Breck Epic mountain bike stage race kicks off Sunday as Ironman partnership takes shape
BRECKENRIDGE — Just two weeks ago, it was uncertain whether the Breck Epic mountain bike stage race would be able to reach its typical Rocky Mountain heights because of lingering snowpack and avalanche debris in and around Summit County. But thanks to a multiweek effort by a dozen volunteers, including members of the U.S. Forest Service, the six-day race will follow much the same menacing-yet-marvelous 211 miles of trails in its 11th year.
Breck Epic founder and race director Mike McCormack said the volunteer effort ahead of the race helped to clear out portions of trail that probably wouldn’t be open otherwise, namely terrain near Wheeler Pass in the Tenmile Range and on both sides of French Pass near Mount Guyot.
“Those slides wouldn’t have been cleared for a long time,” McCormack said. “So that’s cool. It’s one of the ways the race positively impacts things.”
For the first time, the race will be sanctioned by cycling’s international governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale. That means elite-level riders have the chance to take home a $30,000 championship purse and earn valuable series points.
Also new this year will be the presence of a contingent from the World Triathlon Corp., more commonly known as Ironman. After Ironman tried to purchase the Breck Epic last year, a move McCormack decided against after feedback from the Breckenridge community, the two entities are working together. But this time, McCormack said Ironman’s interest is in partnering, letting McCormack operate the event and helping where they can.
Though an official partnership with Ironman has yet to be agreed to, McCormack said the process has progressed to the point where McCormack will likely award a Breck Epic uniform — a race T-shirt and a trucker hat — to Ironman representatives this week. He said Ironman reps will be participants, volunteers and observers this year, while they likely will be involved as stakeholders next year.
The race will remain owned by The Greenspeed Project, McCormack’s corporation that oversees the race, as well as the Epic Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit established earlier this year to benefit and focus on the race’s stewardship, volunteerism and backcountry education.
“We are moving meaningfully forward,” McCormack said. “They are going to have a full team here. Their executive management team will be here, all of their regional race directors — they are coming to look and take notes to wrap their arms around it. So that shows huge commitment. …
“We are pretty far down the road that they are going to be involved moving forward. They are really respecting the need to produce the race in a way that’s in harmony with Summit County and our needs and concerns.”
McCormack said Ironman’s interest in the Breck Epic still centers around bringing the race into its new global mountain biking portfolio and having the race serve as a primary North American qualifier for the “Tour de France of mountain biking:” the Cape Epic in South Africa, which Ironman purchased several years ago.
“What they are realizing is that the mountain bike world is very regional,” McCormack said. “What happens in Colorado or the United States is not exactly what happens in South Africa. So they want to come see what a Rocky Mountain event looks like and what’s important to our people. When you produce a race for anything, you need to be authentic, know what your people expect and how to connect with them. I think that’s what they are coming to see. For them, I think we look like we are this weird kid that they don’t quite understand, but they love us.”
As for this year’s race, McCormack said about 600 people from more than 20 countries are registered, though only 425 to 450 mountain bikers will be out on trails racing at one time. Along with the full six-day race, the Epic also offers a pair of three-day races and team races. And after a dip in registered racers last year following a late date change, McCormack said this year’s numbers spiked back to near 2017’s record level.
A Summit County local who has worked closely with McCormack in the local trail-building community for years, town of Breckenridge director of recreation Scott Reid will race in the first three-day portion this week. In his ninth year riding the Epic, Reid said the race provides a living, breathing reminder of how the local community’s trail-building efforts have helped to improve and protect public lands. Reid said many of Breck Epic trails originally came to be thanks to open space and trail work undertaken in the past two decades.
“This community provides a model for others throughout the world how to create an amazing amenity for both the citizens in the area and also the visitors that come,” Reid said. “I’m racing to enjoy the trails and the company because there really is camaraderie on the trails. It’s really cool to talk to these folks who come from all over the world and just enjoy our backyard.”
Race preview by Devon O’Neil, Breck Epic editorial director
When the Breck Epic starts Sunday morning, some of the fastest mountain bikers on earth will be among the field of 450, promising ample intrigue in the men’s and women’s pro divisions.
Can three-time Olympian Geoff Kabush keep up with freshly crowned U.S. national cross-country champion — and top 20 World Cup finisher — Keegan Swenson? How will the pace help or hurt Cory Wallace, who won the 24-hour world title two weeks ago in Brazil? Can U.S. worlds team member Russell Finsterwald break through? Will Nepal’s Ajay Pandit Chhetri translate his five wins at the famed Yak Attack race, which reaches nearly 18,000 feet elevation, into a surprise Epic victory?
On the women’s side, Katerina Nash, another three-time Olympian, will try to improve on her second-place finish at the stacked 2017 Breck Epic. She’ll battle Evelyn Dong, this year’s cross-country runner-up at U.S. nationals, and 2019 U.S. worlds team member Hannah Finchamp.
Sunday, Aug. 11
Stage 1: Pennsylvania Creek
36.4 miles, 5,700-foot elevation gain
8:30 a.m. start, Stephen C. West Ice Arena