Cory Wallace looks relaxed at the finish line of the 1st stage of the Breck Epic, a bucket list worthy six-day mountain bike stage race in Breckenridge, Colorado.
He’s in his element - experiencing another epic cycling event in an equally epic locale, and his smile tells all: he lives for things like this.
“The first 30 minutes felt pretty rough today,” he says.
Cory Wallace, a longtime endurance athlete, is no stranger to events at elevation, and Stage 1 of the Breck Epic was comparatively short compared to some of Cory’s accomplishments.
The day prior, he had just finished the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, itself a bucket-list event. Most might spend over a year preparing for the Leadville 100, and promptly take the weeks or even months following the event off.
But not Cory.
Cory finished the Leadville 100, had a brief rest, then was up the next morning at 5 am to drive himself to Breckenridge as he embarked on his next adventure.
“I knew the Leadville 100 was going to be fast. My goal was to stick with the lead group as best as I could."
As part of the LifeTime Grand Prix, there was no shortage of heavy hitters on the start line, ready for a race across the sky.
The challenge of Leadville 100 comes from far more than a stacked field - there’s a reason this race has reached legendary status among mountain bikers the world over.
The Leadville 100 course covers 104 miles (167 km) in distance with 11,928 feet of elevation gain. Thin air at high altitudes only adds to the challenge - the lowest point of the race still finds racers 9,200 feet above sea level. The high-point? An eye-watering 12,516 feet, reached at the top of Columbine Mine Climb.
“I knew it was going to be fast. My goal was to stick with the lead group,” Cory recalls.
He’d roll across the line after 6 hours and 37 minutes, good for 13th place, and five and a half minutes faster than he finished the year prior.
“Usually a time like that would be good enough for a top 5, but it’s such a stacked field now.”
After the Leadville 100, Cory could be found soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying a celebratory beer, and cheering on other finishers from his friend’s front yard, located right on the finishing stretch. An easy-going nature seldom comes with what it takes to be a high-level athlete, but for Cory, it’s not only about race results.
“My lifestyle is all about taking it all in… enjoying as much of this experience as I can. You don’t stay young forever, and I want to take advantage of this lifestyle while I still can.”
5 am on Sunday morning comes around even quicker after the kind of Saturday effort that racing Leadville 100 takes, but for Cory, it’s just another adventure.
“Around 7 pm last night, I flipped the switch to focus on the Breck Epic. I cleaned my bike, got my gear in order, and hit the road this morning at 5 am to drive to the start line in Breckenridge.”
“I always start the year with a rough season plan, but I like to keep it pretty loose. When opportunities come up wherever I may be, I want to be able to seize them.”
For Cory, that may mean spending months in South Africa after racing the Cape Epic. It might mean setting an FKT somewhere in Nepal. It might mean winning the 24 Hour World Solo Championships in Italy, Brazil, Scotland, or wherever it may happen to be hosted that year. Or it might even mean sticking closer to home and challenging the world record for most elevation climbed in 24 hours on a mountain bike in his hometown of Jasper, Alberta.
“It’s like a bad case of FOMO. I want to take advantage of every opportunity that comes up while I still can.”
Cory would go on to finish 3rd overall at the 2022 Breck Epic. From there, he won two stages of the Transrockies Gravel Royale, hosted a 24 Hour Race in Canmore, Alberta, won the DV100 Road Race, finished 3rd overall in the BCBR Gravel Stage Race, and finished out the LifeTime Grand Prix with appearances at the Chequamegon MTB and Big Sugar Gravel Events.
The dust had barely settled on his 2022 North American race season - or perhaps a more Canadian metaphor would be that the snow hadn’t yet flown - before Cory boarded a plane to Nepal.
In the heart of the Himalayans, he won the Yak Attack Stage Race, before setting his sights on an FKT of the Annapurna Circuit in Reverse, which he did to raise awareness for his fundraiser aimed at opening a training center for cyclists in Kathmandu for Nepali riders.
The Annapurna Circuit Reverse is 217 km, with one mountain pass climb topping out over 17,800 feet above sea level.
On November 30th - spoiler alert - Cory beat the regular directions FKT by 3 minutes, setting the reverse FKT in the process, of course, and raising enough funds to start the process of opening the training center.
Words: Evan Wishloff
Photos: Stirl and Rae Media Haus
You can follow Cory’s latest adventures on his website. If you want to learn more about Cory's 2022 Colorado race stops, check our short film, Chasing Wally below.