This one took a little bit of time to write. Stage racing is a strange animal. The day after the finale of the 2011 Breck Epic, I was sitting at home, doing laundry, tidying away the vast quantity of stuff I needed for a week of racing, and REALLY wishing I was still out there racing. After six stages of near XC effort, of four hours a day of grinding up agonisingly steep climbs and pushing through barriers of tiredness to lift the pace one more time, the only thing on my mind was doing it again, and doing it better. Now its a week after the finish, and I’ve only just overcome the aching, the hunger and a constant desire to sleep. Its strange how the body works like that.
After time to contemplate, I’ve decided that there are so many fantastic things about stage racing, and very few of them have anything to do with riding bikes.
The Breck Epic billed itself, before the start, as one of those great experiences: perhaps because I’ve spent so much time in Breckenridge previously, and ridden a lot of the trails we were racing on, it didn’t feel so much like a new experience to me, but a friendly warm atmosphere in which to race bikes. I Arrived on Saturday afternoon to the ‘basecamp’ with Jon and Kathy Davis. It was a perfect set up; a massive RV just metres from the race HQ, fully stocked with food and ready to roll. Kathy treated me like royalty all week – I was fed three meals a day, she appeared at every aid station she could possibly rally her car to, and after all that she washed my bottles and cleaned up after I’d wolfed down the amazing food she’d just made. I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation to let me concentrate on racing.
During the race, I was lucky enough to spend time with friends. This was a huge bonus and made the racing and the downtime much more enjoyable. Blake is a stage racing Master. During the race, and for weeks previously, I followed his lead regarding all things stage racing – advice and cookies were always available. Samuel Morrison, my ever present teammate was also on scene to provide me motivation. The motivation was in the form of some unusual quirk of fate which dictates that we will always finish a race consecutively. I spent the entire week battling such mystic powers, but in the end it was to be: it was fantastic seeing someone else in Epic Endurance kit, and finishing together in 10th and 11th place. Kevin Kane is the Summit county local hero – and together with Michael Kane, they provided invaluable local knowledge for some of the more ‘out there’ stages. Also, Kevin’s fancy yellow shoes provided a lovely target on some of the earlier climbs to chase down.
This was what made the race a true ‘experience’. Every morning at the start line I was greeted by friendly conversation. People happy with life would be smiling; truly enamoured to be lining up for a bike race on a Tuesday morning. Absolutely loving the fact that we have the opportunity to be out there, doing what we really enjoy doing.
The conversation would be jovial, happy, friendly rivalries would be touted. Mistakes from the previous day would be highlighted. The 8:10am start time was synchronised perfectly with the sun rising over Mt. Baldy, the temperature rising 10 degrees as clothes were stripped off and order was brought to the rabbling mass of cyclists. Mike McCormack, self styled in down jacket, cowboy hat and flip flops, would give us the race briefing, the count down would begin, and the police car would roll us through the sleepy town of Breck and into the hills.
So with the ultimate support system around me, a friendly atmosphere, and fantastic trails ready to ride, all I had to do was race.
Couldn’t have been easier – 6 days, close to 250 miles of tough riding and almost 40,000 feet (12,200 metres) of UP to battle. I had no idea what to expect, other than Blake saying that it would start fast, and not get any slower. 15 minutes into stage one confirmed this: after motoring up Boreas Pass road, and slamming headfirst into singletrack, my legs and lungs were both screaming for mercy – the elevation was too much and I was pretty sure I would be cracked by the end of the day. Four hours later, however, after cruising down some sandy switchbacks into Carter Park, I felt like I’d actually ridden sensibly. After the race was a learning curve: I had all afternoon to kill with nothing to do and just me to think about: no work or play needed to happen. I ended up reading about a hundred pages of a book then three or four cycles of falling asleep and eating. This is the true joy of bike riding – endless calories seem to disappear without trace or consequence!
The following days were pretty similar in format: Waking up at 5:45. Eat banana. Eat cereal. Eat eggs and turkey sausage. Drink Espresso. Drink more espresso. drink just a tiny bit more espresso. Cold chamois cream. Lycra up. Head out and face up to the world. RACE. return and eat eat eat.
I didn’t take a single photo all week. It was a weird feeling. All that time to kill, but no desire or need to head out into the pretty mountains.
By the end of the week I’d learned a few things about myself and about racing. Firstly – I’m pretty good at sleeping. Second, small harmless looking cuddly animals can snore REALLY loud. Other more in depth learnings included my ability to recovery, and really relish that sleepy ache in my legs when the neutral start ended and you coerced your legs into going full gas, again, for another four hours. I learnt that after spending all summer sweltering in the dry heat of Boulder, it was a refreshing change to sleep in the mountains and wake up cold and wrap in lots of clothes. I learnt that I certainly need mental stimulation to go along with my physical fatigue: although working out what combination of bottles and food I would need to survive the day was a challenging game of mental arithmetic, I missed my work just a tiny bit, and actually sought out papers to read and data to crunch in the afternoons (who knew…. maybe I really am a scientist after all…)
So, the Breck Epic for me was all about learning. My most important lesson I learnt was about Lady Luck. Getting lost on 3 of 6 days wasn’t the experience I was looking for, but it somehow made me more adamant to succeed. When I was fuming with anger and pedalling all my rage into the trail, something in the back of my head was telling me to count the positives – look at the good things. And so it was on the last stage, I crossed the line grumpy, frustrated and upset to finish the race on a downer. I cruised straight through the party at the finish area and sequestered myself in the RV. Just 5 minutes later, though, Sam turns up with a beer, and a smile, and as I sit there sipping (OK, chugging) my beer, I get happy.
I’ll be back to conquer this one yet….