Huck and Morton take Stage 1 wins

The former and reigning pro champions lay down the hammer on Pennsylvania Creek

By Shauna Farnell

RIDER: Lachlan Morton (EFPro Cycling) crossing Little French Flume during stage 1 of the 2023 Breck Epic
IMAGE: Devon Balet

Before Sunday’s start of the 2023 Breck Epic, the last and only previous time Erin Huck had done the race was back in 2017, when she won the thing. That was before she became an Olympian or a mother. Now both of those as well as 42 years old, the Colorado native who rides for SCOTT-Orange Seal-Shimano, launched into Sunday’s Stage 1 of the 2023 Epic with obvious champion stripes, taking the lead among a stacked field of pro women. Huck conquered the Pennsylvania Creek course, which climbs nearly 6,000 vertical feet over about 36 miles, in 3 hours and 19.35 minutes.

“I think I had some pre-race nerves. I knew it was better to be a little conservative on the downhill. You can end your day pretty quickly. You want to take it day by day,” said Huck, who also won the Firecracker 50 race in Breckenridge this summer, all while juggling parental duties for her 17-month-old son, Brennen. “It will be harder for us to recover now that we’re taking care of a baby after racing. It’s not like we can go take an ice bath and put our feet up.”

Huck edged her closest competitor, 33-year-old Kaysee Armstrong of Team Juliana, by about 3 minutes in Stage 1. Starting the race with zero acclimatization after traveling from her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., Armstrong has been hitting the stage racing circuit hard over the last several months, but hadn’t competed in the Epic since 2016, before going pro.

Pictured: Erin Huck powering to a solo win on stage 1
Image: Eddie Clarke Media

“I’ve always loved stage races, but it’s harder here because of the altitude. It’s such a factor. You’re constantly wavering between feeling good, feeling bad, feeling good, feeling bad. I can’t go as hard. Eating and drinking is hard. Everything is hard at this altitude. Yeah, oh my God, I suffer. But I love it. I love making myself suffer. There’s joy in that, weirdly, on a mountain bike,” Armstrong said, adding that the views help cancel out the suffering. “What’s so nice about Breck is that at the top of every climb, you really do have these epic views. Once you get up there, it’s so worth it.”

Evelyn Dong, 2015 Epic champion and also a Team Juliana rider, rounded out the women’s pro podium for Stage 1, finishing about 5 minutes off of Huck’s lead pace.

Van Harte forces Morton to go ‘flat out’ for win

On the men’s side, reigning Breck Epic champion Lachlan Morton, 31, didn’t exactly start fresh, launching into Stage 1 a day after competing in the Leadville 100, where he flatted out early in the race and spent the majority of the day trying to reel in the frontrunners. Then on Saturday night, rather than sleeping in a comfortable bed, he ended up sleeping in the back of a truck outside with his dogs (Toad and Matilda) after realizing that pets weren’t allowed in his Breck rental. Nonetheless, the Australian EF Team rider pulled off a victory Sunday, winning Stage 1 in 2 hours, 46.46 minutes.

However, although he rode alone for most of the race, Morton got sudden a wakeup call when local pro Nolan Van Harte suddenly appeared on his tail during the last leg.

“I saw him maybe in the last 10, 15K. I kind of lost concentration there for a bit, then I saw someone and I’m like, OK, back in it. I took a wrong turn in the last neighborhood, took an extra trail and when I came back, he was right there. He kind of came out of nowhere and was ripping,” Morton said. “I said, OK, I need to go flat out. So yeah, I held him off. Still, he’s got five other chances to beat me.”

Rider: Geoff Kabush (Yeti/Fox)
Image: Devon Balet

Van Harte, who competes for team No Ride Around and took fourth overall in last year’s Epic, was indeed hammering. He was closing in on Morton when, with about 2 miles to go, he clipped his handlebars and crashed hard. He crossed the finish line with tattered shorts and blood oozing from his knee and arm, but still only 43 seconds behind Morton.

“I was feeling really good. I felt like I could have gained on him, then clipped the bars and was like, aw. That’s it,” said the 27-year-old from Frisco. “I still had the power to get out of there. I didn’t even look what happened until I got on the bike. The knee might need stitches, but I’m feeling all right. My goal was to beat last year’s time. I did that and I’m happy. I’ve got five days to make up that time. I’m not too bummed about it. All the rest of the stages are going to be super fun. This is my backyard. I’m looking forward to Wheeler, Georgia Pass, Miner’s Creek. The stages people are not looking forward to, that’s my go-to. I love that stuff in the high alpine.”

Canadian Kona Adventure Team rider Cory Wallace, third overall in the 2022 Epic, came out firing on Sunday, rounding out the men’s podium for the day, almost 4 minutes off Morton’s leading pace.

Pictured: riders dropping into the Blue River Trail
Image: Devon Balet

Highs and lows:

 “It was 10 minutes before race start. We’re at the ice arena. Julie [Rudolph, friend from Hayward], points at my head and I had my baseball cap on, no helmet. I’m like, fuck me. We were parked at Beaver Run. I rode back up, got my helmet. As I’m pulling into the parking lot, with my helmet on, 60 seconds to go until start. That was my warm up. It could be a high or low. It might have been both.” – Paula Waite, Women’s 50-plus from Hayward, Wisc.

 “Last year was our first time racing this and we said, I’m not coming back. Then we got home and signed up. My high today was fueling properly. It’s been a problem. I was organized about what I was going to eat and drink and I actually did it. I felt so much better the whole ride.” – Julie Rudolph, Women’s 50-plus, Hayward, Wisc.

“I’ve never biked at 10,000 feet before. My goal was to go out as slow as possible, don’t get frustrated. Stay at the back, take it easy. Mission accomplished. The highest I felt was what I thought was the last downhill, but what was I guess the second to last downhill. But I maintained the energy. Going out so conservatively, it went OK. No lows.” – Jesse Coenen, Men’s 30-plus, Duluth, Minn.

“I got a flat right away on the first descent. I must have run something over because I put a tube in, I rushed it. That flatted like 200 yards later. Rear. I was bumming tubes off people. Someone hooked me up. But then it was fun after that. No blood. If I can load my own gear up at the end of the day. I haven’t done this sort of thing before.  I’m more of a downhill, enduro guy. I’ve aways wanted to do it. I knew what I was in for, and I’m in for it. The high? They’re just awesome trails. Getting into those descents, are as good as it gets. Beautiful weather. Didn’t get hurt.” – Andy Winohradsky, Men’s 50-plus, Wheatridge, Colo.

“At about the 9-mile mark, I’m like, man my legs are dead. I got off and walked, then it came back after a break. From about 15 miles on, it was really good. It’s my first time doing this one. What made me sign up? That’s a good question.” – Edward Fryatt, 3-day Men’s 50-plus, Las Vegas, NV

“This is No. 12 for me.  I’ve come every year since 2011. They’ve all been amazing journeys. I did it solo in 2011, then Timari joined me. We met doing solo 24-hour racing. When you do it solo, there’s different learning and dynamics. When you have a partner, it’s not all about you. It’s about what you can do together. If one of us has a bad day, it’s being humble, sacrificing. It’s not about you and your performance. We work together. We’ve had a lot of the same life things happen. Our moms both passed right before Breck in past years. When I do this, I feel like I connect with everyone who has crossed over. My mom loved wildflowers. She loved the daisies and fireweed. When I see them, I think of her. There were no lows today. The high was I could see Timari doing so well. She was climbing better than I’ve ever seen her climb. What a great thing.” – Laureen Coffelt, Women’s Duo, Memphis, Tenn.

“It’s nice to get through day 1 and not feel like poo. Normally she’s dragging me along.” – Timari Pruis, Women’s Duo, Tahoe, Calif.

L to R: Armstrong, Huck, Dong
Image: Devon Balet

L to R: VanHarte, Morton, Wallace
Image: Devon Balet