Eight days of racing in Colorado is hard on equipment. Once upon a time, I had a reputation for destroying bikes and equipment faster than I could earn money to buy it. Luckily those days are over, but I do occasionally relapse into smasher mode. Having a supportive shop and mechanic makes it a lot easier though, and I’ve found (duh!) that the better looked-after my bike is before a weekend, the better it comes out the other side. I’ve been diligent about taking my bike to Wes at Boulder Cycle Sport before every event, and happy to know he’s run through everything and I don’t have to ask any questions.
During Breck I used the neutral service to get some minor gear adjustments done, and was sorely disappointed. I understand that neutral service is a hard place to work, but the mechanic managed to make my shifting vastly worse than it was before, getting both cable tension and limit screws wrong. It reinforced what a luxury it is to have a reliable mechanic that makes things work 100% of the time, without failure.
Bike: Scott Spark 900 RC SL. For the final days of Breck, we started in groups of 10. Lining up with the nine fastest guys in the race was eye-opening in realising how much Scott is dominating XC racing at the moment. Of the top 10, Geoff Kabush, Todd Wells, Kyle Trudeau, Fernando Riveros, Henry Nadall, and I were all on the new Spark. That’s 7/10 riders on the same bike.
Suspension: 160 psi rear shock, 85 psi front suspension. These numbers have crept up over the season. I’ve found the bike is more responsive with a more pressure, and I was running too little pressure at the beginning of the year. Because the twinlock system is easy to use, I think I rely on it too much. The bike rides better by leaving it in the middle “traction” mode most of the time, and only adjusting for road climbs or big descents. Live and learn.
Drivetrain: SRAM Eagle. Reliable and (mostly) flawless. 34 tooth chainring. I’ve run a 36t most of the season, but the racing in Colorado doesn’t contain anything that would allow you to spin out. I kept a 32t ring with me all week in Breckenridge, and could have used it for a few stages, but the hassle of swapping it out always seemed too much! The rear shifting on the Eagle is sensitive to sticky cables, and I’ve had to replace them regularly to keep it smooth.
Tires: Maxxis IKON EXO 2.2. Solid choice all season. I run EXO casing, which adds roughly 120g per tire over the lighter version. BUT, as mentioned above, I’m not always a smooth rider, and I don’t think I’d get far on a lighter tire. The majority of the field is on the thicker casing tires in races like this anyway. Pressure: 24psi front and rear. It’s a middle ground between traction and protection. While the steep climbs would have been nicer at 21 psi, I didn’t want to risk pinch flatting on rougher descents. I had one flat during the week: a slice through the centre of the tread, likely from a nail or sharp rock. Nothing I could have done to avoid that. I used a Genuine Innovations tire plug to fix the hole, and then aired it up again. The tire had lost a lot of pressure during the fix, but the Stan’s sealed around the plug and I reinflated it with CO2. It held all day after that. I replaced the tire at the end of the day, but the fix is good enough that I’ll use that same tire for training through the winter.
Dropper post: I put a dropper post on my bike for the World Cups this year, and decided to keep it on afterwards. I didn’t see a reason to take it off now, and I’ll be running dropper posts full-time from now on. After racing these 8 days, I’ve come to see how they work for XC racing. You don’t use them very much, and most of the time it’s faster to descend without putting the seat down. I think this is why there is still hesitation from the racer crowd. I used it briefly at the Stinger, through the Little Moab rock garden. At Breck, I used it every day on the longer descents, and it gave me a chance to recover during the downhills. There were a couple of descents that I was so happy to have the dropper – Miner’s Creek and Georgia Pass in particular – because they’re iconic trails that must experienced at their best.
Powermeter: The Stages has been reliable for three seasons now. No rebuilds and no breakages. I’ve swapped it regularly between two bikes all season, and it calibrates and reads well each time. It’s actually the oldest component on my bike, and I expect it to last a good while longer yet.
Food: I ate only Honey Stinger products through the week. Eating gels for eight-days in a row is a terrible, terrible thing to do to your body. The thought of squeezing the first one down every morning was agony. If I was going to eat processed sugar, I wanted to make sure it was as minimally processed as possible. The honey in Honey Stinger stuff agrees with me better than the corn syrup in other products, and I don’t get the burning gut sensation either. I ate roughly two gels (100cal) , a packet of chews (160cal), and one waffle (150cal) a day for eight days in a row! Yuk! That makes 500 calories of food each day, on stages where I was burning 700-800 calories (2000-3000 kjs per day).
Drink: There’s no way to avoid that water is the best hydration. Particularly during stage races, your digestive system is hugely taxed, and you need a lot of water to keep it burning through the calories. Eating an early breakfast at 5:30am every day means you end up going through a bottle of water in the first hour simply to keep your stomach happy. Most days I transitioned from water at the beginning of the stage to a bottle of Carborocket or two towards the end. The instant delivery of liquid calories tended to help after a few hours of racing. Each bottle of Carborocket had one scoop, roughly 100 calories.
Gear: I’m not very good at the neat “gear pile” photos that people put up on social. Above is my best attempt. I packed almost everything I own for this racing block, but I didn’t use most of it. I was glad to have the Topeak booster pump, because it took the stress away from changing tires. It’s so easy to seat a tubeless tire with this thing. I used my hydration pack on one day, and it helped to have a handsfree water supply for some of the extended singletrack.
Clothing: the Aid Bag system that Breck Epic uses is unparallelled in mountain biking. So flawless and professionally executed. I kept a GORE Shakedry jacket in each one. It’s a sub 100 gram fully GORE-TEX jacket that actually SHAKES DRY! It’s amazing. I was actually hoping for some rain so I could use it, but alas it stayed dry all week, and my carefully packed aid bags weren’t used. Next year!