Breck Epic bike race: “The burliest representation of hardcore mountain biking”

BRECKENRIDGE — Just about every body part is bloodied. Legs, knees, elbows. Even a giant scrape down his chest that Devon O’Neil can’t precisely connect to a specific crash.

He was on the ground more than a few times during the Breck Epic, a grueling six-day mountain bike stage race spinning more than 240 miles and climbing more than 40,000 vertical feet on the alpine singletrack above Breckenridge. The race finished Friday afternoon with several hundred participants completing what is considered the most demanding mountain bike race in the country.

“This is the burliest representation of hardcore mountain biking,” said O’Neil, a Summit County mountain athlete and writer covering the race for Bike Magazine along with teammate Dave Gelhaar. “It seems like all the strongest riders from their different towns and regions around the world are attracted to this race.”

For the last nine years, bike boss Mike McCormack has cultivated the race he founded with a carefree vibe that mirrors the free-spirited sport of mountain biking. In 2009, he told the 100 riders in the inaugural race his three rules: be nice to each other, don’t litter and wear a helmet. The rules haven’t changed now that he’s hosting more than 500 racers in what has become one of North America’s most grueling tests of cycling endurance, drawing the best of the knobby-tired tribe in a weeklong sufferfest and celebration.

McCormack, with his signature cowboy hat, puffy jacket and flip-flops, is a soft-spoken boss but he can wield a big stick. Even though his race is not sanctioned by cycling’s governing bodies, don’t even think about signing up if you’ve ever been crosswise with anti-doping officials. And don’t bring your racer ego either.

“It’s about being nice to other people. It’s about maintaining the vibe and it’s about not leaving your integrity on the course for a handful of seconds off your time,” said the race director who built singletrack next to paved trails in his hometown of Eagle so school kids could taste the freedom of pedaling dirt. “You don’t have to do that here so we shouldn’t.”

That’s not to say that riders aren’t racing. The Breck Epic draws the best of the best, with a field of heavy-hitting pros testing their talents in a race like no other. This year was likely the deepest field with riders rallying for one of the world’s few mountain bike stage races. The pros aren’t getting points for the season like they do in a sanctioned race, but they are vying for serious bragging rights.