Editor’s Note: Colby Pearce, best known for his track racing, also like to race mountain bikes. On the track, Pearce was a 2004 Olympian, Pan Am Games bronze medalist (2003), 14 time national track champion, U.S. hour record holder, 11-time track world cup medalist and the U.S. National Track Team coach from 2005 to 2007. Pearce will be blogging from the Breck Epic this week.
I predicted yesterday there would be stories to tell, and indeed there are. We crossed the Continental Divide twice, once on a barely recognizable goat path, which was followed by a snow field. We also had to ride down Little French, which we went up on the first day, and had to walk in several locations. Going downhill proved to be even more challenging.
The day started off interestingly enough when there was an on-the-fly course adjustment from race director Mike McCormack. We were supposed to start our first climb on a singletrack, but he directed us to stay on the road. In the race bible the trail is called “Bomber” because when the city of Breckenridge kicked a guy out of his home to establish open space there, he booby trapped his cabin and wired it to explode. As we rode past Mike, directing us to not take the trail, I had to wonder if we were at risk of being blown up.
We started the first singletrack led by super climber Ben Aufderheide. This guy has been lighting it up every time the trail goes vertical since the race started. Josh Tostado was in second position, and I was riding third. Gradually, the pressure increased. I was comfortable, but beginning to leave a slight gap to Josh’s wheel. It was only a matter of time until race leader Lico Ramirez passed me. It was a narrow singletrack but he patiently waited until the perfect moment, and when he came by it was as though a great white had just swam past me — silent, effortless and powerful.
We had about another hour of climbing ahead of us, so I was not in a huge hurry to sprint onto his wheel. I settled in and rode my pace. We crested the climb and descended Little French Gulch. This is the section of trail that looks as though it has been used for a dump truck race last week. Huge, four-foot-deep gullies were everywhere that trail used to be. It was like a miniature alpine version of the Grand Canyon.
My Horizon Organic / Panache Development teammate Jorge Espinoza was just ahead of me at the start of the descent. He has been battling Yuki Ikeda (Topeak/ Ergon) for the 3-day Mini-Epic leader’s jersey. Jorge dismounted for one deep hole in the earth, and I rode it. Just as he complemented my skills, over the bars I went, ass over teakettle. When I got up, my bike made a horrible noise when I attempted to ride it; inspection revealed a bent rotor (read: taco shell shaped). Fortunately there was a helpful Shimano mechanic at the first aid station, about 2 miles down the descent. I continued down the trail and waited about a minute while my rotor was bent back into (approximate) straightness. Then I hoped on my bike and started riding, looked down, and realized both bottles had been launched when I dumped it. 180-degree turn, and back to Aid one. I had no bottles there, all mine were at Aid 2 + 3. Fortunately Epic Endurance rider Sam Morrison had an extra, so he gave it to me and I was on my way up French Pass.
I was feeling pretty good in the first part of the stage but after all that drama, the will to throttle myself into oblivion had diminished. I rode at a conservative pace and was soon in the company of The World Famous Tim Johnson and his Cannondale teammate Jos Huseby, who were leading the duo men’s category by a significant margin. Tim was giving me flak for wearing a white kit (a different Panache kit every day for this year’s Epic) and I informed him that there would be no mud today, since I wore white. I was right (see photo for evidence).
About three hours later, after climbing French Pass, negotiating the snow field (I managed to ride it and stay upright), descending for 20 minutes on the Colorado Trail (by the time you reach the bottom, the pain in your arms makes you forget your legs completely), we reached Aid 3. I grabbed some bottles and was resigned to make my way up the final climb of the day, American Gulch, which has a corner about 20 minutes in called “Oh F&*K!” due to the vertical nature of the trail. However when I reached the point in which we normally turn left for this climb, there was no trail marker. So, we went straight. Just about the moment I was thinking “either they changed the course, or we are going the wrooooooooong way” a group of about eight guys riding the opposite direction with pissed off and confused looks on their faces appeared. They had race about five minutes down the road and found no race markers. I commanded the troops to head back to the turn, knowing the route from years past.
We began the climb and sure enough, there was an arrow marking the route. Thinking about the legions of riders behind us still (around 180 cyclists were still on course), I made the decision to flip it and do something. As the arrow we saw after the climb began was not completely necessary, but the one that was missing was, I turned around and relocated it at the proper corner (with a quick madison handoff assist from Tim). There were three category leaders with me at that moment in the race, so it did not seem right to keep racing and let everyone chasing ride off into the distance. Plus, its not like I was winning anything …
Apparently we were the second group to do this extra recon lap. The leaders of the race also missed the turn and all ended up coming together once they deduced the correct route, which required a bit of exploration and negotiation. This was a group of about eight, and included everyone except Josh Tostado, who had flatted twice and was in between our group and the leaders. Being a local, Josh didn’t even notice the missing arrow and went the right way without a second thought. He was extremely confused when he crossed the line and the announcer proclaimed him the stage winner.
I imagine we will have a good old fashioned race meeting tonight and hammer out all the details as far as GC and who the stage winner will be. Some locals have suggested that course sabotage was the culprit. This is the third year I have done this event and I have never even come close to going off course here, so it does not seem to me as though it was organizer oversight.
In the final few miles of the stage, I caught up to Sam, who had raced hard up American Gulch and was now firmly in the grip of extremely low blood sugar. I caught up to him very quickly and asked him if he was bonking, to which he responded not with verbal exchange, but by his inability to negotiate a relatively minor trail obstacle. “How much further?” he asked, to which I responded, “Long enough for you to eat this” as I handed him a gel.
On to the next adventure…