Sorry Ironman, Breck Epic will stay ‘true,’ founder says

Riders compete in the Breck Epic, a small but popular multi-day mountain biking race through Breckenridge’s backcountry. Mike McCormack, founder of the race, said Tuesday he has decided to end talks with Ironman about selling the race.
Special to the Daily / Eddie Clark via Breck Epic

The founder of the Breck Epic mountain bike race has passed up on a “giant sack of money” in favor of “preserving the experience” he helped create with so much of his “sweat and profanity.”

The sack of money, “which was really, really super huge,” said Mike McCormack, wasn’t enough to outweigh being “true to who we are and how we built things.” McCormack informed Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday that he’s ended all talks of selling the popular, locally grown multi-day race across Breckenridge’s backcountry trails to Ironman.

The organizer of triathlons worldwide was seeking to turn Breck Epic into “the premier mountain bike event in North America,” and a qualifier for its annual South African Absa Cape Epic, described as “the Tour de France of mountain biking.”

McCormack said he’s noticed a massive increase in congestion across Breckenridge over recent years, explaining his decision. Conservation is important to him and he doesn’t think the course can handle as many riders as Ironman might put on it.

For McCormack, telling Ironman thanks, but no thanks came down to following his “moral North Star.”

“It’s important to do the right thing, and I think that the right thing is to just take a pass right now,” he concluded after thanking the council for entertaining the discussions. The town would potentially pay $350,000 or more annually to cover broadcasting and operational costs.

It doesn’t often happen in council chambers, but a packed audience applauded McCormack after his remarks and Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron rose to his feet as he clapped loudly with the gallery.

Before the bombshell announcement, McCormack said a heated discussion about conservation is taking place across the U.S. right now and Breckenridge has been at the forefront of that debate for at least a decade. He’s also proud to have played a role in these efforts, saying Wednesday over the phone that some things are more important than money, like one’s legacy.

“You are seeing a local discussion that’s very, very representative of the national discussion,” he said. “People are concerned about loving things to death.”

Up to this point, race oganizers have played “small ball” with the Breck Epic and limited the field of contestants. What grew out of that approach, McCormack said, is a well-known, much loved race that’s “soulful, resonant and impactful on a global scale.”

As proof, he points to the participation numbers, showing 2 percent of Breck Epic racers last year were local, 26 percent came from Colorado, 34 percent lived out of state and 38 percent were international.

“We’re great at what we provide to these people, and the mountain bike community, globally and nationally, responds to that,” he said. “The Ironman people have been fantastic to us, and their vision is — from one lens — amazing; they’ll do what they say.”

For some people, that was the fear.

In 2009, the Breck Epic was originally proposed as a “small race” taking large loops on Breckenridge’s trails with approximately 250 riders completing the daily courses in over four or five hours. A summary of a Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission meeting in the spring of 2009 describes the Breck Epic as a small event that “can make a big splash in terms of public relations and recognition.”

Ironman’s interest in purchasing the local race less than 10 years after it started shows how just successful Breck Epic has been since the first riders set out, even though that initial race actually only fielded 109 riders.

Events like this impact the trails and in McCormack’s mind a big part of the success of the Breck Epic so far has been organizers’ efforts to keep the numbers down while ensuring competitors know the rules, respect the backcountry and “ride like locals.”

In contrast, Ironman was targeting 500 total riders the first year of its takeover. Those numbers were to swell to 800 by the third year before capping out at 1,000-1,500 riders in subsequent years. Currently, Breck Epic sees about 500 riders annually, McCormack said.

In cutting off talks with Ironman about buying his race, McCormack told council he was taking “an enormous leap of faith” and would return before the elected officials in the coming weeks to make a case for better supporting the event. He also said there could be opportunities to start broadcasting it, too.

“As it turns out,” McCormack said, “I’ve had a lot of friends call me the last week from Red Bull TV, Outside Magazine and Outside Online saying, ‘We’re interested in selling a smaller message; that’s great.’”

Summit Daily sports editor Antonio Olivero contributed to this report.

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