Category: Mountain

Vintage Leadville video #4: 104 miles on a 35-year-old MTB

With about 30 miles to go in the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, I resorted to the most ancient shifting technique known — with a slight acceleration, I unclipped my right foot, kept spinning the left, and gently tapped my chain into the granny gear on my triple-chainring crankset.

This is the sort of adaptation one makes when riding a bike from 1983 in a grueling 104-mile race up above 12,000 feet among Colorado’s highest peaks.

A few months before the race on August 11, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of sourcing the bike industry’s top-of-the-line products to maximize speed and comfort, I wheeled out my vintage Specialized Stumpjumper — a bike approximately as old as I am, bought on eBay last year. I chose to ride this piece of mountain biking memorabilia to prove that no matter how outdated your gear might be, you can (and should) get out and ride.

It came as no surprise that Leadville was a hard 10 hours on the bike. However, I had way more fun than I expected, and that old bike, well, it was almost trouble-free.

I started this 25th edition of Leadville at the very back of a field of about 1,500 riders, among my fellow first-timers. In practically any other race, this would have been cause for anxiety. I’m naturally a very competitive person. But on that cold Saturday morning, with dawn breaking on the peaks above the highest city in the U.S. (10,152 feet above sea level), it was the perfect place to begin my introduction to this race that founder Ken Chlouber calls a “family.”

It is quite an exceptional family. On the pointy end of the masses, there are pro athletes such as Howard Grotts (Specialized) and Larissa Connors (Felt-Sho-Air), who each won their second consecutive titles. In the back where I started, there are even more inspiring riders, just hoping to finish inside the 12-hour cutoff time to win a coveted belt buckle.

For the first 15 miles, I rode near a man who is legally blind and relies on a guide rider to pilot him through the field. As we rode along the field changed pace erratically. We sometimes even dismounted to hike climbs as the course twisted up the trail on St. Kevins. I couldn’t believe the blind rider’s confidence on this trail, which was strewn with loose rocks. I was also amazed by the pilot rider’s selfish devotion to his blind companion.

He wasn’t the only one devoting a long day in the sun to a Leadville rider. At the course’s five aid stations, hundreds of supporters set up tents to hand off bottles, food, Slim Jims, you name it. And they cheered on practically every rider who came through.

This support has provided me my fondest memories from my race at Leadville. The vibe amongst riders and spectators was positive, from mile 1 to 104. Within the mass of humanity, riders encouraged each other. On the side of the trail, fans, friends, and supporters urged everyone on. At the end of the race, the questions asked are more along the lines of, “How was it?” or “Did you make it under 12 hours?” rather than “What place did you finish?”

Well, I did finish. And it was awesome. As I said at the beginning, riding my vintage bike was almost trouble-free. Thankfully I didn’t suffer any flat tires, which was my chief concern. But when I got back to my hotel after a post-race dinner, I heard a funny rush of air, and sure enough, my front tire had just gone flat, not more than six hours after my finish.

The old bike did have a few issues on the trail. The chain fell off on rough descents. I had to stop and get the headset tightened three times — when I finished, the steering was perilously clunky.

And of course, there was that front-shifting malfunction that made the final climb up Powerline quite an adventure.

Despite all that, it was totally worth it. It was worth the sore back, limp arms, and momentary cross-eyed vision on one descent (can your eyeballs get rattled loose?). It was worthwhile because so many people — in the race and along the course were stoked to see this old bike in action.

I finished in time to get that coveted belt buckle, as did 1,100 other riders. The real reward for me, though, was the experience of riding with this family and brushing up on my old-school shifting techniques.

Watch the rest of the videos in the Vintage Leadville series >>

Thanks to The Leadville Race Series for letting us participate in this year’s race to bring you the most in-depth coverage around the event.

Read the full article at Vintage Leadville video #4: 104 miles on a 35-year-old MTB on

Video: Breck Epic done and Gold Dusted on stage 6

The 10th edition of the Breck Epic mountain bike stage race wrapped up Friday with stage 6. The 30-mile finale took riders over Boreas Pass to the Gold Dust trail — then back over the 11,500-foot pass again to return to the finish in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Katrina Engelsted (Boulder Cycle Sport) won her first stage of the race in the pro women’s category ahead of Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop), who won the overall. It was Williams’s first time at the Breck Epic, an event she has wanted to do for years.

Carla Williams on her way to winning the Breck Epic overall on stage 5. Photo: Eddie Clark

“It was definitely on our bucket list to do this year. the riding’s just been incredible. I’ve had so much fun on the trails,” said Williams.

“I was definitely a little nervous about how the altitude would affect me. The first day was the shortest day with the rain, and my lungs were just burning, I could hardly breathe. The second day, it was hard to find the power I normally have in my legs, but after that, I started feeling a little bit better each day.”

The Virginian is making the most of her trip to Colorado, heading up to Leadville to race the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race Saturday. That played a factor in her pacing on stage 6.

“Today was the only day I took it sort of easy. I’m doing Leadville tomorrow, so I wanted to have a little bit in my legs for tomorrow, so since I did have a gap I settled into a comfortable pace,” Williams said. “Today I did have a bit more fun.”

Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) won stage 6 and wrapped up the overall title in the pro men’s division, happy to have bookended the race with stage wins on the first and final days.

“I just felt healthy, strong, and confident,” Bishop said. “This week was really good front to back — winning the first stage, winning the last stage.

“We had fun. Just goofing around and talking. It was really positive. I’m so stoked to ride with some of these young kids that are coming up through. Nash [Dory], we had a good battle on this last stage, and I was like, ‘Maybe I should give the stage win to him.’ He’s been working so hard and riding so well all week. But then I kind of remembered that you’ve gotta make him work for it! I told him where the last climb was and I figured that was enough of a hint, but I was able to hold him off.”

Jeremiah Bishop won the 10th edition of the Breck Epic. Photo: Devon Balet

Bishop added that he felt his good late-season form was due to some unexpected rest resulting from an injury.

“I think getting injured at Cape Epic in March almost was like a blessing in disguise. Now I just feel really healthy. I’m able to recover well.”

Bishop also won the first edition of Breck Epic in 2009.

“It is nice to be back and win the 10th — I won the first and I won the 10th. A lot has changed since then … I raced with Travis Brown at this one.

“The race has grown up in ways but actually it’s still the same in a lot of ways. It’s still got its character, its class. It’s unapologetically mountain biking. It’s just awesome.”

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

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Breck Epic Basics: Recovery, or how the race is won in bed

Photo: Devon Balet

Editor’s note: The 2018 Breck Epic mountain bike race is underway, running August 5-10, and we sent Spencer Powlison up to Breckenridge, Colorado, to cover the event from a rider’s eye view. In addition to daily updates from the race, this series of “Breck Epic Basics” will offer tips on how to handle the challenges of an event like Breck Epic — or any multi-day cycling trip or event you might plan to do.

There is an old pro cycling chestnut about stage races, and what really makes a difference in the end: “The race is won in bed.”

I couldn’t determine who first said that (or something like it). Perhaps it was Eddy Merckx. No matter who devised this truism, they were right. Racing day after day takes a toll, and if you can find ways to recover well, sleep enough, and stay fresher than the other racers, you’ll have the edge.

So for the six-day mountain bike race that is Breck Epic, it seemed fitting to ask a couple of pros how to handle the toll of a stage race: Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) and Amy Beisel (Orange Seal).

Jeremiah Bishop:

Photo: Eddie Clark

“In the stage race, it’s full-on survival mode. You’re not trying to get in shape. Inflammation is building up, and one way to handle it is ice baths, or put your legs in an ice-cold creek — there are a lot of those in Colorado. I’ll go sit in the ice-cold water until my feet don’t hurt. Also, I might do it before bed. Sleeping is probably one of the worst things to deal with in stage races. Ben King, he can attest to it, having done the Tour de France. Sleep is rough. I’d say it’s partly just because you’re so amped up from the race and you’re thinking about the excitement from the race, the action the crashes, you have this inflammation, your heart rate is elevated. I avoid any narcotic sleep aid and drugs in general, if you need it that’s one thing. The ice baths really help. For some people that have chronic sleep issues, melatonin is pretty good that’s over-the-counter, pretty benign sleep aid that’s what I usually go to for these stage races if I have trouble sleeping.

“Chamois cream is huge. Sunblock is the most important thing to bring … a hat with a brim. Naps daily if you can do it also make a huge difference.

“Another tip for general stage race survival is going with the package deals – massage, mechanic, nutrition. It might seem like it costs more but guess what, if you roll your bike to somebody and go sit in the creek with your buddies, drink a coke and relax, that’s just amazing.”

Amy Beisel:

“I’d done one or two stage races before. I ate dinner but I didn’t think I replenished my calories enough at Breck Epic last year. I think this year I’m going to have a much bigger dinner with more carbohydrates, maybe pasta or rice. And just eat more. I didn’t eat enough after the race. I thought I did but you’re so tired after the race that it’s almost a chore to eat after you’re done riding. I’m gonna really try to focus on having a really big dinner even as hard as it might be.”

Spencer’s take:

Photo Eddie Clark

“Planning out the basic logistics of your meals makes a big difference. The process of finding a restaurant, ordering, waiting, and then waiting for a check isn’t very relaxing for me, especially at a race. Instead, I’m going to do a big grocery run beforehand, and I’m staying in a house with a kitchen. For midday meals, I’ll have lots of supplies to make burritos and sandwiches, and in the evenings, our group of friends will alternate on who cooks dinner.

“I’m also bringing some dorky space legs for recovery. The inflatable recovery leg sleeves aren’t quite as good as a real massage, but they help get the blood flowing a bit. At the very least, pack some compression socks to help with circulation.”

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

Read the full article at Breck Epic Basics: Recovery, or how the race is won in bed on

Video: Breck Epic stage 5 climbs wonderful Wheeler

The penultimate stage of the six-day Breck Epic race is both revered and feared. Wheeler Pass takes riders back into the high Alpine to the highest point of the entire week — 12,536 feet above sea level before they plummet back to the valley on the race’s most difficult descent. Then it’s back to the finish at the base of the ski hill on the undulating Peaks Trail to end short but arduous 24-mile day.

As was the case in stage 4, Levi Kurlander (Orange Seal) won the men’s pro race and Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop) won the women’s race. Youngster Nash Dory (Construction Zone) was second to Kurlander after battling all the way back on the Peaks Trail. Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) finished third and kept his overall lead. Williams is also poised to win the overall race with one day left and a substantial lead over Katrina Englested (Boulder Cycle Sport) and Meghan Sheridan (Bingham Cyclery Peak Fasteners).

But really, the story of Wheeler Pass has to be told visually. To appreciate the huge rocky cirques that dwarf the riders, photography is the most effective medium. Enjoy these shots from Eddie Clark:

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

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Breck Epic Basics: Pacing for a six-day race

Editor’s note: The 2018 Breck Epic mountain bike race is underway, running August 5-10, and we sent Spencer Powlison up to Breckenridge, Colorado, to cover the event from a rider’s eye view. In addition to daily updates from the race, this series of “Breck Epic Basics” will offer tips on how to handle the challenges of an event like Breck Epic — or any multi-day cycling trip or event you might plan to do.

“I always loved stage racing because life becomes very simple in a stage race, you wake up, you eat, you race, you eat, you go to bed. You get this kind of tunnel vision, you’re in your own little cocoon. Of course, you have other stuff going on but that stuff seems to matter less,” says Todd Wells, winner of two editions of the Breck Epic.

Wells makes the six-day, 240-mile mountain bike race sound idyllic. It probably is at times, but for riders who aren’t multi-time national champions like him and who don’t have experience as pro racers, it is a big challenge.

And one of the toughest challenges is trying to find the right pacing for a week of high-altitude mountain bike racing. So, I talked to three-time Breck Epic winner Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) — who happens to run his own coaching company, Bishop Training — Amy Beisel (Orange Seal), and the now-retired Wells about how to make it through the race in one piece.

Jeremiah Bishop:

“Don’t go too much over your threshold. It’s an interesting thing I discovered pacing at altitude. I think it differs depending on how acclimated you are. But one of the things I found is you’re pushed against the O2 limit more than the fitness limit. If you can just steady your power out, you can make up a lot of time. Instead of trying to hang on with the super climbers on the steepest section, just find your rhythm and find your pace.

“Avoiding big single efforts is probably the best advice I can give. Makes a huge difference. Sometimes you have to go with a group at a certain point if you’re trying to race to win. That’s when you’re throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks. That’s a tough way to race. That’s kinda what we have to do at the front.

“Once you pop it’s like damage control and you’re paying for it the next five to eight minutes.”

Amy Beisel
Amy Beisel broke her collarbone in Breck Epic stage 2. Photo: Eddie Clark

Amy Beisel:

“Last year [race director] Mike [McCormack] had brought in a lot of strong talent so there was really no pacing involved as far as it was for me. We went hard from the gun basically every day. I think the first day is going to be really important. The first day I’m gonna do a pretty good warmup to make sure I’m nice and ready to go and just race really hard that first day, see what happens. As far as time goes afterward and depending on what happens, look at that and strategize as far as pacing goes. If it’s going to be a wire-to-wire thing where we’re racing, it’s going to be a little different. I’m planning on going out really hard on that first day and trying to maintain it.

“My warmups will get shorter and shorter for the next five days. You’ll be in survival mode toward the end. Just a 10-minute spin, 10-minute tempo, and go to the line.”

Todd Wells:

“The climbs in Breck are so steep and there’s so many false summits. Not many people know those courses the way you would know a Leadville course unless you live in Breck.

“Every climb is very steep and you’re grinding and you can see a summit and you get there and then there’s another summit.

“The climbs are going to be hard, and what you see as being the top most times is not the top.”

Photo: Linda Guerrette

Spencer’s take:

“The only experience I have with stage racing is last year’s Haute Route Pyrenees, a seven-day road gran fondo. For that, I picked out a few stages that I really wanted to smash and rode more of a steady tempo the other days. That helped me pace myself and still feel pretty good by the end. I’m not so sure if I can use that same strategy in Breck, given the altitude and the fact that you don’t sit in when you’re racing mountain bikes. Above all, my point is that you don’t have to race every day as if it is your last.”

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

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Video: Down to the wire in Breck Epic stage 4

Breck Epic stage 4 may not have reached the dizzying above-treeline altitude of stage 3, but Wednesday’s race served up ample punishment — and a close finish in the pro men’s race.

The race’s 400-odd riders passed the halfway mark of the six-day mountain bike stage race on the 41-mile Aqueduct route to Keystone and back from downtown Breckenridge, Colorado. Along the way, they faced numerous steep fire road climbs as well as a 10-mile long grind out of Keystone.

In the women’s race Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop) won her second stage in a row and maintained her overall lead on Katrina Englested (Boulder Cycle Sport) with two days to go.

On the other hand, a fresh face stood on the top of the stage 4 podium in the pro men’s race, with Levi Kurlander (Orange Seal) winning his first stage of the week ahead of race leader Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak).

Their race began with a frantic chase after the front few riders missed a corner on a fast downhill not more than five miles in.

“We had a 45-minute XC chase back,” said Bishop. “Sometimes the chaos makes it more interesting.”

Kurlander agreed that it was a major effort to bridge back to the front.

“It was the hardest I’d gone all week for the first 45 minutes of the race today,” said Kurlander. “It was full-on XC at 10,000 feet.

In the end, it came down to the youngster from Durango and the three-time former Breck Epic winner Bishop. Kurlander went all out on the final descent to win by three seconds.

“The last section he was going nuts down this downhill,” Bishop said. “He just started sprinting out of every corner.”

“I made the commitment — I was either going to crash or I was going to win,” said Kurlander.

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

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Vintage Leadville video #3: Five best mountain bike innovations

In less than two weeks, I’ll ride into the unknown, early in the morning, more than 10,000 feet above sea level at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. And I’ll do it aboard a bike as old as I am.

I am riding a 1983 Specialized Stumpjumper at the Leadville 100. Why? To prove that you don’t need the latest technology to have fun mountain biking.

But over the last few weeks, I found myself missing some of the modern gear that makes bikes a lot more fun (and comfortable) these days. So, here is my list of the top-five best mountain bike innovations that I’ll wish I had around mile 80 at Leadville.

Read the story behind the bike I’m riding >>

Thanks to The Leadville Race Series for letting us participate in this year’s race to bring you the most in-depth coverage around the event.

Read the full article at Vintage Leadville video #3: Five best mountain bike innovations on

Breck Epic Basics: How to cope with high altitude

Editor’s note: The 2018 Breck Epic mountain bike race is underway, running August 5-10, and we sent Spencer Powlison up to Breckenridge, Colorado, to cover the event from a rider’s eye view. In addition to daily updates from the race, this series of “Breck Epic Basics” will offer tips on how to handle the challenges of an event like Breck Epic — or any multi-day cycling trip or event you might plan to do.

The Colorado mountains cast a cruel spell on mountain bikers. When you think you can pedal faster, your lungs go haywire. When you try to sleep, your heart is pounding.

High altitude affects everyone in different ways, but once you are above 9,000 feet (and Breckenridge is), you have to be a specimen of freakish aerobic abilities to ignore the difference. The Breck Epic mountain bike race is six stages of riding all above 9,000 with some summits reaching past 12,000 feet. This is even hard for people accustomed to racing in thin air. So how do you cope with this invisible challenge?

We talked to three-time Breck Epic winner Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak), Amy Beisel (Orange Seal), and Fernando Riveros (CZ Racing) to hear how they manage racing at altitude.

Jeremiah Bishop:

“Racing at high altitude gets easier the more you do it. I’ve written a training plan for Leadville on Training Peaks; four weeks out, if you have a chance, go to altitude for some training. If you live in Florida, Beech mountain is 5,000 feet — you still get some adaptation. I have a hypoxia trainer I can do some intermediate hypoxic training on. That’s really beneficial just to get the feel of it. You do get some minor adaptation from it.

“There’s a lot of theory on how your brain will protect you from cold, heat, lack of oxygen. A lot of things you get from short-term adaptation is a change in your central governor. If you are pretty used to pushing at high tempo or low threshold, doing a little hypoxic block can help.

“If you can get up there 10 days ahead of time that’s where you’re starting to get some real effects hematologically, but I think it’s even better to get a trip up to altitude a month ahead of time. It kind of hits you differently each time. But having experience of how to pace at altitude is really valuable.

“Usually, I increase the amount of carbs I take into about 75 percent. That’s really different from my usual diet and that really makes a big difference because your body prioritizes glycogen more. I also try to get more sleep. Hydration is big as well. Purely in-the-bottle nutrition. There’s a reason for that. At elevations that high, you’re looking at very low humidity and your lungs are getting incredible amounts of evaporation with that elevated breathing rate and it’s hard to chew when you can’t breath!

“When you’re going up to altitude, there’s normal effect and some people get altitude shock. I’ve had it before, I used to suck at altitude. Advil can help with High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema. There’s some pretty good research on that, just the inflammation response. Lower O2 causes vasodilation. That’s one of those things that’s supposed to protect from acute mountain sickness. Blood volume changes, your ph changes. Your body is compensating for higher CO2 so you have more acidic blood. But you also have more hemoglobin, so your body is making all these changes and one of these changes is vasoconstriction. It can go a little haywire. And that’s when a lot of people get altitude sickness.”

Barry Wicks dropped in above the treeline on the Wheeler stage. Photo: Eddie Clark

Amy Beisel:

“I love racing at altitude. I don’t know what it is but I like the way it makes me feel for some reason. When you are racing at altitude, you’re just not going into that red zone for too long and just set a good pace that you know you can handle. Because it’s really hard to bounce back if you do bonk.

“I always try to stay super-hydrated especially three days before the race. I do it as it is now but definitely at least three to four days before. Try not to drink plain water. I’ll add maple and salt and a splash of lime to every water that I drink. It’s just a homemade sports drink; it’s really just cheaper to make and very clean, you know what you’re putting in it, so you’re really topped off before a six-day stage race.”

Fernando Riveros:

“The first days, they’re harder for me. Me and altitude don’t get along very well, even though I was born at 8,000 feet in Bogota. I was fine when I used to live in Colorado Springs, I was fine riding and racing there. But now I moved from Colorado it’s been a struggle for me to perform well in altitude.

“The point of me going to the Leadville Stage Race [July 27-29] was just to get used to it and tune up before Breck Epic. I’m trying to be more conservative in my efforts. Coming from sea level, you produce more power here than you produce there. I have to remember those kinds of things that I can’t put that power out at elevation. That’s the main thing, just being more cautious with my efforts, and hydration is the most important part.”

Breck Epic
Spencer Powlison rolled into the feed zone on Breck Epic stage 2. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Spencer’s take:

“I have had so many horrible mountain bike races at high altitude that I’m probably not the best person to ask. I will say that my best days have been when I’ve paced myself very conservatively — never attack, never go into the red, stay relaxed.”

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

Read the full article at Breck Epic Basics: How to cope with high altitude on

Breck Epic video: Over the divide on stage 3… twice

How often do you have the opportunity to ride around a mountain? A 13,376-foot mountain?

Breck Epic stage 3 is considered the queen stage of the six-day mountain bike race based out of Breckenridge, Colorado. Tuesday’s race was not only aesthetically satisfying — a huge loop around an even huger peak — it was also damn hard.

To start the day, the 41-mile route took riders up French Pass, in the remote high-Alpine terrain between Summit County and Park County. The majority of riders had to hike the final grinding pitch up and over the saddle at 12,000 feet above sea level. That was the first time over the Continental Divide. Then riders plunged into the valley only to climb back up the divide — all within the first half of the race.

In the women’s pro race, Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop) won the day and extended her lead over Katrina Englested (Boulder Cycle Sport) to a whopping 33 minutes. Meghan Sheridan (Bingham Cyclery Peak Fasteners) is third overall and was third on the day behind Englested.

Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) continued his domination of the men’s pro race, extending his overall lead on Jamey Driscoll (Pivot-Maxxis) to 8:34. Kyle Trudeau (Construction Zone) is third overall. However, the revelation of the day was Trudeau’s 20-year-old teammate Nash Dory, who was second on the day, less than 90 seconds behind multi-time national champ Bishop.

Three stages remain, including Thursday’s fearsome Wheeler Pass stage, which like stage 3 will take the racers high above treeline — and often off their bikes, hiking to the top.

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

Read the full article at Breck Epic video: Over the divide on stage 3… twice on

Breck Epic video: Into the wild on stage 2

Breck Epic stage 2 was everything that Sunday’s rain-shortened stage was not. With perfectly clear blue skies greeting the 425 mountain bikers Monday morning, the six-day race headed out to the Colorado Trail, dropping down into the sagebrush valley toward Keystone.

In the pro men’s race, Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon-Topeak) won his second stage in a row, extending his lead over Jamey Driscoll (Pivot), who was second on the stage. Levi Kurlander (Orange Seal) moved into third overall after Fernando Riveros (Construction Zone) lost a cleat on his right shoe in the last 10 miles of racing.

The women’s pro race was far more dramatic. Stage 1 winner and national marathon champion Amy Beisel (Orange Seal) was on her way to another victory when she clipped a tree about five miles from the finish and went over the bars. She broke her collarbone but carried on to win the stage anyway. However, she’s out of the race and will get surgery Wednesday.

This leaves Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop) in the overall lead, well ahead of Katrina Engelsted (Boulder Cycle Sport).

Further back in the field, another rider crashed high on the Colorado Trail in one of the 42-mile route’s most remote zones. Four fellow riders stopped to help as emergency services were called in. Other riders that passed by left the injured rider with their jackets and arm warmers to keep him warm. He was rescued by Summit County Search and Rescue later that afternoon.

“This race is an opportunity for us to be at our best, whether that’s athletically, philosophically, whatever,” said race director Mike McCormack at the evening briefing, praising the four riders who stopped to render aid.

Check out the Breck Epic website for more >>

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