Bryan Dillon isn’t afraid of the big, bad Breck Epic | SummitDaily.com

Bryan Dillon isn’t afraid of the big, bad Breck Epic

Interviewed by Phil Lindeman
plindeman@summitdaily.com

For a kid who grew up in Jackson, Wyoming, Bryan Dillon has an unusual soft spot for Breckenridge.

See, his hometown doesn't host a race like the Breck Epic — a mountain bike stage race from Aug. 14-19 covering 240 miles and 40,000 vertical feat — and that right there gives Colorado the upper hand, at least for six grueling days in the middle of August. At 28 years old, the new Topeak-Ergon team cyclist is no stranger to endurance rides in these parts, but rather than only race in the admittedly dry and dusty (and hectic) Leadville 100 today, he set his sights early on racing that, and then coming north for the Breck Epic.

"Leadvile is a lot of road, but Leadville is cool because it's Leadville," Dillon told me about a week before the Breck Epic's first loop on Sunday. "The course isn't that amazing, the route isn't incredible, but the field is so competitive and there are so many spectators."

And then he said something like, "Don't get me in trouble." So, in short, the Leadville 100 is the Olympics of endurance mountain biking — it's big, it's loud, it's great competition — and the Breck Epic is the Underground Olympics, if there were such a thing. It's just as big and just as bad, but there's a ton more actual mountain biking, and the scene isn't nearly as a loud.

That's just fine with a pro like Dillon. When he takes off from the start line for Loop One — a 35-mile ride through the Pennsylvania Gulch area with a mellow 6,000 feet of vertical gain — he'll be joined by about 350 fellow riders split between the three-day race (his forte this year) and the full six-day race. Spectators are welcome, but like most of the Breck Epic, once the riders get away from the start they're deep, deep in the woods.

"For a lot of us, this is our form of journaling," Dillon said. "We love to get out and ride by ourselves. Sometimes you have to think and that's a good time to do it… It sounds hippie dippy, but it's what I do."

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This year, Dillon is the lone Topeak-Ergon rider at the Breck Epic. His teammate, 2015 three-day winner Alban Lakata, is only riding the Leadville 100.

But, again, that's just fine with Dillon. I caught up with the Jackson-turned-Gunnison local to talk about the ties between Nordic skiing and mountain biking, his favorite loop on the Breck Epic and why this is the best way to end the summer before his first year as a high school art teacher.

Summit Daily News: You grew up as a Nordic skier. How did that prepare you for life as a pro mountain biker?

Bryan Dillon: They're both endurance sports and all of those sports relate to each other: they work your heart, they work your lungs. The muscle groups are a bit different, but the connection between a long, sustained effort is similar. Nordic gave me a good endurance background.

SDN: Have you always been drawn to these long, Breck Epic-style races then?

BD: Yeah, I have. I went to cross-country Nationals when it was at Sol Vista (in 2010), over by Granby, and it just didn't go as well. I've always been drawn to the 40, 50, 100-mile races. I'd love to do more stage races, but they can be so far away. Part of me also doesn't enjoy getting off the bike after an hour and a half of killing myself. I'd rather be out there for eight hours killing myself. For some reason that's more enjoyable.

SDN: What do you like about killing yourself at the Breck Epic?

BD: It's a combination of things. The trails in Breckenridge are amazing, and then the stage racing aspect is fun, challenging and it's something I don't get to do a lot of. You combine those two things — you get to ride so much trail — and that's great. It might be nice to get that instead on a tour, when you aren't riding so hard, but the faster you go, the more trails you see.

SDN: This is your third time racing at the Breck Epic. What was going through your mind that first year?

BD: When I went into it that first year I didn't now what to expect, and, in a way, that's good. It made me enjoy the experience more than the results. It worked out great and now I'm back. I just knew it was going to be fun because I know the trails in Breckenridge are awesome. I really didn't now I was going to do it until two months before it was going to happen, so I didn't train specifically for that race. I just went into it. I also did Leadville before then, just like I'm doing this year, so when you do a 100-miler and then a six-day stage race, you just don't know how you'll perform.

SDN: Are you doing the six-day again this year, just like before?

BD: This year I'll be doing the three-day race at the Breck Epic. I'm putting a bigger emphasis on Leadville just because of scheduling — my brother is getting married that final Friday of the Breck Epic. Sometimes, life gets in the way of things. But, those first three days are my favorite three days. I'm looking forward to it.

SDN: Of those first three, which day are you looking forward to the most?

BD: The second one, the Colorado Trail day. I think you get Little French that day, and then it takes you on all of the Colorado Trail and that's one of my favorite pieces of singletrack in the area.

The third day is also pretty epic, for lack of a better word. You go around Mount Guyot and you really feel out there, and I like that feeling. It's one of the things I love about mountain biking: you get to see so much.

SDN: What sections do you hate?

BD: Wheeler, no matter what (for Stage 5). That's an adventure too, just because you're way up there, but for some reason, with it coming as the fifth day, it is so tough. When you're tired and already beat up it can just be a rough one. I did the Breck 100 this year for the first time and that's how it starts. The terrain is so rough, and that's the great thing about Breck: you get above tree line fast and terrain above tree line is rocky, rough, nasty. It's easier to walk than to bike sometimes, which you end up doing because you have no choice.

SDN: How does Leadville 100 compare to Breck Epic?

BD: Well, without getting myself into trouble, Breck Epic is a lot of riding trail. That's cool — you get to experience something for six days in a row that's just fun. Leadville is a lot of road, but Leadville is cool because it's Leadville. The course isn't that amazing, the route isn't incredible, but the field is so competitive and there are so many spectators. When you're mountain biking here, you might get to the top of Wheeler and see three people with a photographer. I'm used to being out on my bike, alone, with my thoughts, but at Leadville you have the feeling of a big, big event. Sometimes you don't see someone for an hour and a half in races, and you forget you're competing.

SDN: What are your goals for the Breck Epic?

BD: I'm not sure who will be there competition wise, but I'd love to get top three. It's just a good way to end the summer. I'm a teacher during the year, so this is my last hurrah before I get back to real life. It's just the coolest way to end my summer season: to get out and do something sweet for three or six days.

2016 Breck Epic stages

Stage 1: Pennsylvania Creek (Ice rink start/Carter Park finish) — 35 miles, 6,000 vertical feet

Stage 2: Colorado Trail (Lower Washington start/B&B Lot finish) – 43 miles, 7,200 vertical feet

Stage 3: Mount Guyot (Lower Washington start/B&B Lot finish) – 41 miles, 8,100 vertical feet

Stage 4: Aqueduct (Lower Washington start/B&B Lot finish) – 44 miles, 6,300 vertical feet

Stage 5: Wheeler Pass (Beaver Run Resort parking lot start/Peaks trailhead finish) – 32 miles, 4,900 vertical feet

Stage 6: Gold Dust (Ice rink start/Ice rink finish) 28 miles, 4,800 vertical feet

Stage 7: Traditional after-party at the Gold Pan Saloon on Main Street in Breckenridge, held after the Stage 6 finish on Friday, Aug. 19