Breck 100 - Climbing for the Sunrise...

Cameron Chambers and I - at least one of us is ready for the race!
Photo - Sarah Musick
Over 150 riders -some nervous, some eager, some terrified - assembled in the pre-sunrise gloom of Carter Park. Time to focus on riding and the next 100 miles of pedaling. Even though Nick's race didn't start until much later (10:45) he dragged himself out of bed to help with my drop bags and see me off into the wilds around Breckenridge. It was still cold at that hour and I was bundled up in knee warmers, arm warms, vest and a jacket to wait in. Five minutes before the start and I gave my jacket to Nick. I couldn't help but sneaking a glance up to the west. Wheeler Pass was waiting for us - the early rays of the sun just starting to illuminate the alpine terrain. Then the countdown began.

It's cold at 5:40.... Racers gathering
Photo - Nick Thelen

We rolled out of Carter Park under neutral start, under the escort of the race officials and police. I know why I've been doing group road rides now! That was one of most sketchy situations I have ever been in - with nervous riders trying to get into a good position in the peloton, avoiding the traffic furniture and crosswalk signs and multiple turns in the short distance from Carter Park to the Beaver Run parking lot. Plenty of early rising spectators greeted us at all the intersections, but solitude was waiting higher on the mountain slopes. I'd positioned myself near two time winner Jari Kirkland and NUE leader Amanda Carey, hoping I would be able to keep them in sight for most of the climb. Then the flag dropped as we turned onto the Peak Nine service road. The racing was on! And I watched Amanda and Jari climb away from me up the road, making it look easy. I wasn't willing to go that deep that soon in the race - time to settle into my own pace and just ride my bike. The ascent up Peak Nine road was long and steady with some steep switchbacks. It was mostly smooth, with just a few rocky sections to keep us alert. I took a few glances up the mountain and down the mountain as I climbed. A line of riders stretched for what looked like miles in both directions!
And they're off! At least for the neutral roll out...
Photo - Nick Thelen

As we gained elevation, the road gradually turned from smooth and steady to loose, rocky and punchy. Past the Peak Nine restaurant - only half way to the top. The restaurant was also where the road really disintegrated into wide double track.The hardest climbing was still to come, on the loose babyheads that could bring you to a halt if you hit it wrong. In almost my easiest gear, I kept one eye on the trail and the other on the riders around me. Racers were scattered along the road, some still pedaling, other hoofing it. I did end up walking a few sections as we continued to climb higher and higher - but all of the riders around me were also walking. It was too energy consuming to pick my way around the people walking. I did actually ride most of the climb, which I was pretty happy about. Well above treeline now and the line of riders was impressive. I could see the leaders - tiny colored dots speeding along the ridge line leading to the pass. Awe inspiring - yet frightening. I still had to make my way across the mountain face and climb even higher.

Finally, the sharp right turn onto Wheeler Trail. I was looking forward to riding my bike and I knew the upcoming section of trail was nothing but fun. I wasn't anticipating the amount of traffic up there! I mean, really guys? I didn't think that there was that much technical riding on the traverse between the road and the pass, but it seemed like the riders around me were just tipping over. I saw a whole lot of people fall over, other riders struggling with the short, punchy climbs. Yet when I caught up with them and asked I could pass,  the response was "yeah, as soon as I get around the five people in front of me." Um, thanks guys. I know, one simple way to avoid this issue in the future - just ride faster and I'll have less traffic! Everyone walked the steep switchbacks leading to the pass. As soon as the trail opened up and the grade lessened, I hustled to get around some of them. Whew - now to look forward to an almost clean run for the descent off Wheeler Pass. Almost clean - at that point when I caught someone going down hill, I never had to wait long to pass. I was happy we'd pre-ridden. I knew the trail decently and knew to keep my eyes on the trail. Luckily, I'd done all my sight seeing during the pre-ride because the views were really pretty. 

But too soon, the single track ended and it was time for the long strech of bike path from Copper to Frisco. All down hill for the next few miles. Nick had coached me to try and stay on wheels - save some energy for the next section of trail. There weren't that many racers around so I put my head down and pedaled. I also made sure to eat on that easy stretch. I started noticing more and more roadies, streaming down the path. Some of the roadies were wearing Triple Bypass jerseys and they all had numbers on their bikes. It must have been the people doing the Double Triple Bypass. But then I realized that the trains of road cyclists had mountain bikers attached to their wheels. Whoa - missing an opportunity here! I started paying a little more attention and attempted to jump on some wheels. Tried being the operative word - I couldn't hang with the groups at all - spun out completely. All the traffic on the bike path definitely drew some looks from the weekend warriors...

I made the choice to bypass the aid station at Frisco. I had no drop bags there and figured I had enough fluid to make it back to Carter Park. And I was hoping that it wouldn't take that long to get back. While Peaks Trail was mostly up and somewhat technical compared to the Wheeler Climb, it also had plenty of fun rolling sections. I was ready for the up, mentally prepared for the steeper sections and rocky sections. It was also still shady and cool, so I was confident in not getting a bottle. I was going back and forth with a few guys the whole section of trail - they would put some time into me on the climbs, I'd catch back up the descents or through the rock gardens. We settled into a good rhythm on the rolling trail and I wasn't looking forward to leaving the shaded woods. A few minutes before we left the trail, I drained my camelbak dry - at least it wasn't too far to go! We were all unprepared for the sharp turn to continue on Peaks trail - the directions from the pre-ride had indicated we were going straight there. Oops! But that meant we had a little more singletrack fun before the screaming road descent down Ski Hill Road. A quick right turn onto HY 9, then the short climb up to Boreas Pass Road - all the intersections had volunteers stopping traffic and waving us thru. A short little dash on Sunbeam trail, then Carter Park was in sight.

Nick was waiting for me. A quick bike cleaning as I swapped my camelbak for my Osprey Talon 11. Ate a little, drank about half a bottle and replenished all my food stashes. One lap down, two more to go. I rolled through the lap/finish line in 3:28 - a little slower then I'd hoped but still reasonable for my goals. I was still feeling strong, had a smile on my face and was ready for more.


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