Eventual 2012 Epic winner Ben Sonntag (front) and Squirt Lube's Ben Melt Swanepoel applying the scorched-earth treatment to Breck's Minnie Mine Trail

Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Daniel Dunn

As you might already know, the Breckenridge Epic is a six-day event held during August and takes place in the high mountains of Colorado’s Central Rockies. Traditionally billed as a brutally long, high-altitude, multi-day, cross-country marathon, 2013 brings about an additional category: a multi-day Enduro format race.

The Enduro and Breck Epic-proper will happen concurrently from August 11th-16th, 2013 and riders of both formats will ride and share the same course. The race is a cloverleaf format, in this case meaning that every stage begins and ends within one mile of downtown Breckenridge, CO. Each stage also starts at about 9,600 feet and goes up from there, and covers about 240 total miles of backcountry routes within Summit County’s 10 Mile Range along with the mountains delineating the county’s eastern border (and serving as the Continental Divide at the same time).

Stan's NoTubes pro Jake Wells demonstrating that the best way to ride some sections is to just boost 'em.

Where the two races will differ is as follows:

1. The Enduro still contains the same six stages, all told about 240 miles and 37 miles of climbing.
2. Within those stages they’ve identified about 20 signature descents (the qualifications being that they be relatively uninterrupted by climbs and possess a very high fun factor).
3. The 20 segments add up to about 75 miles of descending and a net vertical loss of 25,000 feet over six days.
4. Most of the descents are inaccessible by car or shuttle, so the best way (in fact, the only way) to access them is by riding the course. That said, the time limits are incredibly generous – Enduro riders can soft-pedal the whole course while harnessing their chi for the fun parts only.
5. The Enduro category is offered as a standalone but Epic Enduro organizers will also be tracking any rider that wants to participate in it and within their regular GC category as well. Translation? You can pursue the overall GC and still be ranked within the Enduro.
6. A men's and women's Enduro champion will be crowned, but will also award sub-champions within existing GC categories.
7. Timing will be executed in a very Strava-esque fashion.

This race seems to be somewhat closer to the Trans-Enduro format of races like the Trans-Provence (the TP crosses much of Provence whereas Breck is based in Breckenridge), a race that Bike Magazine has had firsthand experience of last September and regard it as a very accessible and enjoyable format for keen racers and riders wanting to get a lot of riding done in a week stint. If the Breck Enduro's trails are anything near as good as races like Trans-Provence then it could be a fantastic event.

Every stage starts within rock chuckin' distance of incredible coffee, sushi and beer in the Victorian mining town of Breckenridge

To find out more we fired a few quick questions over to Michael McCormack of Breckenridge Epic.

Bike: Why the push for an Enduro format?

Mike: Well, I think that events and their formats need to evolve to both meet the needs of the market and to stay exciting and relevant. The industry has enjoyed healthy and sustained growth in the trail bike segment for several years now and the Enduro format speaks to the evolution of equipment trends as well as the riding abilities of the consumer. It’s kind of like when shaped skis entered the winter market, and to a lesser extent, the recent growth of rockered skis and boards; as technology has progressed, riding habits of the consumer have evolved as well. For many, the 5-7-inch travel bike is now their only bike (as opposed to a quiver of them), mostly because they’re just so good. The Enduro format provides a backdrop or competitive element outside of the standard polarization offered by either traditional XC or DH riding. We’re fortunate in that much of the terrain in the Epic is ideally suited for those kinds of bikes and their riders.

Bike: How will timing work?

Mike: We’re putting more resources into an already best-in-class course marking effort. Each Enduro segment will have over the top entry and exit signage as well as detailed pre-ride intel available to everyone. In conjunction with a digital GPS-based partner, we’ve created a system that involves a small bit of daily sweat equity from each rider (a daily upload) at which point we’ll rely upon analog data entry to tabulate results and break them down into appropriate categories. Despite being a cloverleaf format, the Epic course really is ‘back-of-beyond’ in nature. Until the recent advent of modern GPS-based technologies, we simply couldn’t offer a timing solution that would allow us to pull this off. That sort of leads back to your first question – the idea for running an Enduro style race has been around for a long time (at least in concept) and finally we can reliably time it.

Ross Schnell displaying proper tire selection. And ridiculously long femurs.

Bike: What type of bike and rider is going to suit the trails on the Breck Epic Enduro?

Mike: As we know, standard XC racing favors the climber. It always has. You could make a case for all-around riders in mountain biking enjoying even less success than their counterparts in a road stage race where TT’s, flat stages and team tactics all reward different aspects of a rider’s mental and physical makeup. The Enduro terrain here isn’t technical, but it’s long…and holy shitballs-fast. The riding is also very mineral in nature – single track is typically very hard packed and in some areas best resembles the "least worst" line through some rocky and loose sections. I flat-out LOVE that kind of riding. The ideal bike will offer supple travel in the mid-range as well as the option to stiffen up the suspension to allow the eking out of extra seconds via big-ring mashing.

At the end of the day, each competitor will be riding the entire course in order to get to all the segments, so a rig that can climb without overly taxing its pilot will be optimal. As far as what type of rider? Someone who embraces speed – and carries a fair bit of fast-twitch reaction time in their physiological makeup – will win. Everyone else? Well, the course is well-suited to mortals as well. All will have fun – that’s guaranteed. Lots of local riders are choosing bikes along the lines of the Santa Cruz Nomad. Ross "Mach" Schnell seems to do just fine on his Remedy. Big rubber is a must, no matter what your downtube says.

Going from 40 to 4 mph (repeatedly) on the Tiger Run section of the legendary Colorado Trail

Bike: How do riders sign up and what does this cost?

Mike: Riders can enter the event at PreRace.com (link below). They can opt to participate in a normal XC category AND be tracked in the Enduro, or they can elect to participate in the Enduro only. We’ve got early bird pricing available right now ($699 as opposed to the normal price of $999) and that includes a VERY generous swag bag, on course support (food and mechanical), inclusion in our aid station drop-bag program, and a killer awards banquet at the end of the week.

Looking to register? You can sign up here.