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.
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.”
Stage race sponsors include: Lauf, Enve, TrustCache, and Giordana
New for 2020, the Extreme Grit Stage Race, was an event most won’t forget any time soon. The three day event put on by GRO races took place March 12th-14th near St. George, Utah and provided some tough conditions for racers. Stage 1’s sunshine quickly turned into heavy overnight rain showers for stage 2’s gravel race that lasted until the morning of stage 3.
Stage 1- Self supported untimed MTB or gravel ride
Stage 1 was a self supported 45 mi gravel/mtb route which left from Red Rock Bicycle shop in St George. Riders were required to check in before and after the stage to get a 10 point credit towards the overall general classification. The route climbed north-east of town on gravel roads with breathtaking views and some fun single track at the end if you chose. The weather was perfect… but not for long
Stage 2- True Grit Gravel 84 mi course (shortened to 44mi due to weather)
With the lots of rain overnight and into the start, stage 2’s gravel race was slated to be a brutal day on the bike. Temps in the 40’s and not a dry track anywhere to be found; racers had to harness their grit and determination to get this one done. Due to the weather, Fortunately (or unfortunately) the stage was shortened to 44mi for rider safety. The portion cut out would’ve had racers heading into some remote areas near Motaqua and with the conditions, the race director decided to shorten the stage. The diversoin had racers head down HWY 91 back to Santa Clara. After seeing frozen finishers come in, I don’t think anyone was complaining about the mileage cut.
A close race in the women’s pro/open gravel epic with stage racers taking the top three spots and only 3 points separating them going into the final stage. Allyson Sepp took the win with a time of 3:59:08 and earning 600 points for the overall. Sparky Moir finished only 26 seconds back taking the second step with a time of 3:59:34. Rounding out the gravel podium was Suzie Livingston coming in at 4:12:10.
Stage racers in the open/pro men’s division, dominated stage two taking the top seven positions. A close finish between the top three but taking the win was, Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette, finishing in 3:16:02. Second place went to Spencer Johnson, 3:16:05. Timothy Rugg 3:16:08. This will be a very close race heading into the final stage with only 3 points separating the top three.
Singlespeed stage racer Josh Kunz took the gravel win with a time of 3:52 and putting him in the lead going into the final day of the stage race. Aaron Label, who wasn’t in the stage race, took second with a time of 4:29:15. Stage racer Dominic Cilento took third with a time of 5:02:39.
A large field of masters men started the gravel epic. Two races not in the stage race took the top two steps on the podium. Taking the win was Preston Edwards finishing in 3:22:22 and Daniel Hoopes taking 2nd with a time of 3:32:01. The only stage racer to make the podium was Todd Tanner crossing the line in 3:37:00 and earning 598 points. Mark Llinares was the next stage racer to finish placing 5th and Jeff Sumsion took the 6th place spot. Only a few points separate the racers heading into the final stage.
Kathy Judson from Colorado finished with a time of 5:31 taking the lead for the women’s masters division.
Stage 3- True Grit Epic 50 mile MTB
Saturday was stage 3 and the original True Grit MTB course was on tap. There was plenty of debate about trail conditions before the start but the race director reassured everyone that the single track was in great shape, but there was mud on some road sections in the first 10 miles. Some mud was right! Those that decided to try and ride though the quagmire they soon found themselves grinding to a halt. Their wheels and bikes were completely packed with a concrete-like mud that snapped off a few derailleurs and cause some dnf’s before the race really even started. The best option was to pick your bike up before getting into the mud and just walk (and find a puddle soon after to wash your shoes).
The singletrack on the other hand was in primo shape! There were a few puddles here and there but nothing like what was expected in the pre-race debates. Race director Cimarron is a local and knows the trails well so her info about the singletrack conditions was accurate. Everything was fast and hard back and if you could get past the mud roads, you were rewarded with one of the best days out there.
Stage racer, Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles), pulled out of stage 2 due to weather conditions to focus on Saturday’s 50mile MTB race. Unfortunately this took her out of the running for the overall stage race, but paid off as she took first place in the women’s pro/open division, with a time of 4:42:09. Taking second place, was non-stage racer, KC Holley, finishing 2nd at 5:03:20. Stage racer, Sparky Moir (Pivot Cycles/MRP/Ergon) started second place in the overall stage race standings and finished stage 3 with a time of 5:08:29. Allyson Sepp (Black Diamond Apline Lodge) was the next stage racer to finish crossing the line in 8th place with a time of 5:24:48.
In the men’s pro/open division it was non-stage racer Brennon Peterson who took the 50 mile MTB win an impressive time of 3:33:20. After a win in the gravel race yesterday, stage racer Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette took 2nd place finishing in 3:56:01. Taking the third place spot, was non-stage racer Spencer Glasgow crossing the line in 3:59: 02. Stage racers Anthony Toops finished 4th and Spencer Johnson finished in 6th place.
Taking the singlespeed win was stage racer, Josh Kunz (KSD), finishing in a time of 4:38:25. Non stage racers Driz Cook and Stve Ipsen finished 2nd and 3rd place. Stage racer Dominic Cilento finished stage 3 in 5th place.
The masters men’s race was close with non stage racers taking 1st and 2nd. Mike Gaertner took the win, 4:14:30 and Andy Compas finished 2nd, 4:18:06. Stage racer Dave Harris took the 3rd position finishing in 4:20:06. Other top stage race finishes include: Todd Tanner taking 5th place and Ted Peddy finishing in 7th.
Taking the top three steps in the masters women’s division were non-stage racers. 1st place Donna Winters 6:03:06, 2nd Christine Graham 6:20:03 and Third Theresa Morningstar 7:44:46. Stage racer,Kathy Judson, from Arvada, CO finished in 4th place with a time of 8:08:15.
Overall True Grit Epic stage race results
Out of the 9 registered to start the women’s open/pro division only two ladies finished all 3 stages. Taking the overall win was Sparky Moir with a 2nd place on stage two and a third place on stage 3 totalling 1207 points. Finishing a close second was Allyson Sepp with 1203 points.
In the men’s open/pro division, it was Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette taking the overall win, with a 1st place on stage 2 and a 2nd place on stage 3 totaling 1209 overall points. Timothy Rugg took second with combined points of 1196. Stewart Goodwin was a close third totaling 1192 combined points.
Josh Kunz pulled away with the singlespeed win, taking a 1st place finish in both the gravel and MTB stages earring a perfect score of 1210 points. Dominic Cilento took 2nd place with 1204 points.
In a stacked master men’s field, Todd Tanner finished 1st, totalling 1204 points with a 3rd place on stage 2 and a 5th on stage 3. Dave Harris finished 2nd overall with 1199 points, and Jeff Sumsion 3rd with 1196 points.
Kathy Judson was able to finish all three stages earning the win in the masters women’s division.
The 2020 True Grit Epic put on by GRO races takes place March 12th-14th near St. George, Utah. Southern Utah offers up some world class desert mountain biking and for many, a chance to get away from the winter blues. This destination has no shortage of magnificent desert views, rock gardens, sand, technical climbs, and challenging descents. As always, True Grit serves as the NUE Series opener with the 50 mile (marathon) an 100 mile (epic) options along with some new categories for 2020.
New for 2020 is the Extreme Grit Stage Race. It’s for those looking for the ultimate challenge and includes 3 days of back to back riding.
Day 1: A self supported 40 mile ride (MTB or gravel) Day 2: True Grit Gravel course Day 3: True Grit Epic 50 mile MTB
If gravel is more your style, the True Grit Gravel Epic doesn’t fall short of grit either! The course is 84 miles, 80% off road, with 9000 ft of climbing.
Not up to the challenge of racing 3 days or skinny tires? There are plenty of other options to choose from: NUE Epic 100 , NUE Epic 50, Relay (25), or the Challenge 15 mountain bike events. There are lots of vendors set up at the finish and fun for the whole family!
Blue Ridge Adventures presents the 12thannual Pisgah Stage Race. It takes place April 13th– April 18th 2020 in Brevard, North Carolina. This 5-stage race takes riders on a tour of Pisgah, through the temperate rain forest sampling some of the best singletrack Pisgah has to offer. The race traverses over 140 miles and climbs 20000+ feet with scenic views, waterfalls, creek crossings, and is mix of 76% singletrack, 19% gravel, and 5% asphalt. As always, racers can also test themselves in the timed enduro section on each stage which has its own unique awards and overall crown.
The Pisgah trail system has always been know for its natural ruggedness but sometimes even the best trails require much needed TLC. Crews have been hard at work making some of the most popular trails in the area even better for 2020. Maintenance has been completed on upper/lower Black Mountain, Avery Creek and Bennett Gap, which ironically are all in stage 3. 2020 is gearing up to be one of the best yet!
More ways to race in 2020
2020 will debut some exciting new categories; women’s grand master 50+ and a duo 80+ or 100+ team category which require the teams combined age to equal 80-99 or 100+. There are some fast racers in all of these age groups so the competition should be fun to watch!
Standard PSR categories for 2020 include: Open Men, Open Women, Singlespeed, Vet Men 30-39, Vet Women 30-39, Master Men 40-49, Master Women 40-49, Grand Master Men 50-59, Grand Master Women 50-59 (New), Senior Men 60+, Duo Men, Duo Women, Duo Co-Ed, Duo men 80+ (New), Duo Men 100+ (New)
2020 Pisgah Stage Race Amenities:
5 well marked courses with enduro segment each day
Instant chip timed results
Daily leader’s jersey for all categories
Fully stocked rest stops including mechanical and medical assistance
Recovery zone after each stage
Breakfast each morning: Scones, coffee, granola, yogurt and fruit
6 locally sourced dinners: Click here for 2020 dinner menu
PSR jersey for all participants registered by March 15th
Custom Crafted Prizes – Awarded to top three in each category. $750, $500, $250 to top three overall men and women for the cross country. $150, $130, $120 to the top 3 overall enduro men and women.
Stage 1: Clif’s Looking Glass Route- Tuesday, April 14th, 2020
Stage 2: Sunset Motels Promised Land Route- Wednesday, April 15th, 2020
Stage 3: Sycamore Cycles White Squirrel Route- Thursday, April 16, 2020
Stage 4: Fox Factory Carl Schenck Route- Friday, April 17, 2020
Stage 5: Industry Nine’s Land of Waterfalls Route- Saturday, April 18, 2020
Still debating? Don’t wait too long, there are limited spots left for a week full of roots, rocks and repeat! CLICK HERE to get registered.
The final stage of the 2019 Trans-Sylvania Epic, Bald Eagle, was the fastest and shortest of the event with 2,376ft of climbing in 22.5 miles. Today was the last chance for racers to make moves to secure their GC positions.
The day started from camp and was routed mostly through trails around the scout camp. Previous rain left some very swampy areas for riders to navigate. This stage would also have one of the most technical and fast enduro sections of the entire race, and would claim a few riders before the day was over.
The men’s race was full gas from the gun. Bryan Lewis threw attack after attack to try and dislodge Jeremiah Bishop and take the GC. Gaps would form and Bishop would crawl back, never letting Lewis out of his sight.
Bishop, who only had a 30 second advantage going in to the day, had to cover every move with that small of a lead. The two would come to the line neck and neck with Lewis edging out Bishop by 1 second with a time of 1:23:40, to Bishop’s 1:23:41. Kerry Werner rounded out the podium with a time of 1:28:59.
The length of todays stage would not be helpful for Marlee Dixon’s assualt on the GC lead of Britt Mason. The two were never more than a minute apart all day. Dixon kept the pressure on Mason from start to finish. In the end Britt Mason finished in 1:46:36, less than 30 seconds ahead of Marlee Dixon at 1:47:01, and Emily Werner was third with a time of 1:52:20.
Stage 4 of the 2019 TSE Epic once again started from the scout camp, after yesterdays remote location. The Tussey mountain stage is notorious for its near non-stop technical rock gardens. This is a stage where mechanical problems can make or break your race. Line choice is crucial to keeping your tires healthy and drive train in one piece. The 3,274ft of climbing in 32.9 rough miles was going to be a test.
Some drama just after the start would see Bryan Lewis playing catch up from a flat front tire after the first double track descent. He was able to plug it quickly, but would enter the climb up the Tussey single track in around 8th position. Lewis would end up catching the lead duo of Bishop and Werner about half way through the Tussey ridge line.
The lead pack focused on riding smooth through the rock gardens, avoiding any problems. Lewis and Bishop would end up getting a gap on the chasing Werner going back up another Tussey climb. These two would ride together until a tough single track climb where Bryan Lewis would attack and cross the line just 15 seconds ahead with a time of 2:08:36, Bishop was 2nd at 2:08:51, and Kerry Werner 3rd at 2:13:00
The general classification was tested on today’s stage with a new winner and a new face on the podium. The top three would start the day riding together but soon Britt Mason would open a gap on the chasing pack.
Near the 3 bridges trail section, Marlee Dixon would pass Mason for first place. Mason was suffering from a slow tire leak which she would have to deal with before finishing the day. Dixon would hold that lead to the finish and gain back 3:30 on GC with a time of 2:40:31. Britt Mason managed to hang on with the mechanical issues for 2nd at 2:44:01.
Amelia Capuano had a solid ride in the difficult trails of Tussey to grab her first podium spot in 3rd at 2:44:53. Julia Thumel would finish just a few minutes back in 4th at 2:47:43.
Stage 3 had racers traveling to nearby R.B Winter state park for a fast 30.4 mile day with 2,727 ft of climbing. This would be the only stage not starting from the scout camp. Perfect weather and trail conditions made for a fast day. After yesterdays queen stage, this would be an easier day for racers, but a harder day to make up precious GC seconds. This was also the start of the three day race option.
With the fast conditions today, the leaders would end up staying together for almost the entire stage. Brian Lewis was determined to get some time back on Bishop and would make a few attacks throughout the stage, but nothing would stick.
A few miles out from the finish is a 2 mile climb where the elastic would finally snap and Lewis was able to make the gap stick, crossing the line to gain back 40sec on GC with a time of 2:06:40. Bishop would finish 2nd at 2:07:20. Werner was 3rd with a time of 2:09:38. This was the GC order as well after 3 stages of racing.
The news of the day would be that overall leader, Carla Williams, would not take the start line due to the injuries she sustained on stage 2. This would mean a shift in the overall with Britt Mason taking the leaders jersey going in to the day.
The racing would be close all day with only a few minutes separating the top three. Mason lead at the start with Marlee Dixon and Julia Thumel hot on her heels. All three were within site of each other for most of the stage.
Mason would end up holding her lead to the line with a time of 2:35:37. Dixon and Thumel would trade places about 10 miles from the finish with Thumel taking 2nd in 2:36:33, and Dixon 3rd at 2:38:04. With Williams out, the GC standings are Britt Mason 1st, Marlee Dixon 2nd, and Julia Thumel 3rd.
Coopers Gap was Stage two of the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic and was the biggest day of the week with thirty-five miles and about five thousand feet of elevation gain. The day started on the road as racers left camp and headed into Rothrock state forest. The course included some road/gravel sections and the dreaded still house climb but was mostly all single track with trails including: linger valley, peep and deer tick. Some exhilarating descends on the course included: long mountain, sassafras and no name. It was a beautiful warm sunny day for a long day on the bike.
Bryan Lewis (Cutaway) charged hard at the start of stage two and Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) was able to hold his wheel while Kerry Werner (Kona/Maxxis) fell off the lead group. After Bishop had to stop for a stick in his spokes he thought he had been dropped by Lewis on a downhill. Unfortunately Lewis took a wrong turn and bishop was able to make a break away before going into Deer Tick trail.
Bishop took the stage 2 win in a time of 2:54:21. Bishop goes into Stage 3 with around a 90 second lead in the GC. Lewis finished the stage in 2:55:57 and Kerry Werner third 3:05:43 and both holding their positions in the GC.
In the womens race, Carla Williams (CarboRocket) had a lead of over ten minutes starting stage two. After an unfortunate wrong turn and a crash, she finished the stage in second with a time of 3:54:08; still holding on to the GC lead.
Britt Mason (Joes Bike Shop) rallied back after her rough start on day one and made up some time on the technical downhills. She took the stage win finishing in 3:49:33 and moving into 2nd in the GC. Marlee Dixon (Pearl izumi/ Pivot Cycles) finished the day in 3rd in 3:57:01. Dixon moves into 3rd in the GC.
After the TSEpic was canceled in 2018, the race has been brought back thanks to the new race director Ryan Fulton of Trans-Sylvania Productions. The TSE is held in Spring Mills, PA at a local scout camp aka “Single track Summer Camp”, where the trails are know for their rugged east coast rocks. Racers can choose between a 5 or 3 day race and are allowed to camp for free.
Stage one of the TSE was Poe Valley and started from camp. Racers climbed 3208 feet in 30 miles. The weather was a perfect cool sunny day until the skies opened up on some of the racers. It was a mix of rocky old school singletrack and gravel roads with beautiful vistas.
In the open men category a leading group formed of Kerry Werner (Kona/Maxxis), Bryan Lewis (Cutaway), Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) and John Petrylak (Endeavor Cycles/ESI). Bryan Lewis made several attacks throughout the stage. Jeremiah Bishop was able to bridge the gap on the last attack near the finish. Lewis and Bishop rode the last several miles together until it came to a sprint at the finish. Bishop took the stage win with a time of 2:08:54:26, Lewis came in second at 2:08:54:38, and Werner took the third spot in 2:09:21.
In the open Womens category, Carla Williams (CarboRocket) took the lead from the start and continued to gap the other women on the first climbs and gravel sections . She held the lead until the finish crossing the line in an impressive 2:28:36. Behind her, Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles) pushed hard but had some mechanical issues on the technical singletrack finishing 2nd in 2:39:43. Just a minute back and taking third place, was Julia Thumel at 2:40:36. Britt Mason (Joes Bike Shop) started strong but after a flat she finished 4th in 2:41:18. This is a very competitive field with 4th-6th place all within minutes of the podium and should be an exciting race to follow this week.