Breckenridge’s De Graaf to race Breck Epic in honor of late friend Eric Dube
It was two years ago when Eric Dube and Nathan De Graaf watched with interest as Breck Epic mountain bikers rode each morning past the duo’s office at Howard Head Sports Medicine. At the corner of Park and Main streets in Breckenridge, the two avid mountain bikers and physical therapists pondered the possibilities.
“We’d watch these riders go by and look at each other, ‘Do you think you can do that?’ De Graaf said. “Over a week of seeing these riders ride by every morning and having the same conversation every day, it became more like, ‘What if we did it together someday? That’d be really fun. Let’s talk about it in five, 10 years.’ That’s kind of where we left it.”
“Someday” never came for the two good friends after Dube died in November 2017 from an undiagnosed heart condition during a weekend mountain bike trip near Moab, Utah. He was 30 years old.
Dube’s sudden death was jarring for De Graaf, who regarded Dube as the brother he never had. But he had an idea to honor Dube: ride in the six-day, 220-plus-mile, 40,000-elevation gain Breck Epic.
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De Graaf, 35, will ride Sunday through Friday in honor of his late friend. Through it all, he’ll wear the “#SendItForEric” cycling jersey he and Dube’s fellow friends made last year.
When De Graaf takes to the first stage of the multiday event Sunday, the 36.4-mile Pennsylvania Creek, he knows the memories will come flooding back.
“The closer I get to Sunday, the more I realize there are some very deep emotions in there about this whole thing, and they are all kind of coming to the surface,” De Graaf said. “I guess it was always just hard for me to grapple with ‘someday’ wasn’t going to happen.”
To Dube’s community of Breckenridge friends, he was an energizing, positive influence. He was fun to chase around on group rides, De Graaf said, and you knew the ride was over when the muscular 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dube gave you a big bear hug goodbye.
De Graaf first met Dube while working late one night at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. De Graaf picked up his head when Dube waved and said, “Hi, I’m Eric. I’m a physical therapist, too.” The two soon became friends, bonding over the fact they graduated from physical therapy school the same year. Soon enough, they’d work together at Howard Head and fall in love with the sport of mountain biking, taking to Breckenridge’s network of trails.
With their friends, they lived for the competitive yet communal fun of racing in the Summit Mountain Challenge. Just weeks before he died, Dube won the season title in his age division at the 2017 race series.
During their friendship, De Graaf learned more about what made Eric Dube Eric Dube. That included Dube’s annual party celebrating bike riding and barbecuing.
“He called it his ‘Babes, Bros, Beers and Bikes Barbecue,’” De Graaf said. “Basically every ‘B’ word he could think of he threw it in the name and invited everybody to show up and have this awesome party.”
De Graaf and other friends of Dube honored him with a memorial “B” barbecue last year. Friends and family also honored Dube via a Summit Foundation fundraiser trail workday that built a bridge at McCullough Gulch in his memory.
Then there was Dube’s friend Greg Sagan — the Breckenridge housemate of Dube’s brother, Ryan — who won his own sport division at the Summit Mountain Challenge racing in honor of Dube.
Throughout the race series, De Graaf, Sagan and several others wore the #SendItForEric jerseys, race tops that featured Dube’s bike art on the front and a silhouetted picture of Dube on the back.
Next week, De Graaf is especially looking forward to Thursday’s fifth stage, which takes riders up and over Wheeler Pass. It was after the 2017 Breck Epic, when Dube decided one random day to ride the same route as the race’s 24-mile, 5,227-elevation-gain Wheeler stage. De Graaf can still vividly remember how elated Dube was after finishing the route, thrilled by the treacherous Miner’s Creek descent.
On Thursday, De Graaf will experience it for himself. When he does, he won’t forget Dube’s core outlook on mountain biking.
“We ride bikes,” De Graaf said, echoing Dube, “to have fun.”
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