Big Fat Tire: A whole lot of bike mania
Summit County has been in a pretty extraordinary stretch of bike racing. The Breck Epic ran all last week, and, as I write (or type, as the case may be), the Pro Challenge is on its way to a Breckenridge finish, after a finish at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area; Friday will hold a time trial in Breckenridge. Whew! That’s a lot of bike racing. I’ve written a bit about racing, and I‘ll indulge myself in a little more (Hopefully, not too much, I don’t want to get repetitive) if only because it’s been in my and just about everyone else’s face for the last week or so.
First, the Breck Epic. I’ve been involved with the race since its inception to one degree or another. For the first few years, I was in charge of all things course-related marking. For six days, that meant getting the next day’s route marked and removing the current days markers and any litter: In the last few years, the demands of my real job have required more of my attention, and I’ve had to dial back my involvement of the race to a more part-time volunteer status. I don’t think they’ve missed me that much; Mike Mac has a great staff who do a great job.
The Epic draws a wide variety of folks to its start line over six days. This year, there was the usual assortment of elite level pro racers; MTB world marathon champion Alban Lakata did the three-day “Epic curious” version as preparation for the Leadville trail 100 (He’ll be back to do the whole six days for a real mountain bike race), but there are plenty of folks who, while in great shape compared to the population at large, are just out to do the hardest thing they’ve ever done and just finish.
There is everyone from world-class elite athletes to people just hoping to survive. The best thing about all this is they become a big happy family as the race progresses. There are so many stories of sportsmanship and mutual support. Mike Mac does a great job at reminding people what’s important; it’s just a bike race — world peace isn’t in the balance; let’s have fun, appreciate where we are, push ourselves but be nice to everyone we meet out on the trails. For the most part I think that was mission accomplished.
Every year of the race for the last stage, I have loaded my banjo into a backpack and ridden to the top of the first climb to provide poor entertainment. I really suck at the banjo, and, in my hurry to get to my location in time, I forgot my finger picks which meant I had to play a style (claw hammer) that I suck at even more. I play the banjo at bike races in semi-remote spots for the entertainment and support of the racers, plus, since they are moving by quickly, they never get the chance to really listen, and they never know that the person playing is a hack. The Epic has folks who pitch in to do Skittle hand-ups at the top of French Pass, bacon hand-ups at the top of Wheeler and the beer hand up at the top of Boreas to give the racers a novel moment of cheer in their little bubble of suffering. Being the banjo guy is my little contribution that hopefully brings a smile to the racers face — providing they don’t listen too closely.
On Tuesday, I pulled on my tuxedo jersey (meant for special occasions only) and hopped on my road bike and pedaled over Swan Mountain Road and up to A-Basin for the finish of the second stage of the Pro Cycling Challenge. I know this column is supposed to be mostly about mountain biking, but I have long enjoyed road riding and really appreciate the level of athleticism in professional road racing. I think most mountain bikers can benefit from time spent on a road bike from a fitness point of view, and, while the bike-handling skill requirements are different, flying down a mountain road at a high speed that you never see on a mountain bike requires its own set of skills. With these racers, doing all this inches away from each other at speeds about three or four or five notches of what guys like me do takes skill and courage that is much underappreciated by most mountain bikers, and that’s too bad, in my opinion. These guys, even the guys at the back, are badass. There are no citizen racers in the ranks of races like the Pro Challenge.
I hope that Alan (Henceroth, COO) at A-Basin feels good about the rewards the ski area received by hosting the finish. While not a true mountain-top finish like some clamor for, the climb, even with the nice tailwind that I almost never seem to get when I ride up to Loveland, is a real test of who has the best climber’s legs. The party at the top was well-attended and full of familiar faces. I wasn’t down with the folks who were dressed up for the middle of the highway dance party, but they seemed to be have fun in their colorful glory.
A word on the party scene at races; give the riders room, and don’t get in their way! If you want to run next to the riders, do it away from the crowd in a place that has enough room, and don’t wear or carry anything that you can trip on or hit someone (especially a rider) with! Having fun, yelling encouragement, applauding, dancing, laughing, dressing up, having a drink or two (to a point, drunks really aren’t fun, they’re just drunks) is great, but always remember to respect the guys who have been turning themselves inside out — it’s about them a lot more than it’s about you.
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