Thirteen years ago it started as an idea; now it’s a mainstay of Fourth of July festivities in Breckenridge. The Firecracker 50 mountain bike race returns this year to lead the Independence Day parade down Main Street, bright and early at 9:30 a.m.
“It’s a staple of the mountain bike calendar and we’re excited to have it kick off the Fourth of July,” said Rachel Zerowin, of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.
Unlike most other area mountain bike races this one comes with cheering masses.
“For the racers it’s a really cool thing,” said Mike Zobbe, a Summit Fat Tire Society founder and course designer.
Sure the crowd might be there for the parade anyway, but for the amateur racer it will feel like the Tour de France — preferably without the doping.
The two-lap, 50-mile course starts on Main Street and charges up Boreas Pass road. “It’s always a good idea to have a lot of room to start a race,” said Zobbe.
It allows competitors some time to spread the field before hitting the narrow trail system. It provides a tough climb the second time around.
“It’s a mental challenge to gear up for lap two,” said race founder Jeff Westcott, of Maverick Sports Promotions.
From Boreas Pass Road, the course winds its way up and down a variety of terrain outside of Breckenridge, through French Gulch back into town via Carter Park.
Westcott said the course attracts a number of spectators who cheer the racers throughout.
As with much of the biking terrain around Breckenridge, “the main structure of the course has been left over from the mining days,” he said.
The network of trails features old mining roads interconnected by singletrack.
Even the old mining paths, “ride like singletrack.”
Since its inception with 120 participants, the race has grown steadily and now is capped at 750 racers, a number set in part by the Forest Service permit.
“The course couldn’t handle any more than that anyway,” said Westcott.
Both Zobbe and Westcott describe the course as a signature sample of Rocky Mountain biking terrain.
“It’s no gimme, it’s a full-on mountain bike course,” said Westcott.
Zobbe, who occasionally plays banjo for riders at the top of the steepest climb at Little French Gulch, said, “we wanted it to be hard, but not too hard.”
He has not yet decided if he and his banjo will make an appearance this year.
This year’s race will include a number of returning pro champions. Dave Weins, the Firecracker 50’s first winner in 2001 and a Leadville 100 champion, will participate along with the only two-time men’s winner, Jay Henry. Former Olympian and past winner Travis Brown will also be there, as will three time women’s champion Gretchen Reeves.
But Westcott said, “as much as the pros get the press, this is a working man’s and working woman’s race.” He created the race to be a community event geared toward the sport and expert amateur racer.
He credits the strong volunteer showing for making the race such a success. As a result, the course features a number of aid stations along the way so competitors can ride without hydration packs.
That way, “you can go light and you can go long,” he said.
“I’m so proud to say that I come from one of the best rugby programs in the nation.”