Ironman wants to partner with Breck Epic to create premier MTB race
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 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’d be an event that would 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, “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.”
“They were looking for the property to represent their brand in North America,” McCormack added. “And there are a couple of races that qualify for inspection, and I think our’s sort of distinguished itself as ‘the fun guys.’ And fun is a big part of the experience.”
Ironman’s conceptual version of the event — also pitched to the town as the “Breck Epic” — would be one of several “best-in-class” mountain bike stage races globally that would qualify for the March Cape Epic.
In their pitch to the town, Ironman compared their 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 timeframe. 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 Tuesday evening’s 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 also would be no gravel-road riding or technically treacherous terrain.
Lowery outlined that routes would use forestry 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 accomodations, 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 yers. 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’d produce live-streaming video from remote mountainous route locations daily.
Eli Pace contributed reporting
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.