Ironman wants to partner with Breck Epic to create North America’s premier mountain bike race |

Ironman wants to partner with Breck Epic to create North America’s premier mountain bike race

Breck Epic race leader Todd Wells is followed by Russell Finsterwald as they make their way up Wheeler Pass during Stage in August 2016.
Louie Traub / Special to the Daily

SUMMIT COUNTY — Ironman, known for its triathlons, is making a big push into mountain biking and wants Breckenridge to be a part of it.

For the past six months, Ironman has been working hand-in-hand with Eagle resident Mike McCormack, the founder of the annual Breck Epic six-day mountain bike race, to take over the race and make it an annual Ironman mountain biking qualifying event.

It would be an event that could qualify elite international racers for the annual South African Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race. This comes two years after Ironman — also known as the World Triathlon Corporation — purchased the Cape Epic, which has been referred to as “the Tour de France of mountain biking.”

“What the town of Breckenridge offers,” Ironman U.S. Midwest regional director Frank Lowery told the town council on Tuesday, May 22, “Along with the destination and what Mike has created in regards to the trail maintenance and what it adds to us long term in terms of what we are trying to create in the mountain biking world, it just seemed like a great fit.”

McCormack said Cape Epic has been looking to represent its brand in North America.

“There are a couple of races that qualify for inspection,” McCormack said. “And I think ours sort of distinguished itself as ‘the fun guys.’ And fun is a big part of the experience.”


Ironman’s conceptual version of the event would be one of several best-in-class mountain bike stage races globally that would qualify for the March Cape Epic.

In its pitch to the town, Ironman compared its vision of the Absa Cape Epic as the mountain biking equivalent to the annual Ironman triathlon world championships in Kona, Hawaii.

“It’s the premier mountain biking event that every mountain biker wants to get to,” Lowery told the council.

Beyond that, Ironman is selling the town on being “the premier week-long race” in North America along with “counterpart” Cape Epic-qualifying races in Asia, Africa, Western Europe, Latin America and the Oceania region. Lowery added that Ironman likely would keep the Breck Epic at its August time frame. He also said Ironman is planning several three-day races across the country to act as qualifying feeder-races to the Breck Epic. And he said Ironman currently isn’t considering any other locations for its Breck Epic-level race.

McCormack added that he saw the Breck Epic’s progression from “indy-mountain bike” race to Ironman partnership as an ideal opportunity for what he and other locals built over the past decade.

“We’ve been walking around with our fist raised in the air for 10 years, and that’s been a big part of our brand,” McCormack told the council. “We’ve done some good work. We produced an event that we are proud of and try to do things the right way, and it stood for the entirety of its existence as one of the very, very good things in cycling. Of which, some of those things are finite.”

Ironman’s Breck Epic stage race would remain a six-day race, one where both solo riders and teams of two cyclists could enter.

“Which would model what our Cape Epic does at this point,” Lowery told the council of the dual-cyclist team concept.

Ironman also noted that a Breck Epic kids mountain bike race each year would be a part of any deal between the town and Ironman.

In its slideshow pitch that was brought up at the Tuesday, May 22, Breckenridge Town Council meeting, Ironman denoted a three-to-five year contract for the Breck Epic. Financial details were not disclosed, though Ironman says the host community’s contribution would include an annual cash component with a 3 percent annual inflation escalator.

Lowery also disclosed that the daily distances for each stage of the Breck Epic would cover 40 to 70 miles. The average speed of winning professional teams would be approximately 13.6 to 15 miles per hour, while the average daily duration for a “mid-pack rider” would be four to seven hours on course.

Ironman’s Breck Epic route would also be demanding but achievable for ambitious endurance athletes. There would be no gravel-road riding or technically treacherous terrain.

Lowery outlined that routes would use forest roads, rugged dual-track and flowing singletrack terrain. Ironman and the town would also need to ensure the route had the proper land-access permissions granted for competitive mass-participation events. He did, however, emphasize Ironman’s commitment to Leave No Trace principles.

“It’s an important piece already in what we do in triathlons in running, going into these towns, the concept is: ‘You know when Ironman was in town,’” Lowery said, “‘But you can’t tell when we left,’ because you can’t tell when we were there.”


Race participants and their accompanying visitors would also use Breckenridge as the host community for seven nights of accommodations, a welcome function, finishers banquet and vending and expo opportunities — including, potentially, an event beer garden.

For the first year of the Breck Epic, the race would target 500 total riders, with 800 by the third year before capping out at 1,000 to 1,500 athletes in subsequent years. McCormack told the council at Tuesday’s meeting the current Breck Epic sees just under 600 riders and 2,000 total visitors in town.

In terms of requirements from the town, Ironman highlighted Breckenridge as an “iconic” travel destination “with breathtaking scenery,” as well as it’s proximity to Denver International Airport and to mountain biking and endurance sport communities.

Ironman also noted to the town that a necessary start, finish and entertainment area would need to be on the course route and easily accessible by foot. A downtown Main Street start and finish for all six days was emphasized.

The town would also need to provide areas for an athlete registration venue, secure overnight bike parking, a media center, a medical facility, an operation team office and equipment storage.

Ironman also outlined the following services the town would need to provide: police service and public works; town and municipal services and infrastructure; permitting and resident community notifications; waste management; an event volunteer director and 1,000-plus volunteers during race week; an Ironman VIP location and 125 lodging room nights for media and event organizers.

Ironman also relayed that its Ironman Foundation would provide financial contributions to local nonprofits for volunteering. And it said it would produce live-streaming video from remote mountainous route locations daily.

Eli Pace contributed to this story.

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