The BT Epic has quickly become one of my favorite mountain bike races as it encompasses every element that a great mountain bike event should contain. The location is beautiful and rural, the trails are amazing and well maintained, the course is well marked, the organizers are some of the funniest and most down to earth bike dudes you’ll ever meet, the turnout is exceptional (all 475 spots sell out almost instantly and next year they’re bumping the number to 600) and run the gammet from pros to first time racers, the start is a great fire road climb separator before the 50 miles of singletrack begins, there, the support is top knotch with great aid stations every 10 mile, there are spectators everywhere and they’re super friendly, there is a post race BBQ and all you can drink beer, there’s a raffle with great prizes and over 30 bikes given away, and the awards payout is more than generous. In summary you really can’t ask for a better event.
My buddy Chris Hon lives in St Louis and introduced me to this race last year and I had such a good time I had to come back. Once again I borrowed his bike and once again we set off into the Mark Twain National Forest to tackle the Berryman Trail. After years of petitions Chris finally got a Clydesdale category added and at just barely over 200lbs he was ready to win it. We registered at Bass River Resort and got the keys to our cabin. Oh, did I mention you can camp or get a cabin right by the starting line? That’s another huge plus. We had a smaller cabin this year with Chris, myself and fellow racer Brian Roggeveen.
When we woke up it was freezing by LA standard. It was in the low 30s and the sun was just starting to rise. The cow pastures were frosty and we sat inside rather than ride around to warm up. We got to the line right before the 8:30 start and jumped on the front. The shotgun went off and we were moving.
The start was a little slower this year. Maybe it was the cold. From the campground you roll out on a bit of pavement, across a bridge and then the climb begins. It’s about 3 miles and 400 feet of climbing and my bread and butter in LA. There’s a KOM prize for the first rider to the singletrack and I saw my chance. There was one rider alone up ahead and I knew I could reel him in. I hit the pedals and pulled in front and be sucked my wheel for 2 miles while we sprinted uphill to the trail. I made it to the dirt first but was worried about how my legs would hold up for the next 47 miles. Spoiler alert they felt great. I had a lead of about a minute on the trail, which I knew I’d need as the top riders are all way more skilled on these rocks and roots. After about 30 seconds I dropped the chain and front endoed in the the middle of the trail. Amateur hour. Still I was alone so I popped back on and kept pushing. It took another 2-3 miles before Garet Steinmetz, and Bryan Fawley passed me around the Bikini Wax descent with Brian Roggeveen was close on their heels. I was now in thirds but still happy and hoping to hold a top five. I chased Bryan and Garet around through the first aid station and back around the new trail that had been cut. Bryan started to pull away and Garet and I began trading places as he’d smoke the descents and I’d catch him on the climbs. He’s won the race in years past but was looking winded. Bryan won last year and knew what he was doing. Every descent I could hear Brian hot on my heels. I was glad it was him. Nothing like friendly competition. We bobbed and weaved around, Brian putting time on the descents while I kept putting a few seconds on the climbs. A few chain drops later and he would get close and then disappear. By the second aid station at mile 21 I was solid 2nd place, grabbed bottles, hit the descent, wrecked again and was a little more cautions. No bike damage. Whew. Sorry Chris. At one section with a fan with an airhorn around mile 28 I clicked Brian about a minute behind and shortly after heard someone yell that Bryan was 2:30 ahead.
We hit the dirt road again around mile 35 and I didn’t have much in the tank. After 2.5 miles we were back on the trail and when I turned around Brian was on my heels. We traded spots a few times and I chased him up the First Sister climb but he washed out on the descent and layed the bike down. I made sure he was ok and he told me to keep going so off I went. Crashes will crush your power and rhythm and he slipped behind me again. When we hit the last aid station and mile 42 I could see him clawing back on the pavement a few hundred yards behind. Bryan was 3:30 ahead and I turned on the gas. The last 8 miles flew by and I pushed the pavement climb and gravel as hard as I could. When we hit the trail again I couldn’t see Brian but knew he wasn’t far behind. I took some risks on the trail and kept the rubber down and crossed the line in 4:06:52, about a minute and a half behind Bryan and about a minute ahead of Brian. It felt amazing. BBQ and beer time.
One of my favorite parts or the race is hanging out with everyone afterwards. The finish line is at the beer tent, people are cheering, everyone is happy and there are so many friendly faces. We hung out for a while and caught he bmx/trials stunt show, which was new for this year. They were super talented riders and had even done the race earlier in the day. It made my legs hurt just watching them.
There was even a list award beard contest and the winner got a bike. Only in Missouri.