The Pikes Peak Apex, Presented by RockShox returns for its 3rd year. The 4-day mountain bike stage race takes place September 22-25th in Colorado Springs, Colorado and serves to showcase the best trails and fall foliage in and around the area. The race attracts top pro racers with its $25,000 prize purse that is split equally between the men’s and women’s elite fields.
In 2021, US marathon national champion, Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz #htSQD) took the overall title in the women’s category, while her teammate, 3-time US XC national champion, Keegan Swenson, won the men’s category.
Pro racers Sophia Gomez Villafane and Evelyn Dong high-five. Photo credit: James Stokoe Photography
Pikes Peak Apex isn’t just for the pros, the trails raced each day are specifically chosen to be enjoyed by pros and amateurs alike with a well-balanced combination of big climbs and smile-producing singletrack. Micah Rice, Pikes Peak Apex Executive Director, has this to say about the race:
“As the highest-profile mountain bike event on the Front Range, The Pikes Peak APEX should be a bucket list event for all amateur cyclists. The Pro riders will split up the $25,000 prize list, but the top age-group riders both men and women will win RockShox forks and other prizes. The format of the event is meant to be demanding, but very doable by the intermediate rider. We have world-class courses, fully stocked aid stations, and lots of support for all levels of mountain bikers. Enjoy the amazing Rocky Mountain singletrack and the vistas on the slopes of Pikes Peak while testing yourself against some of the best riders in the world.”
While the final route of each stage has not yet been released, you can expect the following:
Stage 1: Prologue: As in previous year’s editions, Day 1 will be a time-trial in Palmer Park. Racers can expect amazing views of downtown and the front range in this popular local destination.
Spectators cheer a racer navigating the rocks in Palmer Park. Photo credit: James Stokoe Photography
Stage 2: Canon City: Stage 2 will be utilizing never-before raced trails in Canon City, Colorado. Racers will commute roughly 50 miles from Colorado Springs to the stage start and can expect ~35 miles of purpose-built trail and 4000+ feet of climbing. A highlight of the stage is crossing the Royal Gorge suspension bridge that hangs 1000 feet above the Arkansas River.
Stage 3: TBD: While details of Stage 3 have not yet been released, it has been reported that this stage will be ~28 miles with 3000ft of climbing; perhaps allowing a bit of recovery after Stage 2s queen stage
Evelyn Dong (Juliana Bicycles) leads another racer up a climb. Photo credit: James Stokoe Photography
Stage 4: Cheyenne Canyon. Stage 4 serves up 30 miles and 3900 ft. of climbing featuring new singletrack in Daniel’s Pass. After finishing the day, racers will head to America the Beautiful Park for the APEX afterparty and outdoor festival where beer, lunch, and live music will be dished out all afternoon.
A racer enjoying the Pikes Peak APEX singletrack. Photo credit: James Stokoe Photography
Whether you are a top pro looking to see where you stack up against the best of the best or a first-time stage racer, the Pikes Peak APEX is for you! Registration starts at $395 and includes:
The 23rd annual Shenandoah 100 is the oldest race in the NUE Epic Race Series held over Labor Day weekend in Stokesville, VA. Shenandoah now includes a 100k option of racing on Saturday and the classic 100 mile race on Sunday.
Held within The George Washington National Forest of Virginia, Shenandoah marks the start of the fall season of the NUE Series with just a few races remaining that will determine this year’s champions. Shenandoah is a highly anticipated showdown showcasing top level talent in a festive atmosphere with most racers choosing to camp out at the Stokesville Lodge and campground which is included in registration.
Womens Open- Sheldon wins100k
No one could match the pace of Libbey Sheldon (CSHairs Devo) in the women’s 100k race on Saturday and she took the win with a time of 5:29.
In her first mountain bike race after having a baby, previous NUE epic series winner, Carla Williams (CarboRocket) of Roanoke took second place in 5:38:25.
Just a couple minutes back from Williams, Laura Hamm (Moonstomper) took third place in 5:40:22. Hamm also went on to complete the 100 mile race on Sunday with a third place finish.
Making the trip from New York, Bryna Blanchard (BMB Racing) finished fourth 5:47:37. Taking the last podium spot went to Lauren Zimmer (Bingham Cyclery) in 5:57:15.
Mens Open- Petrylak second 2021 NUE marathon win
After a major setback with course markings, John Petrylak (CarboRocket) fights hard to take the Shenandoah 100k win with a time of 5:25. Petrylak had a previous NUE 100k win at Wilderness.
“After a typical start to the National Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race Series Shenandoah Mountain 100K we came to an intersection that I know very well. The course arrows should have pointed LEFT ; however they were pointing RIGHT. We got off course and after an extra 6 mile loop and 37 minutes waisted we climbed back to the original intersection in question and by this time someone came and realized that the arrows were wrong and fixed them. Later in the day it was suspected that a person or persons maliciously changed the arrows. Now at this point I believe we were absolutely dead last or very close to it. Without much thought I just pressed on full gas and set out to pass every rider I could. After 5 and a half hours I managed to catch every rider except masters athlete George Ganoung and take the open men’s win.Also a huge amount of respect for Anthony, Will and Stew for rolling in literally a few minutes behind me as they had just as much additional pain and suffering to deal with and still rose to the occasion. Thanks to: CarboRocket, Molly’s Bikes, ESI Grips, Kenda Tires and Athlos Sports”
Just three minutes back, Anthony Grinnell (Syndicate Cycling) took second with a time of 5:28:32.
“The racing didn’t really start until we began climbing on the initial road sections, but even then, it was a manageable pace. Shortly into gravel, the top 8 or so guys formed a pretty large gap to the rest of the field. Heading up the first single track climb, we had a lead group of 4 and pulled a gap on the rest of the breakaway. But as we got to the top of the climb, we encountered a problem. GPS said go left, but the arrows pointed right and a tape banner blocked the trail to the left. We all figured there was an issue with the GPS or a last minute course change since there was both tape and arrows telling us to go right. Big mistake. About 5 miles down that trail, we all realized there were no more arrows, too many downed trees, and we should have gone left. At that point, it was easier to keep going and complete the 9 mile extra loop and re-peat that tough single track climb to make the correct left turn at the top. 37 minutes later, we were back on course and, as Will Pfeiffer so adequately stated “pedaling pissed off”. The even bigger downside is, while we were adding our extra miles, someone corrected the course marking issue, which ended up putting the entire 100k class in front of us. We literally had to pass hundreds of other riders as we worked our way up. I’ve been a huge fan of Flow Formulas products, but wow did it make a difference in being able to maintain energy needed to make up all that lost time. Big props to Pirelli tires too…they were bullet proof and with all of the sharp rocks on the course, that was a must. I was shocked, and REALLY happy to see that John, Will, and I were all able to put our heads down and battle our way back up to sweep the podium. We think a hunter likely changed the markings, but in the end, it didn’t keep John Petrylak from winning his first SMT 100K race, didn’t keep me from getting 2nd, and kept Will Pfeiffer’s title hopes alive for the series. It was a great day for the Syndicate/Flow Formulas team with Jim Litzinger getting 1st in the 100K Single Speed Class and Joe Frass getting 5th in the 100 mile Single Speed Class. Huge thank you to Shorkey Auto Group and Pro Bike & Run for getting us to these races and keeping our equipment working.”
Will Pfeiffer (Flow Formulas) took third crossing the line in 5:31:37.
“The race started like any other, with a good push up the first climb. Five of us got away and kept a good pace on Narrowback. When we came to a T-intersection near the top, an unexpected right turn was marked. We figured there was some issue with the normal trail and just followed the arrows and tape. This proved unfortunate, because it turned out there were some people messing with signage on the course. As we realized what had happened, I’ll be honest, I was not in a good place mentally. I have been chasing the season standings this year, and I was watching all that effort go out the window in one fell swoop. John Petrylak, Anthony Grinnel, and Stewart Gross were instrumental in keeping my head in the game and I am very thankful to have been with those guys. So, one bonus loop later, the lost boys joined back up DFL and all sorts of motivated.
The rest of the race turned into a 50 mile TT trying to fight through the field. My mom was a massive help, supporting me at each aid station. Late in the race she told me I was 10th heading into the final climb of Hankey. I was already deep in the effort and absolutely buried myself trying to catch riders. Pulling a third in class was a mixture of some effort and a lot of luck. But I will say this, I’ve had a handful of races over the years that presented some physically and mentally difficult obstacles. It sounds cliche, but never once have I regretted refusing to give in. The mindset, challenge, and camaraderie this weekend meant so much more to me than the result. Huge thanks to Flow Formulas, The Black Bibs, Maxxis, Industry Nine, Kask, Koo, Handup, Ridge Supply, Chris of Shenandoah Mountain Touring, and my awesome teammates who let me be a part of their super inspiring rides on Sunday. #flowformulasfamily”
Ben Ferguson finished fourth in 5:34:09 and Jarod Lawver fifth in 5:46:37.
Singlespeed– Litzinger leads NUE marathon SS
With a second place finish at Mohican and first place at Wilderness, James Litzinger (Syndicate Cycling) took the Shenandoah win with a time of 5:32:09. Litzinger now leads the NUE SS Marathon series.
“The backcountry racing at Shenandoah Mountain always is always a blast and this year was no different! The start and preparation for the race was very smooth and thought out. We were put in to starting corrals of 5 and I was lined up with some hammer in the corral 50-55, teammate Anthony Grinnell (2nd) and John Petrylak (1st) crushed the course! Coming out of the campground it was very chill until it hit the road and everyone started to jockey for position. Dahn Pahrs and I were the only 2 single speeders spinning and tucking our way to the front with the geared guys. We were comfortable with the brisk pace of the opening gravel climb and taking some pulls. The biggest deciding factor in the race came at the top of the first single track climb when 2 arrows pointed right and the GPS said to go left. Decisions, decisions…we went right with the arrows which cost us about 4 miles and 13 minutes. During the single track I noticed the screw on the top cap of my fork was coming loose so I used my thumb to push down on it and tighten it. After getting back on course we were faced with the challenge of making our way through a lot of riders on the tight single track. After getting back out on the road, Dahn and I worked together on our way to the next climb which was a lot of hike a biking. At the bottom of the climb I noticed my fork was not responding as it should, it was stiff and in the down position. I decided to put it in the lock position to prevent it from going down but made the descents very challenging. After the race I noticed that I changed the rebound to SLOW when I was tightening the screw. After the long, steep, rocky, and rooty climb.
After the hike a bike we were rewarded with a super fun descent. To my surprise, I was able to catch a few more riders before poking out onto the dirt road again. After completing the descent, I looked back to join up with Dahn again and he came back out on the road a few seconds after me. I decided to sit up, get some nutrition, and wait for my buddy since these races are a lot more fun with some company. After fueling up and spinning down the road a little I thought I heard a car coming so I moved off to the side of the road and looked back to see that it was not a car but John Petrylak. As a single speeder we are often faced with the decision to burn some matches get dragged along by the strong geared guys or rider your own race and conserve your energy. Well, I decided to burn some matches for a big increase in speed on the backcountry Virginia road. I was able to make up some great time spinning and tucking behind John’s wheel. When we pulled into aid 2, I had to fill my bottles, grab grub, and by that time John was already rolling and there was no catching him. I continued rolling the course at my own pace until the ripping descent leading into aid 3 when teammate Anthony Grinnell caught me. It was a blast shredding the descent and getting a big pull on the road with him until I had to let him go before burning up all my matches. I was glad to be looking at the Hankey climb for the last time before working my way down the mountain to the finish. Special shout out to the Syndicate Cycling support of Pro Bike+Run Shops, Shorkey Auto Group, Specialized bikes, Flow Formulas, Wolftooth Components, Extreme Nano Lubes, Esi Grips, Pirelli tires, KOO, Kask, Dr. Bryan Hooks Orthopedic, and last but not least my amazing family.”
Previously winning Mohican earlier this season, Don Powers, of Pennsylvania took second in 5:41:27. Don also raced the Shenandoah 100 mile race on Sunday.
Stopping the Pennsylvania podium sweep, Kenny Kocarek (Kobby Side Down) of Ohio finished in 6:12:53. Larry Miller (Team Bikenetic) took fourth in 6:47:32 and Kasey Clark (Velopigs) finished fifth in 7:10:30.
Masters– Ganoung takes top step
Winning the Masters category was George Ganoung (Otterhaus) with a finish time of 5:23:37.
” I have a long competitive road and gravel history but this was my first ever marathon mountain bike event. I won the Master 50+ and due to some strange circumstances, I came out the overall winner as well…with a big footnote though.About 9 miles into the race I was 8th in a group of 4 ~30 seconds behind the leaders and we had a pretty big gap on the rest of the field. We came across a major arrow marked intersection, but having pre ridden the course, and having the map on my GPS, they were not pointing in the expected direction. My compatriots followed the arrows so I went with them, about .5 mile in I just felt it was wrong, and told them I am turning around. They agreed and we flipped it, went the other way at the intersection and ran into course tape across the trail, it was broken, but seemed to indicate it’s a reroute. We flipped again and went back further, but with the trail getting significantly rougher and no other markers I told the other guys I think someone mucked it up and I am committing to the GPS track. By then the bulk of the race had caught up and the two way traffic on single track was chaotic and was forced to walk. I told the riders I ran into as I back tracked to make their own call but I am following GPS. It seemed like the majority turned around, and someone else had turned the arrows back by the time I got to the intersection. Fortunately it was the right call and the race markers had clearly been sabotaged. I ended up being about 30th out of the 1st single track after the confusion. Convinced the leaders went the right way and were long gone, and half the race was ahead, I just rode hard out of anger on the next fire road section catching as many folks as I could. It turned out the leaders had actually gone further off course before turning around and after the next big single track climb and descent, I was told I was in the overall lead…and somehow managed to hold on for ~40 miles to the finish. Massively impressive ride by 2nd place John Petrylak who went further off course and came back to win the open class and nearly caught me at the end. Big thanks to @shenandoahmountaintouring and all the volunteers for putting on such a cool event and hats off to the riders who do this stuff all the time, huge respect for the skill/fitness required. In regards to NUE future, Shenandoah again and maybe Wilderness 101 next year are probably it for me because they are close. This is just a branch out as a new challenge.”
About 10 minters back, Peter Schultz (Team Bikenetic) finished second with a time of 5:32:35. “As we charged up the first climb, I had my coach’s voice in my head to stay within myself. I was doing about 4 W/kg on the double-track climb and thought that’s about the power that would need to be sustained for 5 hours by the overall winner. So, I let about 30 people crank on past, pretty sure that they’d come back.The hitch in this plan came at the top of the first climb where the arrows were pointed in the wrong direction. When we finally got ourselves turned around, I got shuffled backward another 20 spots or so. So, I spent the entire descent in a conga line, as well as most of Lynn Trail. I tried to stay calm and stick to the plan.But things went further sideways on the Wolf Trail descent when I had a 5-minute mechanical due to a messed up jockey wheel. “The Plan” went even further in the crapper on the road to Hankey’s where I’d stashed my two bottles on little stands: someone stole one of my bottles. Whoever did that and whoever swapped the arrows on Narrowback is a complete butthead.“The Plan” started working in second half of the race where I passed dozens of people. I was able to keep my power relatively high (for me) at about 3.6W/kg. My times on the first and second Hankey’s climbs were within a second of each other. I was able to hold it all together on the descents and get back in one piece.I’d like to give a big shout-out to the OGs in this race, with the fastest overall times going to folks over 50. I had a front row seat watching Libby Sheldon (and Laura Hamm) from the rear as she nearly cleaned Lynn Trail. So impressive!I’d like to thank my sponsors — my wife, myself, and Bikenetic – and my coach, Jeremy Powers, for his attention to detail.”
Taking the third step, Derek Dagostino (Molly’s Bicycles) finished in 5:50:13. “While living and mountain biking in Richmond, Virginia, I had always heard about the Shenadoah Mountain 100 but never seriously considered participating in this race because of its difficulty. I participated in local XC races through the year in 2020 while working to improve my fitness. Going into 2021, I was looking for a challenge and made the SM 100 KM my “A” race for the year. New to endurance mountain bike racing I realized that I had a lot to learn before the race. I joined local marathon XC races for training and also to work my hydration and fueling plan. Admittedly I made some big mistakes along the way.
The SM was as exciting and challenging as I thought it would be! Race participants were lined up by bid numbers and in rows of five people. I started mid-pack and used the first 7 miles of fire road to move up while minding my pace. From the fire road you jump onto single track which starts the first significant climb of the day. A few miles into the climb, the riders leading the group of 15 or so stopped and mentioned that they thought we were off course. We turned around and back tracked to the proper course and I later found out that a prankster changed the course markings. The little detour added 3 miles to my race and I also found myself in heavy traffic until reaching the fire road at the end of Tilman single track. At this point I really had no idea where I was in the field because of the mix-up. The climb up the Lynn trail was as memorable as it was steep! Once back on the fire road, I was able to pace with some other riders including Eli Drooger who ended up taking 1st in U19 category. The climb up Hanky was tough but I was also able to pass other riders, make up some ground, and stay on track until the finish line! Special thanks to the SM race promoter and volunteers who pulled off the event this year. The event was well organized and not surprisingly will continue into its 24th year in 2022. Also I want to acknowledge my sponsor Molly’s Bicycle Shop and Blind Dog Brewery in Chester, Virginia. The team at the shop has played a pivotable role in supporting me with fantastic equipment (including my Norco Revolver FS1), topnotch service and an occasional beer!”
Fourth place went to Justin De Leo (Blue Ridge Cyclery) with a time of 5:55:46. Fifth place to Roberts Moore (Moore Velocity) crossing the line in 5:56:30.
Alexis Skarda and Keegan Swenson seal their Breck Epic 2021 wins on the final stage.
Often times in stage racing when the leader has a commanding lead, the final stage is more like a victory lap than a hard-fought battle for the stage win. This was not the case on the final day of the 2021 Breck Epic. Both the women’s and men’s race leaders ended the final stage in a sprint finish. Alexis Skarda took her sixth of six stage wins in a sprint over Rose Grant. Grant seemed to get stronger each day, or at least more recovered from her Leadville 100 win the day before the Breck Epic started.
Keegan Swenson sprinted to the finish against race runner-up Luis Mejia. Mejia edged out Swenson in a photo finish. Full results here.
GC margins grow during Queen Stage around 13,370-foot Mt. Guyot
Local riders making moves as race moves into second half
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — Despite a bit of late-race drama Tuesday, the Breck Epic’s Queen Stage delivered one more reminder who the fastest racers in the field are. Keegan Swenson overcame a brief, unintended detour to pad his lead in the pro men’s field, while Alexis Skarda won the pro women’s race by her biggest margin this week.
Swenson rode off course just before the finish (the exact cause was unclear, but it required him to pedal about two additional miles), yet he still won by 53 seconds ahead of perennial runner-up Luis Mejia of Colombia. Swenson’s winning time of 3 hours 18 minutes leaves him almost eight minutes up in the overall standings. Lachlan Morton remains in third overall, 20 minutes back of Swenson.
“I’m not doing any more work than I have to,” said Swenson, whose Santa Cruz team put burlier tires on his Blur CC for Tuesday’s rugged descents. “I didn’t attack [Mejia], he just fell off after Aid 3. So I was like, I’ll turn the screws just a hair and snap the elastic.”
Skarda, meanwhile, further separated herself in the GC standings with a time of 3:56 and a 6-minute advantage over Evelyn Dong, who remains in second overall, 8:35 back. Rose Grant took third and moved onto the GC podium heading into the week’s longest stage, Aqueduct.
The circumnavigation of 13,370-foot Mount Guyot takes riders over the Continental Divide twice, through two counties, and down some of the area’s sweetest singletrack for a total of 40 miles. It is typically one of two stages, along with Wheeler, in which locals improve their overall ranking. That didn’t happen with Breck’s Jarad Christianson, because he was already in first place in the men’s 30-plus category; but he tripled his winning margin from Stage 1. Christianson, 31, works 8-5 for a construction company and rides after work. He started entering local races four years ago. On Tuesday, he finished 15th overall, pros included, in the 387-rider Breck Epic (3:53—30 minutes faster than his 2019 time).
The only local ahead of Christianson, 17-year-old phenom Lasse Konecny, suffered what you might call a mining-town-only mechanical. An ancient, heavily rusted, 4-inch-long rectangular nail pierced his sidewall and exited his tread like an arrow through a banana late in the race. Konecny ran to the finish pushing his bike and losing minutes, but still finished ninth (3:39). He sits in 11th place overall, four minutes out of eighth.
Close to a dozen other locals are toeing the line this week, and not everyone is taking time off from work to compete. John Rauen, a 22-year-old who finished in 4:54, clocks in at an escape room from 3:30 to 10:30 p.m. every night between stages. The field is dotted with ski patrollers (Duke Barlow, Breck’s snow safety supervisor, finished in 4:51 on a recently replaced knee), massage therapists (Ro Mayberry took third in the Coed Duo division in 4:45), and government workers (Nicole Valentine, Summit County’s communications director, clinched the 3-day Open Women’s title in 5:27).
WHO NEEDS TWO GOOD ARMS?
One of the week’s most impressive sights was watching Robin Brown, a retired Las Vegas firefighter, navigate the high-speed technical descent from 12,000 feet with a prosthetic left arm. Brown and Mark Duncan, another Vegas firefighter, conquered the Queen in 6:07 and stand second in the Duo 100-plus class. Brown lost his forearm to a grain auger in Panhandle, Texas when he was 4, but he still played football, basketball, baseball, and golf growing up. He became a paramedic and captain in the Clark County Fire Department and has entered dozens of endurance races, but never the Breck Epic. Asked about riding the course with one hand, he said, “I don’t think anything of it.”
Another visiting racer, Sean Perry of Issiquah, Washington, has competed all week with a cast on his wrist. Perry suffered an intra articular fracture of his distal radius while training on the Miners Creek Trail three weeks ago—the most perilous descent in the race. It was his first ride in Colorado. “I thought there was no chance I would get to do the race,” he said. He finished the Guyot stage in 4:39.
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
We posed this question just below the summit of 12,046-foot French Pass, the Queen’s high point. As usual, sentiments varied.
“I’m not sitting in an office, so pretty damn good.”
“Can’t. Too much altitude.”
“Got a tail wind—what more can you ask for?”
“Like I look.”
“Literally could not be better.”
“I’ve got 20 pieces of metal in my elbow from Dirty Kanza. This is nothing.”
“As can be expected.”
“Fucking awesome, man.”
“Well, it depends. Are there Skittles up there?” Yes. “Fuck yeah. Then I feel amazeballs.”
Skarda overcomes midrace stop to win second straight stage
Epic rookie leads Evelyn Dong by 2:30; Swenson dusts Mejia on Colorado Trail descent
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — Shortly after starting Monday’s second stage of the Breck Epic, Alexis Skarda felt it. A familiar fluttering in her chest. As the pro women’s leader in her Epic debut, with a scant lead over former champion Evelyn Dong, Skarda knew she didn’t have time to spare. She also knew she had no choice but to stop.
So Skarda, a 31-year-old from Grand Junction in the midst of the best season of her pro career, pulled off the trail and dismounted her bike. She drank water and breathed. She watched other racers fly past her, agonizing at the time she was losing.
For much of her cycling career, Skarda has managed a rare congenital heart defect known as supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, an erratic heartbeat that comes from faulty electrical connections in her upper chambers. “It feels like a butterfly in your heart and lactic acid in your legs,” she said. She first felt it when she was 21. Ever since, it shows up periodically and unpredictably. It is caused by stress, but there’s no way to know exactly when or why certain moments trigger it, Skarda said. The first time it happened, her heartrate spiked to 260 beats per minute. On Monday morning, her rate rose into the 250s—an alarming number for someone who tries to stay around 170. “You have to relax to make it slow down, but it’s hard to relax when you see all these people passing you,” she said.
Since the episodes are random, Skarda often tries to build an early gap during races just in case it flares up. When asked if the condition—which is not dangerous in a mortality sense—has ever cost her a race, Skarda said, “It’s cost me a lot of races.” But she downplayed it being called a disadvantage. “I think everyone has something they deal with. This is just what I have to account for. I call it a body mechanical. It’s sort of like a flat tire.”
SVT didn’t cost her Monday’s race. Skarda got back on her bike once her heartrate slowed and rode strong to the finish, winning in 3:53:22. Dong finished second again, 56 seconds back, followed by Rose Grant in third. Skarda’s overall lead now stands at 2 minutes 30 seconds.
SWENSON BUILDS SIZABLE OVERALL LEAD
In Monday’s pro men’s race, reigning champion Keegan Swenson sent a message that echoed across Summit County—and perhaps down to South America. Swenson had narrowly beaten Colombia’s Luis Mejia in Sunday’s opener, winning by four seconds, and the two were tightly packed again until they began descending the Colorado Trail from West Ridge—one of the highlights of the week in terms of views and pure fun. Swenson sensed Mejia struggling to keep pace on the technical descent and rocketed away from his rival. Once out of sight, he built a seven-minute gap over the final 15 miles, winning in a time of 3:08:52. Lachlan Morton overcame a crash that bloodied his elbow to take third in 3:18:41.
BAD LUCK HAS NO GOOD TIMING
The Epic has exacted its share of bodily damage over 12 editions, and this week, although young, has been no exception. Monday a pair of unlucky racers sat next to each other at the Tiger Dredge aid station, commiserating over their mutual misfortune. Rich “Dicky” Dillen, one of the Epic’s most popular characters and familiar faces, had crashed earlier in the day, breaking his carbon-rail saddle, twisting his ankle, crunching an already injured right side, and realizing he had to withdraw from the race. His shoulder was bloodied and smeared with dirt. His morale was crushed. After finishing eight prior Epics, Dillen—a professional bike messenger from Charlotte, North Carolina and nationally known singlespeed racer who competes on rigid frames—struggled to accept he won’t be going home with a BMF belt buckle. “I bought a geared bike a month ago and I think God hates me until I sell it,” he joked. To his point, he’d broken a carbon rim, bruised his ribs and cracked his helmet, all before Monday’s crash. The 52-year-old sat beside the trail and cried when he realized he couldn’t continue the race.
Then Dicky found Bob Orlikowski, a 47-year-old nuclear regulator from Illinois, and plopped down next to him. Orlikowski had trained for the Epic for a year and a half—or, as his wife put it, “his whole life”—before arriving with two buddies to toe the line this week. Twelve miles into the first stage, while pushing his bike up Little French Gulch, Orlikowski heard what he described as two rocks hitting together. “I actually turned around to see if somebody was running up on me,” he said. “But I think the noise was just my Achilles tendon rupturing.”
He made it back to an aid station and found his wife, who drove him to the hospital. Monday his leg was splinted up to his knee; a pair of crutches rested against his shoulder. And yet, as he watched racers pedal by at the dredge, Orlikowski was smiling. “It’s sad, but to me it’s nothing I had control over,” he said. “It’s just bad luck.” Dicky, resting in the dirt a few feet away, added: “It helped to sit down next to Bob. It could be way worse.”
A MOMENT FOR BEN
Shortly before Monday’s start in downtown Breckenridge, racers and staff held a moment of silence for 2012 Epic champion Ben Sonntag. Sonntag, a longtime pro cyclist and beloved member of the fat-tire community, was hit and killed by a pickup truck traveling at 69 mph in a 35-mph zone on March 4, 2020, during a training ride outside his hometown of Durango. He was 39.
Swenson picks up where he left off in Epic’s opening stage
2019 champ shows no ill effects after winning Leadville 100 on Saturday; Skarda takes lead among women
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — Two years after the last Breck Epic was staged in Colorado’s singletrack kingdom, much of what we know about the world has changed dramatically. But a few things haven’t, foremost: Keegan Swenson is still the man to beat in Breckenridge. Swenson, the 27-year-old defending champion from Heber City, Utah, made a late pass Sunday to beat a familiar foe in Colombia’s Luis Mejia and start the six-stage Epic with a four-second victory. He completed the 36-mile course in 2 hours 44 minutes.
The duo distanced themselves early on from the rest of the field, with Mejia—still smarting from a series of flat tires that derailed his 2019 bid to challenge Swenson—turning the screws on America’s most versatile racer. Swenson had won the Leadville 100 the prior day in 6 hours 11 minutes, the eighth fastest time in that race’s history. He’d also defended his XC national title in July and narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics. He showed little weariness Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after his Leadville win, as the Epic kicked off on perfectly tack-ified dirt thanks to a brief rain shower. Content to chase Mejia’s frequent uphill surges and set the pace on the descents, Swenson found himself trailing the 36-year-old Colombian on the final downhill, until they reached the mini freeride features on Barney Flow. There, Swenson saw a window.
“He wasn’t jumping the doubles and I started jumping the doubles and gained some time,” Swenson said. “Then I took one of the log skinnies and made the pass.”
Longtime World Tour racer Lachlan Morton of Australia held third for much of the day until a sprint for the finish with Costa Rica’s Carlos Herrera saw Herrera edge him by a few thousandths.
SKARDA’S FAST START
Swenson wasn’t the only Santa Cruz Bicycles team member who enjoyed a happy Sunday. Breck Epic rookie Alexis Skarda of Grand Junction led from start to finish ahead of Epic veteran Evelyn Dong and a host of other challengers, winning by 25 seconds. Skarda said she concentrated on staying under her target heartrate of 170bpm to preserve energy for the subsequent stages. She’d trained for the Epic by riding—and winning—the Telluride 100 last month. She also finished second at XC nationals to 2021 Olympian Erin Huck, another Epic vet. Though Skarda won on the same bike as Swenson—a Blur CC—she rode a 100mm fork while he opted for the cushier 120mm.
Skarda and Dong figure to see more challenges later this week from five-time national marathon champ Rose Grant, who won Leadville on Saturday and finished TK SUNDAY.
“I figured if I didn’t go too crazy, I wouldn’t ruin it for the rest of the week,” Skarda said at the Carter Park finish. “But it’s tough when you’re feeling fresh to not go too hard.”
BIENVENIDO A LOS TICOS
Though the pandemic changed many racers’ plans, especially international competitors, plenty still braved the travel it took to get here. They include two dozen Costa Ricans from San José, who are riding in custom white jerseys this week. Due to a 9 p.m. curfew imposed in their country, riders couldn’t count on night miles to build their training base. Instead, they rose early—and often. Epic rookie Isaac Centeno, 26, trained six days a week for six months, starting at 5 a.m. “My friend Pablo told me to come because it’s his fourth time here,” Centeno said. “I just want to explore different landscapes and weather.”
STATS AND STUFF
Sunday’s opening stage saw 387 riders start. More than seven hours later, all but one crossed the finish. Pro racer Kyle Trudeau crashed hard coming down the notoriously tricky Grind into Indiana Creek, telling a teammate he thought he’d broken some ribs. He abandoned the race—but not until he’d finished a grueling climb to Boreas Pass Road. In all, the stage covered 36 miles and roughly 5,000 vertical feet. Full results can be found here:
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
Each day, we ask this very simple question at some point on course, usually at the top of a merciless climb. Today it was posed near the top of Little French.
“Legs don’t feel great, but it’s the first day, they’re not supposed to.”
“Like 50 cents.”
“Pretty good. Actually, great.”
“This is heinous. Wait, is this Heinous?” [Ed’s note: No. Heinous Hill will introduce itself in Stage 2.]
“Could be worse.”
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Millard Allen won the singlespeed division at Leadville on Saturday and stayed in the Cloud City for the awards Sunday morning, which meant he arrived late to start the Epic. He hopped on course at 10 a.m. and caught the sweep halfway up Pennsylvania Gulch, eventually finishing in 3:54 on a geared bike.
Stage 2 takes riders across multiple drainages highlighted by the locally famous West Ridge descent on the Colorado Trail. Real-time results can be found at itsyourrace.com.
Slated for August 14-19, 2022, 400 riders. In the words of race director Mike McCormack, “Sometimes bigger is better. We feel that in Epic’s case, better is better. There’s a balance we need to strike. To us, that means enough riders to create that special big race feel, but not so many that we experience crowding on course. We want our riders to experience the soulfulness of Summit County’s trail system and backcountry–that’s hard to do if you’re riding nose-to-tail all day.”
McCormack added, “Additionally, while our trail system holds up very well, fewer riders means less impact. We love our trails…we just don’t want to love them to death.”