It started as an easy pedal down Main Street in Breckenridge. The Fourth of July crowd cheered on racers as they passed by, officially starting the Independence Day parade. Everyone smiled, kids stuck out their hands to high-five racers as they passed in staggered waves. A lead biker set a slow pace for each wave’s rolling start. But as soon as racers cleared the parade route and the pacesetter pulled aside, it was game on for the 13th annual Firecracker 50.
Professionals and amateurs pedaled shoulder to shoulder for two 25-mile laps up and down some of Breckenridge’s signature singletrack.
Within the first two hours of the race, dust from the lead bikes started to kick up along the trails, leaving the rest of the pack with a gritty aftertaste.
It was quite the scene, with 750 riders spread out along the 50-mile course. With the race well underway, Carter Park came alive with crowds as competitors passed through to start their second lap. The race included everything from two-man relay teams, each running one lap, to tandem bikers charging through switchbacks on their extra-long frames.
This year featured the return of a number of past pro-class winners. Dave Weins, the race’s first winner in 2001, was back to try for win No. 2. Men’s two-time winner and reigning champion Jay Henry was attempting to win his third Firecracker crown. Former Olympian and past winner Travis Brown was also in the mix.
But as the racers passed the final aid station it was Swiss pro and first-time Firecracker 50 racer, Oliver Zurbruegg with the lead. He charged the final downhill, whipping around switchbacks, to Carter Park with a comfortable lead. Then in the final 50 yards his bike gave out on him.
“It was something with the chain,” he said afterward in his strongly accented English.
With no one in sight behind him, Zurbruegg hopped off his bike and jogged across the finish line in just under three hours and 33 minutes. He lifted his bike high in triumph with a smile on his face.
It was also the Swiss rider’s first time in Breckenridge. He said after the race that he really enjoyed the town and the course.
“It was really fun,” he said, smiling, “more difficult than Switzerland.”
Zurbruegg decided to participate almost by chance, as he was passing through the area between events — likely disappointing news to the other competitors.
Just six minutes separated him from the other top three finishers. J.J. Clark crossed the line in second place, five minutes back, followed by Weins, only a minute later. Last year’s winner, Jay Henry finished fourth.
On the women’s side, Gretchen Reeves became the Firecracker 50’s first four-time champion with her second back-to-back win.
“Every year it gets more popular,” said Kris Carlsted, Summit Fat Tire Society president. “It can support a lot of people.”
In its first year the Firecracker 50 had 120 participants. It is now capped at 750.
The road start and staggered start times allow competitors to spread out along the course preventing overcrowding.
“There were sections where I had no one around,” said Doug Barenburg of Denver.
Zurbruegg said he only had to deal with lapping racers toward the end of the race.
Big Mountain Enduro this weekend
The mountain biking action continues this weekend at Keystone Resort with the Big Mountain Enduro Series and North American Enduro Tour. It will be a mountain-bike-focused festival, with live music, kid-friendly games and bike-industry reps on hand in Keystone Village. Enduro-class races are multi-stage events that blend cross-country and downhill racing.
It’s a class of racing that has exploded on the biking scene in the last few years, according to Big Mountain Series race director Brandon Ontivero. The stages include mostly descending terrain with downhill features and a cross-country element. Competitors access the various stages via chairlifts and untimed cross-country transitions.
The event kicks off Saturday morning and continues on Sunday.