Wheeler fever: Breck Epic’s penultimate day tackles iconic Wheeler Pass
Some rode, some walked. But no matter how excruciating the climb up to Wheeler Pass was, more than 300 mountain bikers tackled the Breck Epic’s Queen Stage on Thursday.
For the past decade, Stage 5 of the Breck Epic has been celebrated as one of the event’s highlights. Complete with 4,900 feet of technical elevation gain over 32 miles, Wheeler has proven to make or break many a competitor in past years.
Men’s Pro leader and three-time Breck Epic champion Jeremiah Bishop entered the day with an 11 minute and 56 second lead over Jamey Driscoll. By the end of it, Bishop extended his lead to 16:27, despite the fact that Wheeler was the first stage where he didn’t finish in the top two.
Bishop raced out to a sizable lead over the rest of the 18 men in the pro division via first-place finishes on Stages 1, 2 and 3 on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, he finished three seconds behind Stage 4 Men’s Pro winner Levi Kurlander.
On Thursday, Kurlander continued his late surge in the Men’s Pro standings, winning his second-consecutive stage, this time besting Bishop by 14 seconds. Entering Friday’s sixth and final day, Kurlander was still more than 18 minutes behind Bishop, though he put himself within striking distance of Driscoll in second place, just 106 seconds behind.
With Amy Beisel out of the Women’s Pro race due to a broken collarbone suffered earlier this week, Carla Williams continued her dominance. She won the Wheeler stage with a time more than six minutes faster than her nearest competitor, pushing her overall lead to more than 42 minutes entering Friday.
The competitive six-man Solo 19+ Category 2/3 division saw the biggest shakeup on Thursday. Entering the Wheeler stage, Felipe Morillo of Ecuador held a 26-plus minute lead over Patrick Ryan. But with a DNF at the Wheeler stage on Thursday, Morillo is out of the divisional competition. Ryan took over the lead by posting the division’s fastest Wheeler time of 03:32:28, more than an hour faster than anyone else in the division. Ryan entered Friday’s final stage nearly three hours ahead of anyone else in the division.
The Solo Men 30+ Category 2/3 also saw a shakeup on Thursday, though it was without a DNF. Entering Wheeler, Ben Hey held a 17-second lead over John Koudelcka and a four-plus-minute lead over Andy Lueck. By the end of Wheeler, Lueck catapulted up to first place in the division thanks to his blazing time of 03:33:56 on Thursday, more than seven minutes faster than any of the 21 other divisional riders. Entering Friday, Lueck’s overall time was more than five minutes ahead of Hey.
Of all the divisional concluding stages on Friday, the most exciting setup may have been for the Duo Men 80+ Pro 1/2/3 division. With a divisional first-place time on Thursday of 03:36:24, the tandem of Takei-Kunii went from third-place overall and 14:27 back of first place after four stages to first-place overall after five stages. Entering Friday’s sixth and final stage, riding for Mile Post Tokyo, Takei-Kunii held a 7:31 lead over Vulgamott-Graves.On Friday, the full six-day and second batch of three-day multi-stage races concluded with the 30-mile, 4,800-foot gain “Gold Dust” course. Official results were too late for the Summit Daily’s print deadline. Check back Saturday online and in Sunday’s print edition for full Stage 6 and overall results.[swift-recs]
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