Two years after the last Breck Epic was staged on Colorado singletrack, much of what we know about the world has changed dramatically. But a few things haven’t, foremost: Keegan Swenson is still the man to beat in Breckenridge.
Swenson, the 27-year-old defending champion from Heber City, Utah, made a late pass Sunday, Aug. 15, to beat a familiar foe in Colombia’s Luis Mejia and start the six-stage Epic with a four-second victory. He completed the 36-mile course in 2 hours and 44 minutes.
The duo distanced themselves early on from the rest of the field, with Mejia — still smarting from a series of flat tires that derailed his 2019 bid to challenge Swenson — turning the screws on one of America’s most versatile racers. Swenson had won the Leadville 100 the prior day in 6 hours and 11 minutes, the eighth-fastest time in that race’s history. He’d also defended his cross-country national title in July and narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics.
He showed little weariness Sunday as the Epic kicked off on perfectly tacky dirt thanks to a brief rain shower. Content to chase Mejia’s frequent uphill surges and set the pace on the descents, Swenson found himself trailing the 36-year-old Colombian on the final downhill, until they reached the mini-freeride features on Barney Flow. There, Swenson saw a window.
“He wasn’t jumping the doubles, and I started jumping the doubles and gained some time,” Swenson said. “Then I took one of the log skinnies and made the pass.”
Longtime World Tour racer Lachlan Morton of Australia held third for much of the day until a sprint for the finish with Costa Rica’s Carlos Herrera saw Morton edged by a few thousandths.
Among women, Breck Epic rookie Alexis Skarda of Grand Junction led from start to finish ahead of Epic veteran Evelyn Dong and a host of other challengers, winning by 25 seconds.
Skarda said she concentrated on staying under her target heart rate of 170 beats per minute to preserve energy for the subsequent stages. She trained for the Epic by riding — and winning — the Telluride 100 last month. She also finished second at cross-country nationals to 2021 Olympian Erin Huck, another Epic vet.
Skarda and Dong figure to see more challenges later this week from five-time national marathon champ Rose Grant, who won Leadville on Saturday and finished sixth Sunday.
“I figured if I didn’t go too crazy, I wouldn’t ruin it for the rest of the week,” Skarda said at the Carter Park finish. “But it’s tough when you’re feeling fresh to not go too hard.”
In all, Sunday’s first stage covered 36 miles and roughly 5,000 vertical feet
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