Summer doesn’t always mean blue skies and wild flowers when you’re in the Rocky Mountains. Breckenridge is quite high, at about 2900m in the valley. So starting Stage Two today with grey clouds and tempertures that were at 12 degrees and dropping, I was nervous. Looking around, some people were running light, others were rugged up, or had their jersey pockets filled with more clothing. Some Colorado locals swore the clouds would burn off. Others weren’t so sure.
The rain started falling and cold air came in as we set off. We took a road climb out of town before hitting forest roads and some gorgeous loamy singletrack. The rain overnight, and the rain that was now falling did nothing to cause problems with the trail. There was plenty of traction and the racing was sweet.
After a long and rougher descent, we climbed some dirt road to turn sharply onto the Colorado trail. This section was amazing. It had plenty of rocks to keep you alert, and stabbing on the pedals to maintain your speed without clipping the ends of your cranks or pedals. The rain was increasing, and remained steady as we climbed high above the first Aid Station.
It was getting cold. A Garmin check showed about 8 degrees celsius. That would explain the numb hands and forearms, and general chill. We had a long climb up the Colorado Trail, all singletrack, and all pretty demanding. I slowly caught up to Russ Kappius, who is leading the 50+ category, and probably a few lower age groups if he wanted to. The descent was amazing, although it was wet, cold and exposed in parts. I was well and truly schooled by those around me (including Russ) on the descent, and needed to think warm thoughts as hit the valley and the alpine meadow singletrack. It was super fast, close to 40km/h just keeping your tyres on the thin brown line. Unfortunately, a lot of brown water was on top of the then brown line – and it was cold. By now I was suffering. I needed to eat, but numb hands couldn’t get under my vest and into a jersey pocket.
Stopping lost a lot of places, but running out of fuel in the cold was not going to be helpful. Cold hands are pretty useless, and it is almost comical as you study your hands intensely, willing them to do what you’re asking them to do. Undo a zip, please. Dig in my jersey pocket. Force everything out as you have no tactile sense of what it is your grabbing. Is that a gel, a bar, or chain lube?
With some food in the mouth and more energy gels shoved up the legs of my bib shorts, I set about getting up the climb in an effort to regain some of the places lost during my slow motion lunch. What is still amazing is how positive people are in the Breck Epic. The conditions were the same for everyone, but as were the trails. This really was some of the best singletrack that I’ve ever had in a race – possibly better than the Val Mora and the Passo Gallo. And that’s a big call.
This is all in hindsight though. I spent almost all today in survival mode. My teeth were chattering on the start line and I was never warm or comfortable. Hitting the second aid station, and I was again grateful for the amazing event volunteers at the Breck Epic. Your drop bag is held open for you, so you can grab what you need. Two volunteers helped me pull my vest off so I could put my jacket on. They essentially clothed me, as my go-slow hands may as well have been props.
Watts = warmth, and the next road section offered a chance to get some heat into the core. Other riders had the same idea, and there were grimaces aplenty as we rode a short section of bitumen down the valley and then uphill towards the trails. Rooty climbs were like bad practical joke, forcing numb arms to lift the front wheel over them, and pedal smoothly to maintain traction as your rear wheel hit. A combination of double track and singletrack took us towards the finish line – hearing the announcers voice boom up the valley over the PA system was a welcome sign.
I crossed the line just behind Russ – and we shivered our way back to town where our cars were parked. It was a grim scene. A lot of riders needed some serious attention. Thomas Dooley was shoved straight into a hot shower by todays Singlespeed winner Brady Kappius. He was in dire need of help. Cars were running with muddy shivering mountain bikers inside, and anyone you saw needed help. Even getting car keys into doors required assistance from someone in a better situation.
The rain continues to fall, suggesting it’s settled for a while. No doubt the wash up from today (no pun intended) will see some abandons – and some very big gaps on the general classification.