Two laps, 50 miles, 8,000 feet of elevation gain — and it came down to 0.166 seconds. The length of a mountain bike tire was the distance between first and second place in Friday’s 14th running of the Firecracker 50, a Breckenridge Independence Day tradition.
“Unbelievable,” race cofounder Jeff Westcott said, nearly speechless. “We’ve never had the top two pros with their bikes overlapped at the finish.”
The first 25-mile lap set the stage with 10 to 12 riders in the pro/open men’s division within 90 seconds of one another as they passed through Carter Park for lap No. 2.
“It was exciting,” Westcott said. “It was one of the tightest lead groups in the history of the race after the first lap.”
But in the second lap, Jamey Driscoll — a cyclo-cross pro and 2013 USA Pro Challenge rider for the Jamis cycling team — and fellow pro Chis Baddick — a U.K. native and Boulder resident — built a sizable lead on the rest of the pack. By the final aid station the two had built a 4-minute lead on the next-closest riders.
Baddick held the lead for most of the second lap, adding to it on the second climb up Little French Gulch.
“I thought that if I went really hard up little French then I could get a gap and stay way,” Baddick said after the race.
Watching Baddick gain ground in one of the last big climbs, Driscoll thought he had missed his shot.
“I honestly didn’t expect to see him again,” he told the Daily, adding that he thought Baddick was the better downhiller of the two of them.
With roughly 5 miles to go after passing the final aid station, Baddick held the lead, but Driscoll was able to make a move on a short climb at the V3 trail to take the lead.
Baddick said he was trying to make a final move but was unable to.
“He’s a big guy,” Baddick said of Driscoll. “He’s hard to get around,” he said, laughing.
With Baddick tight on Driscoll’s rear wheel the two charged down the final downhill into Carter Park — contending with traffic from a number of riders still on their first lap.
Driscoll gained a slight advantage in the tight singletrack switchbacks just above Carter Park. Then in the final 50 yards Baddick attempted one last push.
The two crossed the finish line with Driscoll edging out Baddick by roughly a tire length. The two crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second.
“In the end I just ran out of room,” Baddick said after finishing 0.166 seconds back.
“That was crazy,” Driscoll said assessing the race afterward. “It was the last thing I expected — a super high altitude 50-mile mountain bike race to finish in a sprint.”
The women’s pro/open division followed suit with a finish that was almost as exciting.
Jennifer Smith of Gunnison edged out Kelly Boniface of Steamboat Springs by just under 6 seconds, finishing in 4:17:50.4 seconds.
The start of the race traditionally opens Breckenridge’s Fourth of July Parade; 750 riders participated in the event.
Complete results are available at mavsports.com