Devon O'Neil / Breck Epic 2019
When the Breck Epic
starts Sunday morning, August 11, some of the fastest mountain bikers on earth will be among the field of 450, promising ample intrigue in both the men’s and women’s pro divisions.
Can three-time Olympian Geoff Kabush keep up with freshly crowned U.S. national XC champion—and top-20 World Cup finisher—Keegan Swenson? How will the pace help or hurt Cory Wallace, who won the 24-hour world title two weeks ago in Brazil? Can U.S. worlds team member Russell Finsterwald break through? Will Nepal’s Ajay Pandit Chhetri translate his five wins at the famed Yak Attack race—which reaches nearly 18,000 feet elevation—into a surprise Epic victory?
On the women’s side, Katerina Nash, another three-time Olympian, will try to improve on her second-place finish at the stacked 2017 Breck Epic. She’ll battle Evelyn Dong, this year’s XC runner-up at U.S. nationals, and 2019 U.S. worlds team member Hannah Finchamp. “The level of competition here has never been higher,” race founder Mike McCormack says. Some of that is due to the new UCI C1 inscription, which means international points are at stake.
Of course, pros are only part of the story at the Epic, which carries a unique draw among the sport’s core. Like werewolves under a full moon, they emerge each August from around the globe and migrate to the tiny town at the base of the Tenmile Range. This year, 25 countries—from Albania to Ecuador to Nigeria—and 40 states are represented. They’ll line up next to legends like Rebecca Rusch and celebrate the hills they climbed to get here, both figurative and literal.
To name a few:
Recent Colorado transplant Erin Machan is doing the race for her longtime friend and former boyfriend, Matt Weber, who died during a solo adventure in Peru last year. Weber, a two-time Epic finisher, had signed up Machan and himself as a coed team just before leaving for Peru. Machan considered forgoing their entry but instead changed hers to a solo. “I’m sure I will cry a lot, and it'll be the hardest thing to do mentally and physically, but I know how much he loves this race and I can't not do it,” she says.
Kristen and Al Wade, a married couple from Illinois, signed up last summer after Al got out of rehab for alcoholism. They’re using the race as a chance to do something monumental together. “For a few years most of our plans were sabotaged by vodka,” Kristen says. “But it’s because of an addiction that we are here.”
Former Clydesdale champion Christian Hon comes for redemption. A few months after winning his division at the 2017 Breck Epic, Hon learned he had a life-threatening clot in his leg—and a 1-in-3 mortality rate. He yearned for the “top-10-in-life feeling” he’d gotten from the Epic, and vowed to return when he was healthy. “You sit at your desk at your job and do your life thing and wonder when a feeling that euphoric is going to come again,” he says. “Who knows how I’ll do, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes you have to jump in the pen and wrestle the pig.”
Others recovered from brutal crashes—lacerated livers, punctured lungs, shattered jaws, torn tongues—to reach this starting line. Minnesota amateur Shaun Sava used his training to take his mind off his 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, who was born deaf and blind and spends 20 hours a day hooked up to a feeding machine.
Competitor ages range from 14 to 67. The $30,000 purse includes daily $500 payouts to the men’s and women’s winners, as well as $1,500 for winning the GC overall. Which means if someone sweeps all six stages, they’ll make $4,500 in a week—for riding some of the world’s best trails... really fast.
Stay tuned for stage recaps and more racer profiles throughout the week.