Wells, Zarate take down Breck Epic
BRECKENRIDGE — The six-day Breck Epic stage race is nothing compared to the long way local bike mechanic Ciro Zarate had to come to win it.
Zarate and teammate Jake Wells took down the open men’s duo division on Friday after six consecutive days of racing 35 to 50 miles in the backcountry surrounding town.
Zarate started racing eight years ago after immigrating to Eagle County from Mexico in 2000. While he says he’s loved bikes his whole life, he started taking the sport more seriously a few years ago and enlisted in the help of Form Attainment Studio and local trainer Jake Wells.
“I started training with Jake three years ago and if you ask anyone in the valley, they’ll tell you I started getting fast three years ago,” Zarate said.
THE FRIENDLY MECHANIC
For Wells, the race has been part of a return from injury after breaking his clavicle and injuring his thumb in April.
Himself a veteran mountain-bike racer and professional cyclocross competitor, Wells had competed in the Breck Epic a couple of times, in 2012 and 2013, but had never before tried the Breck Epic duo division, which requires teams of two to ride together, within two minutes of each other.
“As an athlete-coach relationship it’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Wells said of riding with Zarate. “But also he and I have become good friends over the last couple of years.”
Zarate said the friendship element of their relationship was key in attaining victory.
“I think to do it well, you have to be good friends with the person you’re doing it with,” Zarate said. “Because it’s a test of patience from both sides, you have to have really good communication.”
Wells said he noticed other teams struggling in that area.
“There was definitely some frustration going on,” he said. “Everybody reacts differently in the stressful situation. … You’re going to get edgy, you’re going to get tired, you’re going to get irritable, because there’s no way you’re taking on enough calories, you’re not getting enough sleep, and the courses are hard. So the key is having good communication with whomever you’re doing the duo with.”
Also, said Wells, “it definitely helps if your partner is a bike mechanic.”
Wells and Zarate ran into several mechanical issues during the week which Wells said were resolved much faster than expected, thanks to Zarate’s expertise.
‘ACHIEVE ANY GOAL’
Zarate is quick to admit that he doesn’t look like your average mountain-bike racer. As his coach, it’s something Wells is aware of and was able to prepare for when necessary.
“Ciro’s only like 5 foot 4 or 5, so he’s not able to step over things as efficiently as people with longer legs, which is something we knew going into the hike-a-bike sections,” Wells said. “But the big benefit of all that hiking is you get to have an amazing downhill. We rode longer-travel bikes and ended up making up some time.”
Wells says Zarate makes up for the shorter stride with more strength in general. What Wells calls strength, however, Zarate has another name for.
“I’m pretty chubby. I don’t look like the rest of the guys who are skinny and tall,” he said. “But I always liked challenging myself to see what I can do, and that’s the great thing about biking is if you put in 100 percent of your energy and you’re surrounded by great people, you can achieve any goal you want.”
The great people surrounding Zarate include his girlfriend, Beth Bush; Bruce Kelly, from Pedal Power bike shop; and the Ravelo family, who make up a team called Ravelo Racing, which helps locals like Zarate at races.
“Getting prepared and getting all the stuff you need, I couldn’t do it without Bruce Kelly’s help,” Zarate said. “But once you’re in the race, without Kevin and Alexandra and Carlos (Ravelo’s) help, it would be a lot harder, that’s for sure.”
Cristhian Ravelo, of Ravelo Racing, and Team Tokyo Joe’s also took part in the Breck Epic after finishing eighth on Saturday against a tough field at the Leadville Trail 100.
“I crashed hard early on and spent the week nursing my body back to normal,” Ravelo said with a laugh. “Oh, well.”
The graduates of Vail Mountain School’s class of 2019 will be off to far-flung destinations next fall, set to enter college in one of 16 different states or explore the world on a gap year. One grad is even attending college in Canada.