After 2020 cancellation, Firecracker 50 leads Breckenridge July Fourth festivities
Howard Grotts wins 50-plus-mile mountain bike race in 3 hours, 44 minutes
One of Summit County’s summer sporting staples, the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race, returned to its rightful place on the Fourth of July in Breckenridge after missing 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s like seeing a child that moved away and came back after a couple of years,” event director Jeff Westcott said, “because this event is 20 years old — it’s like my kid.”
Westcott credited the 93 local volunteers all along the race course for helping to put the race on in a world-class fashion.
“I think the reason why the race has enjoyed such longevity is because of the volunteers on course,” Westcott said. “For a rider to be able to race 50 miles and be able to count on a hand up and not really on a Camelbak (backpack) is really unique. The energy out there — it’s so well supported.”
Out on the classic two-lap course of Breckenridge’s most revered cross-country mountain biking trails, Howard Grotts, a resident of Missoula, Montana, crossed the Carter Park finish line as champion in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 3 seconds — a pace of 4:28 per mile.
“Altitude racing, it just comes down to how aerobically you are riding,” Grotts said. “There’s definitely a pacing element. If you go too full gas — in the red zone — you’re going to pay for it later. I’m glad I didn’t do that. I paced myself quite well.”
Grotts edged Eddie Anderson of Charlottesville, Virginia, who crossed the finish line in 3:44:42. Trailing Anderson was third-place finisher Payson McElveen, of Durango — a previous winner of the race — with a time of 3:44:51. Alex Howes, of Nederland, finished in fourth place (3:45:51), and Robbie Day, of Salt Lake City, finished in fifth (3:50:33).
“It’s great to be back,” McElveen said. “This is one of my favorite races, period. I won it in 2017 and 2018, and I had high expectations coming back. But also I’m mostly just excited to get back in the groove of racing, period. This year we had definitely the most competitive field so far I’ve been a part of. It made for a really fast race.”
The race played out with Day pushing the pace over the first 25-plus-mile lap, climbing altitude and forcing other riders to keep speed. Grotts then took the lead on the second lap on the race’s climb of Little French Gulch — a steep, strenuous, classic Rocky Mountain climb that was omitted from the most recent Firecracker 50 in 2019 due to too much lingering snow after a big winter.
Photo by John Hanson
McElveen said the return of the event after its cancellation in 2020 was an awesome return to high-alpine riding replete with tacky, loamy trails.
“I haven’t seen folks like Howard for almost two years, and he’s been a friend for a long time,” McElveen said. “This event always has huge turnout. And seeing folks out for the parade — this is really encouraging. This is a positive environment, and it’s good to be a part of. It’s good to be back. You can’t ask for more in terms of Colorado racing.”
David Wiens, of Gunnison — the first-ever winner of the Firecracker two decades ago — said the event has maintained its presence as a Rocky Mountain Independence Day must ever since its debut, at a much smaller scale, at the turn of the century.
“It was a brand new event, and I remember talking to (Westcott) at the time and he wasn’t sure it would work,” said Wiens, who finished in 11th place in the pro-open men’s division Sunday with a time of 4:05:04. “He was like, ‘Hey, we have this idea of racing on the Fourth of July, and we are just going to do it, try, and see if anyone is interested.’ And the rest is history. Like potato chips, you can’t have one; you’ve got to come back. I see a lot of the same faces each year.”
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