BRECK EPIC 2023 – RACE PREVIEW
THE COURSE ALWAYS WINS
The results sheet will show categories, names, rankings, and times. You’ll be able to tell who crossed the line first over the course of Breck Epic’s six stages. Each day of mountain bike racing might even have a different victor. However, what you won’t see on the results is the intangible, fearsome, and undefeated competitor that has shown up for every Breck Epic since its inception in 2009: The exceptionally challenging race course.
“I love the idea behind it, but it’s always pretty intimidating. I have a bit of nervous anticipation for sure,” says Geoff Kabush (Yeti Cycles-Maxxis), who was third overall in 2017. “The elevation at Breck is intimidating and a challenge. It’s one of those big, epic rides, and that’s what I’m attracted to these days. It’s kind of type-two fun.”
On Sunday, August 13, about 400 mountain bikers will line up to challenge this beast of a course that covers roughly 220 miles with 40,000 feet of climbing at high altitude. A number of top pro riders will be on the start in Breckenridge, vying for glory. We’ll cover that. But in talking to some of the favorites, it’s plain to see that their stiffest competition will be the same as it has always been: The rough trails, endless climbs, and altitudes better suited for small aircraft.
Riders to Watch
Overall winner Lachlan Morton (Rapha) returns this year to defend his title. No feat of superhuman cycling endurance seems beyond Morton’s capabilities, as he’s ridden the entire Tour de France route solo, won bikepacking races, and of course was a top climber in the road WorldTour for several years.
“I don’t know what Lachlan has been up to lately, but the guy lives at altitude,” says Kabush. “Never count out Wally [Cory Wallace] either. He’s always a diesel and has some experience up at high altitude, in Nepal.”
Along those lines, Olympian Erin Huck (Scott) is one of the favorites in the women’s race, given her knack for climbing fast in thin air.
“Erin’s always hard to beat,” says Evelyn Dong (Juliana), who won Breck Epic in 2015 and also finished on the overall podium in two other editions. “Especially at altitude, and with that much climbing, she’s probably the favorite. She’s incredible at climbing at altitude.”
Huck is just as quick to call out Dong as a top favorite too: “Evelyn is an all-rounder. She did BC Bike Race, so she already has one epic stage race under her belt. She’s also probably more fearless than I am on the downhills. Hopefully I can keep up with her; she’s fun to be around, and also I would be going fast!”
Sonya Looney (Moxy & Grit), a 4x Epic vet who took home the Pro Women’s champion jersey in 2011, finished second in 2022 and will return to the event this year, will be one to watch given her extensive experience with endurance mountain bike racing. Looney is also heading up
Let’s Talk About Getting High
Without fail, top riders and rank amateurs alike are wary of Breck Epic’s high-altitude terrain. Every stage starts above 9,600 feet, and on several days, riders will climb past 12,000 feet above sea level. There simply isn’t enough oxygen — not enough to ride hard, not enough to recover … sometimes not enough to eat or drink.
“There are very few events this high altitude,” says Kabush. “If you go to your limit in the first 10 minutes, it’s going to be a long day; I’ve been there. You want to stay within yourself”
Breck Epic is also subject to violent storms in the high mountains, which Kabush remembers from past editions. “Definitely be prepared — take the warning seriously about taking a jacket. We’re going up into the high alpine. Make sure you have a good jacket and gear to get home safely,” he adds.
High altitude. Climbing. Those are the constants over all six days of racing. Although most top riders admit that they ride day by day, depending on how good they are feeling, there are particular stages they look forward to, even if they aren’t exactly attacking to win on those days.
“I always have a good time on Wheeler, no matter if I’m having a good Breck or a bad Breck, and that’s something that always brings me back,” says Dong, referring to stage 5.
The fifth stage is centered around Wheeler Pass, the highest point of the race at 12,522. Although the stage is relatively short at 24.5 miles, the climb starts immediately, and it is exceptionally steep — few if any can ride it all. Plus, the descent off the top is likely the most rugged trail of the entire week. With the cumulative fatigue of the first four stages, Wheeler is unforgiving.
“In the early years, I think that was one of the hardest descents I’d ever done, the Wheeler stage,” says Kabush. “I was attacking over the top and dropping into that 20-minute baby-head descent on a full XC bike, yelling at my arms to hold on.”
Stage 3, which circumnavigates Mount Guyot is also popular, so much so that it’s considered Epic’s ‘queen stage’. At 40.5 miles, it’s much longer than Wheeler, but it too tops out above 12,000 feet and features rugged downhills.
“That descent off the backside of Mount Guyot, after you get the Skittles at the top is super fun,” says Dong. “That descent really sticks out in my memory.”
The Gravitation Pull of Suffering
To the person, almost everyone mentions a strange sort of amnesia that takes hold of them, wiping away memories of the suffering, and compelling them to return to Breck Epic for another week on the trails. Maybe this phenomenon is related to Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe they just remember how good it was to reach the last finish line or see the epic Rocky Mountain vistas.
“I remember there was a lot of camaraderie,” says Huck. “You’re suffering with people, and it’s not necessarily you versus them. It’s you versus your own challenge of the day. It was a lot of fun.”
That gets back to the original premise, that the race itself is the main character in this week of mountain bike competition. And it can have a pretty strong affect on some people.
“Sometimes there’s a bit of hypothermia, other times there are a lot of tears,” says Dong. “I’m not a super emotional person, but I cry at Breck Epic without fail, and I don’t cry at any other races. I’ll cry on the start, I’ll cry on the bike, I’ll cry after. I’m pretty much a mess the whole week.”
Stay tuned, race fans. Daily updates coming from Spencer, Shauna Farnell and our crack photo team of Devon Balet, Eddie Clark, Jace Stout and Dave Clifford.
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