2017 Breck Epic: Up and over Wheeler Pass
Stage 5, the summiting of Wheeler Pass is widely regarded as the queen stage of the Breck Epic. Being the penultimate day, riders have already ridden over the continental divide on multiple occasions and while Wheeler forces most riders off their bikes and walking, it is the second-shortest stage of the week — both in time and distance. However, the separations created by the pass and the descent that follows create some of the largest gaps between riders. Gaps that won’t be easy to make up on the short Gold Dust stage on the race’s final day. Check out full results here.
Erin Huck (Cannondale – 3 Rox) started the day with an advantage of over 9 minutes on Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team), but the Clif rider’s riding abilities would have had her as the favorite, given the technical descent and chunky ride on the Peaks Trail back to Breckenridge.
Unfortunately, mechanicals would derail any chance of Nash clawing time back on Huck. Post-race, Nash said, “Today was an adventure. It started with a flat, then I crashed, and messed up my shifter.”
Nash estimates that her flat repair took 7 minutes, then there was the crash and the subsequent trail-side shifter-ectomy she performed. So, considering she finished just 2:17 behind Huck, shows how different the race could have been with just a little luck.
“The lead is good,” said Huck. “Katerina had a flat today. Things would have been different had it not been for that.”
Amy Beisel (Pro Cycling / Kenda) also suffered from multiple mechanicals on Wheeler. With multiple flats, she lost nearly 50-minutes and her third place overall to Evelyn Dong (Full Cycle), who now has a safe lead going in to the final stage on Gold Dust.
Huck will start the final day 11:09 up on Nash, on a stage that’s known for tight racing and often lots of drafting.
Meanwhile, stage 3, when Todd Wells (SRAM / TLD / SCOTT) won, was the first time an elite rider regained the Breck Epic leader’s jersey after losing it earlier in the week. Then Howard Grotts (Specialized) took it back from Wells. And then Wells took the jersey back again.
Geoff Kabush (SCOTT – Maxxis), who earlier in the week prophesized that he would keep getting better as the week went, was the animator of the race for most of the day and took his second stage win in as many days.
Going over the first, and longest climb, Wheeler Pass, there was a group of three on the front with Wells, Kabush, and Jeremiah Bishop (TOPEAK ERGON). Bishop was driving the pace over the climb and supposedly rode most (if not the entire) climb where most riders opted to hike. Grotts was not far behind and was able to regain contact with Wells and Bishop on the second climb, but Kabush had already made his move.
“Kabush got a gap on us on the descent,” said Wells. “Bishop and I rode together, and Howie joined us on the Miner’s Creek climb. We kept Kabush at 10-15 seconds, and I wanted to go over the top with Kabush because he’s such a good descender, so I would be able to go faster, but I just couldn’t latch on. He was gone, and we all raced solo in.”
Kabush, who started the day in fourth overall, needed to make up 1:25 on Bishop to get on the podium. His strong move coming off French Pass and then over Miner’s Creek to Frisco would land him in second overall, over a minute and a half in front of Grotts and two and half minutes ahead of Bishop.
“Today was savage,” said an exhausted Kabush at the finish. “I heard this day could be a good day for me if I went over the top [first]. I was able to push over the top of the first pass, get a little gap, and just tried to pin it all the way home and grab as many seconds as I could.”
The final day of the race, has been more of a parade loop than much else, often with a rider out of contention for the overall taking the win on the day. With drafting being more prevalent and the course being very short, the Gold Dust stage lends itself to a different skillset than what’s been required by the Breck Epic course up to this point.
Kabush, who is seemingly content with his second place overall said, “trying to negotiate kind of like a Champs-Élysées neutral cruise tomorrow, but we’ll see.”
Grotts, who still regularly races on the World Cup circuit and has an explosive power that has left his compatriots feeling like they’re tied to an anchor twice this week, could easily be tipped as the favorite.
“Kabush is obviously progressively getting better,” said Grotts. “If I feel really good, it’d be good to just go from the gun and get it done in less than two hours.”
Each rider in the top four is separated by more than a minute — a tough gap to close on Gold Dust, but as Todd Wells said after stage 5, “It’s mountain biking. Anything can happen.”