The Firecracker 50 cross-country mountain bike race will rumble through the streets of Breckenridge, Colorado, Friday as the nation’s best battle for the U.S. national marathon title. The grueling 50-mile race, known for its 10,800 feet of total elevation gain, kicks off at 11 a.m. sharp with a parade through the heart of the famed ski town.
In its eighth year, the Firecracker has become the centerpiece of Breckenridge’s annual Independence Day celebration. It has also grown into the Rocky Mountain region’s premier endurance mountain bike race. The course’s 25-mile loop through the mountains just east of town embodies the rocky, steep riding found in Colorado’s Summit County.
In 2007 the race debuted as the national championship event for marathon mountain bike racing. USA Cycling had previously awarded the marathon title at the five-day national mountain bike championships. Course restrictions at the Mount Snow, Vermont, venue prohibited a marathon race from being held there in 2007, so USA Cycling chose the Firecracker based on its popularity and organization. This year the race will again award stars-and-stripes jerseys to winners in 10 different categories.
The course opens with a neutral parade lap through downtown, and then sends riders up a lung-busting haul beside an old narrow-gauge railroad track. The loop, which riders tackle twice, includes plenty of rocky, steep descending and tops out at just over 11,000 feet.
In 2007 Coloradans Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe’s) and Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna) escaped with the victories and the stars-and-stripes jerseys. Vanlandingham cruised to a controlling victory ahead of Pua Sawicki, while Henry took the win after race leader Ryan Trebon flatted on the second lap.
Henry is back to defend his title, but he faces stiff competition. Trebon comes in as the favorite — the Kona rider is riding high after three consecutive victories at high-altitude races. Trebon, the
reigning short-track national champ, took dominating wins at the June 7 Teva Mountain Games race in Vail, the June 21 Mountain States Cup in Crested Butte and the June 28 National Mountain Bike Series round in Deer Valley, Utah.
He’ll face a serious challenge from Jeremiah Bishop (Trek-Volkswagen), who was second behind Trebon at Deer Valley and who is looking to boost morale in the wake of his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Olympic team.
A score of Colorado strongmen will also vie for the title, including Leadville 100 champ Dave Wiens (Ergon-Topeak), Ross Schnell and Brian Smith (both Trek-Volkswagen), Cody Peterson (Scott) and road pro Peter Stetina.
Noticeably absent will be regular podium finisher Mike Janelle (www.livelikemike.com), one of the Rocky Mountain region’s all-time best endurance riders, who passed away of sudden heart failure in November.
Vanlandingham will not return to defend the women’s title. The 37-year-old has transitioned into one of the world’s best Xterra triathletes, and will swim, bike and run at a triathlon in New Mexico. In her place Sawicki is the favorite, but will have to topple Colorado strongwomen Jennifer Gersbach (Dale’s Pale Ale) and Gretchen Reeves (Tokyo Joe’s), as well as Rebecca Rusch (Specialized).
Stay tuned to www.velonews.com for news and updates from the race.