After coming in second on Saturday at the Leadville Trail 100 to Howard Grotts, Todd Wells had a dominant race on stage one, putting time on Jeremiah Bishop and Grotts. Photo courtesy Breck Epic/Eddie Clark
The 9th edition of the Breck Epic is officially underway. The pro fields are beyond stacked. The singletrack is plentiful. The climbs are real kicks in the… but the views and the descents are each their own special kind of breathtaking. Complete stage 1 results are here.
"I felt surprisingly good for the first 15 to 20 minutes, but then I had a really rough two hours in the middle," said Marathon National Champion Payson McElveen (Orange Seal) after finishing in seventh on stage one. He was not alone in that sentiment.
The largest Breck Epic field ever - line up for six days of high-alpine backcountry racing. Photo courtesy Breck Epic/Eddie Clark
Stage One, or Pennsylvania Creek to the locals, is hard and as far as the rest of the week goes, it's not a gentle walk into the shallow end of the pool. It's a belly-flop off the top of your uncle Benny's houseboat. The Little French climb, at mile 21, is where people crack and even some of the top finishers were put on the ropes there.
Todd Wells (SRAM / TLD / SCOTT) and Erin Huck (Cannondale - 3 Rox Racing) would go on to nab the top steps of the pro men's and women's fields, respectively.
Huck found a clean set of wheels early on in the day, distancing herself from her closest rivals Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) and Evelyn Dong (Full Cycle) - who would each go on to finish second and third - early on in the day after Nash suffered a minor crash on the first descent and Dong was not ready to follow the pace set by Huck heading into the Pennsylvania Creek Climb.
Erin Huck (Cannondale - 3 Rox) had a dominant day putting almost four minutes in to Katerina Nash and nearly six minutes in to Evelyn Dong. Photo courtesy Breck Epic/Eddie Clark
"The field is pretty deep this year and we beat each other up today," Dong said. "Erin took off on the flat section before the Pennsylvania Creek climb and Katerina passed me on the Sally Barber descent."
By the finish of the 35-mile day, Huck had built an advantage of three minutes over Nash, with Dong almost six minutes back. Amy Beisel (Pro Cycling Kenda Tire) and Olivia Dillon (Velocio) came in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
The views from the Little French climb are spectacular, but racers rarely look up from the tire in front of them. Photo courtesy Breck Epic/Eddie Clark
"It was a lot harder than I was anticipating," recounted Huck. "I thought the first half would be easier than the second half, but that wasn't the case. I've never done any stage races, or ridden this course, or even much racing in Breckenridge. I didn't have a strategy, just went to see what happens."
Going into the following five days, Dong and Beisel are the only two in the top-five who have raced the Epic before and may have an advantage over the first-timers.
"I didn't have a strategy, just went to see what happens," added Huck. "I'll probably do a little more research for the stages going forward and be a little more prepared."
Where Huck landed a round-one jab that was enough to take the day, the men's field went toe-to-toe all day, trading haymakers until the bitter end, with Wells taking the stage and a small chunk of time from his rivals.
"I've spent the last couple days on my feet all day at the Velorama criteriums [in Denver], said second-place finisher Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak Ergon). I drove up here last night, was eating Chik-fil-A in an Uber and said, 'screw it, let's see what I got and ride as hard as I can until these guys drop me.' It actually went really well. I made the lead group."
The threesome of Wells, Bishop, and Howard Grotts (Specialized) rode much of the day together, trading turns at the front, but with little-to-no drafting possible on course, tactics played little into the equation.
"I didn't feel too bad on the climbs, just was descending like a hack," said Grotts, who just came off a win over Wells and McElveen at the Leadville Trail 100. "Leadville is 95% road and here it's maybe 95% singletrack. It's a lot more fun, but a lot harder on the skills."
Grotts distanced himself on the steep section of the Little French climb, gaining a minute over Wells and Bishop inside of 10 miles to go, but the trailing duo worked together to bring back the youngster from Durango, CO - catching him before the day's final climb where Bishop attacked over Grotts, taking Wells with him.
"I thought the finish was five miles earlier, when you come down that descent to the pavement, I was giving it everything on that descent and hit the pavement road and was like, 'oh no,'" said stage winner Wells. "I was asking everybody where the finish was. I knew we finished in this park, but I didn't remember climbing back up after that long downhill. I knew I had to get into the singeltrack first. JB caught me going into this last descent, but when you're in first, that guy can't pass you."
Wells entered the last section of singletrack first and held it to the finish. With Bishop crashing on the descent in the final mile, Wells was able to put 18-seconds into second place, with Grotts 53-seconds back.
In the true spirit of enduro, each day will have an enduro segment that we will not announce until after the riders have started each day - requiring riders to ride it "blind." A 6-day overall enduro champion will be awarded at the end of the week. Day one's enduro winners were Carl Decker (Giant Factory Off-Road) and Nash.
Keep scrolling to see more images from the first day of high alpine racing in Colorado.