Firecracker 50 Race Report

I always find race reports are way more interesting, to read and write, when things don’t go as planned… and that was definitely the case for Firecracker 50.

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With the Leadville 100 MTB now on the calendar for me and attempting to get my running legs back in order to pace Maggie at the Leadville 100 Run the week before Firecracker wasn’t necessarily easy. My plan was to kind of train through it and just take a couple of easy days before.

Racing a big race on a Tuesday (july 4th) was kind of different and the Saturday before I headed out for a 3 hour mountain bike rip through waterton canyon, the colorado trail, and roxborough state park. During the ride I had all kinds of problems with my lockout lever (it locks both my fork and rear shock – fully rigid). It would just get stuck fully open or fully closed/rigid and it would take 20+ attempts to finally get it to work. Right after the ride I took it to the shop in hopes it would just need a bleed but the the lever ended up being jacked and some of the internal parts needed to be replaced… and the bad news… the bike was in a fully locked state and they couldn’t get it to unlock. fantastic.

Thankfully they guys at the shop are rad and offered me any of the demo bikes they had on hand. They had a bunch of “party” bikes but no XC race bikes. I ended up taking a Santa Cruz 5010c with some beefy tires and a dropper post. My bike weighs about 22 lbs (cannondale scalpel size small) and purposely didn’t want to weight the 5010c because I really didn’t want to know before the race. It’s a good thing I didn’t…. I weighed it on Wednesday when we got home from Breckenridge and it was 33lbs… and that was with out a bottle!! If I would have known that I likely would not have raced… that bike is tank… but really fun to go downhill on. I also didn’t want to make any excuses before the race due to the bike. I just wanted to get out there and race and see what would happen.

now onto the race…


the start was rad. we rolled out on main street in downtown Breckenridge just before the 4th of July parade. there were thousands of people lining the streets cheering us on…. it was killer. The pros went off, then 19-29, and then my wave of 30-39 year olds. The race starts with 5+ mile climb on a mix of road and fire road. I had my (demo) bike fully locked out and we were in a solid group starting the climb. I was riding with two of my teammates on The Adrenalin Project, Jason & Adam. Normally this kind of climb and start are my bread and butter….but not on this day… on that bike.

Jason commented to me about how slow we were going up the climb but I was working hard already… and then one of my friends James came rolling by and urged me on to pick up the pace! Adam Zimmerman was also racing, and who I’ve race with before, and I knew he would want to take it out hard on the climb… and that’s what I wanted to do too. We started to ratchet up the pace a bit and he made a move and I tried to go with him. Jason came around me and I jumped on his wheel only to watch him ride away from me. I was maxing out just trying to hang on with my heart rate hitting the 190s. I couldn’t keep up, which not in a cocky way, typically doesn’t happen to me on a climb like that.

The rest of the climb was more of the same. I was working really hard and guys would continue to roll past me. It was pretty demoralizing but I was trying to stay positive and looking forward to the first descent. Once we started descending I started making moves and picking people off which was new for me. I usually attempt to gap as many people on the climbs and then hold the gap on the descents. On this day the descents were all I had and with 130mm of travel and a dropper post I was taking full advantage and having a ton of fun doing it.

So I would blast the descents and then work really hard on the climbs but guys kept passing my any time the trail would turn up. I was, shockingly, catching some people on the climbs who has passed me earlier in the race. Right at the top of the hardest, steepest climb on the course, “Little French”, I caught the 2nd and 3rd place guys in my category (35-39). My teammate Jason was in the lead and crushing us. I was shocked that I caught these guys and I was already feeling the effort it took to do so. Then we started descending again.. party time. I rode right behind the 2nd place guy and we dropped the third place guy so i was now in 3rd.

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Then a super fast roadie guy I know, Jerod Ridge, from home was riding with us. I was trying my best to stay with them on the short, steep climbs and it took everything I had to keep contact. This went on from mile 16-20. They would hammer the climbs and I would turn myself inside out just to hang on by a thread. On the steep climb right before the mile 20 aid station the rubber band snapped and I totally cracked. 2nd place dropped me and other dudes started flying by.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a huge blow up in a bike race. I had been giving it everything I had for 90′ and doing that at 9k-11k feet had taken it’s toll. The extra effort of 11 more pounds of bike on the climbs at that altitude was just something I didn’t anticipate. I was crosseyed. A couple miles from the end of the first lap James rolled by me and told me to jump on… I told him I was done and going to drop… and I was really planning on it. He urged me not too but I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t because of what place I was in or that the race had passed me by. I just couldn’t imagine getting myself through another 25 miles and 3000+ feet of climbing.

I rolled through the end of the lap and saw Maggie who was just going to handle me a bottle and I was going to hammer through. Instead I stopped and talked to Maggie for a couple of minutes. I told her what I was thinking… she laughed… and told me to get my ass back out there and finish. So I did and started the 5+ mile climb for the second time. I felt like I was barely moving and was baking in the sun…and more people passed me on the climb. By the time I reached the top I was totally blown and over it.

As soon as I got to the single track and the shade I got off my bike and took a break. I decided I was just going to ride back down to the finish and drop. As I started to there were a couple of dudes just hanging out on the side of the trail cheering people on. They asked me what I was doing and I told them I was done and needed a beer… their response… “we’ve got beers”, and the asked me if I wanted one. I set my bike off the trail, took off my helmet and gloves, sat down, cracked a Budweiser and chatted with these guys for 15 minutes as we watched guys and girls ride by… a lot who were in bad shape. At this point I was still planning on dropping but after 3/4s of the beer and after talking with these guys i decided I should and could finish.

I finished the beer… a Budweiser has never tasted so good… and got back on my bike. The remaining 20 miles weren’t pretty and I suffered more than I have in a long, long time but I got it done and crossed the finish line… about an hour after I was hoping to but that didn’t matter. I was stoked… and mega smashed… but nothing some good beers, a burger, and some ice cream couldn’t fix.

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When I rolled in from the first lap to see Maggie and to tell her I was thinking about dropping…. i knew she wouldn’t let me… and I’m very thankful for that. I love my wife.

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The Firecracker 50 is an incredible race and event. I will be back for some redemption for sure. Next up is the Ridgeline Rampage this weekend. It’s a local 48 mile (3×16 mile laps) mountain bike that should be some good fun and suffering.

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  1 comment for “Firecracker 50 Race Report

  1. Jeremy Denila
    July 12, 2017 at 11:09 am

    You can’t kill them all James, your still inspiring. Looking forward to your other races.

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