he was cramping up and "really suffering." But as it turned out, Tostado, who said the gnarly, first-lap crash did not affect his riding, was suffering too.
"We were riding together up until about mile 70 and I saw that he popped a little bit," Schalk said. "And I couldn't believe it that maybe I had a shot to win it, so I gave it everything I had. I absolutely buried myself, which is what it takes to beat him up here."
For Schalk, who lives in California at sea level, the Breck 100 would be his favorite race if it were not for the altitude. The "whole breathing thing" is really tough in the mountains, he said.
The riders reported that the trails were in really good condition. The wet weather actually made it better in some ways, less dusty, although there was certainly more mud to contend with than in previous years.
"Winning this race so many times - I never thought I'd win it even a single time back when I started this type of racing," Tostado said. "To win it as many times as I have, it's just been incredible. Every year I say, 'This is going to be the year,' and this year, it was. So, I tip my hat to him. He raced a great race."
Asked if he'll be contending for a seventh Breck 100 championship next year, Tostado said, "I mean, it's my back yard."