The Firecracker 50 takes place every year on the 4th of July in Breckenridge, CO. In the past the race has been the U.S. Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships, but it’s also one of those Colorado races that it seems every local has raced, yet, somehow, I had not. Fortunately this year was different.
My dad has recently started to get back in to riding his bike and had expressed interest in doing a race. I suggested that we sign up for the Duo category of the Firecracker as a goal for him to work towards. It would also give us the chance to race together, plus it meant I would only have to ride one of the two 25 mile loops of the course. Dad had been training hard and his fitness leading up to the race was lightyears ahead of where it was just months earlier; I was blown away by his improvement. Unfortunately, 3 days before the race, Dad threw out his back and had to make the difficult decision not to race. Both of us were disappointed by the situation, but we all know that there is no sense in pushing through an injury. So, what’s better than one lap of the Firecracker 50 course? Two Laps! I converted our Duo entry to a Solo entry.
I rarely like to camp the night before a race but wanted to make the most of the long holiday weekend and Katie and I had been looking to go camping for quite a while. We were fortunately joined by good friends Chris and Christa and Marin teammate Matt E. We left Boulder on Thursday afternoon with about 100,000 others from the greater Denver area. Traffic was backed up on the interstate for 22 miles but we finally arrived at our campsite just before dark. It was raining hard when we got there but fortunately it let up just in time for bed. The skies cleared overnight and we awoke to a beautiful sunrise. It was going to be the perfect day for racing.
The race started off hard, as expected. A lead group of about 20-25 guys was formed on the first fire-road climb and I just sat in trying to stay out of the wind and conserve as much energy as possible. The pace increased just before we hit the first section of single track and I jumped into 4th. We climbed a bit more and then descended some of Breckenridge’s amazing trails as we traversed over to the second big climb of the day, called “Little French”. Little French is a steep, loose, 2 mile climb that, at times, even has the guys in the lead group walking their bikes. I maintained my 4th place spot all the way to the top, keeping the lead group of 3 in sight. We then ripped down a short fire-road and with a little bit of out-of-control descending at over 30MPH I bridged back up to the lead group. We were now about 17 miles into the first loop which seemed to go by relatively quickly, I think largely due to riding great trails. One rider in our group flatted and another rider caught up. We had established a lead group of 4, Jamey Driscoll, Chris Baddick, Peter Kalmes and myself.
As we headed out for lap 2 the pace was set high. I was riding way harder than was comfortable with considering we had a whole 2nd lap to do, but I could see the second group chasing and knew that I just needed to stay on this group. Thankfully the pace eased up and I sat in for the long climb ahead. The group remained together for the first half of the lap, until we hit Little French for the second time. Chris attacked, Jamey followed, and I remained in 3rd while trying to keep them in my sights. As I neared the top I noticed my rear tire was going flat. I hopped off, fired in a CO2 and, thanks to some Stan’s NoTubes Sealant, was able to seal the leak while only losing 1 place and about 30 seconds. I chased back on to Peter, who was now in 3rd and we raced the last half of the lap together, attacking each other when we were stronger. I was right on his wheel as we descended the last trail to the finish but I blew a corner and my slim chance of passing him was gone. I crossed the finish line in 4th, 16 seconds out of 3rd.
The race couldn’t have gone much better, having the fitness to make the lead group was unexpected and I am super happy with my result. It’s no wonder that so many people have done this race. The event as a whole is one of the better bike races I’ve attended; amazing trails, prize money, aid stations packed with volunteers handing up water bottles, and free BBQ and beer waiting for you at the end. Next year I’ll be back, or I should say, Dad and I will be back.