After last year “bucket list race” , the Cape Epic, in South Africa, any race would seem to pale in comparison. I’m not even sure how I heard about this race. I was probably on a high from Cape Epic and started searching around for mountain bike stage races….who knows. After finding this one I got approval from my better half and then that was that. I never really thought about it that much, aside from getting an airline ticket and working out logistics with the little people. Wifey was going to make a guest appearance on this trip and it was all coming together with her aunt and uncle who were renting this keller house in Brevard, North Carolina.
Come to find out the Pisgah National Forest is huge. I guess the mountain used to be the size of the Himalayas, but then got beat down by Mother Nature and now are just foothills compared to the Sierras, which I can used to. Man, are these mountains green. Light tan is the color for the summer in California. I believe these hills stay green all year, judging by all the waterfalls and afternoon rain.
I arrived on Greenville, South Carolina where I had my bike shipped via Bike Flights, for the first time. It is not a bad wya to ship your bike, especially when United charges $200 one way. The downside is you won’t have your bike for at least a week, depending on where you are flying to and from. Otherwise it went smoothly and the guys at Benchmark Bicycles put my bike together for me. One less thing to worry about. I headed over to Paris Mountain to check out some of the trails. Nicely made trails, but pretty much covered the whole park in 1.5 hours. Pretty small, but a nice shakedown. I did find that my dropper post wasn’t working proper, so I took it back to Benchmark and they set it with more air….or so I thought.
I rolled up to Brevard and showed up at the pre-race meeting at the Brevard Music Center. Really cool venue and an neat town. Being from California there was lots of green - trees, shrubs, lawns - green everywhere. It was a pleasant change. The biggest thing I got out of the pre-race meeting was from the promoter Blue Ridge Adventures and their head honcho, Todd. He said that (and they don’t advertise this) if you don’t finish one day or don’t want to ride, you can still start on another day. You will just get the time of the last place person in your category, plus one hour. “After all”, he said, “this is your cycling vacation. Enjoy it and don’t stress about time cuts.” I thought this was pretty cool. You can have a bad day on the bike or a mechanical that can ruin it, but you paid a lot of money to be here and why not be able to continue with the race. Kudos Blue Ridge Adventures!
STAGE 1: 21 MILES, 4,000 FEET ELEVATION
Stage 1 started at a campground that was accessed by crossing a pretty wide river. Todd had sworn that he would take a Prius across this river to get to the campground. I was not sure of that and didn’t want to risk having my brother-in-laws lowered BMW float down to the Atlantic. So I borrowed my wife’s Aunt’s Toyota 4-Runner. I was glad a did because a jacked up van in front of me got water up to the door jam. My blood was pumping with adrenaline and we hadn’t even started the race. Then my seat post wasn’t working at all. Actually I could sit on it and it would go down, but I was in full manual mode going up. Bah…Then I forgot to sign in, so I started in the back. Great start to the race. I also realized that I had packed one leg warmer and mismatching gloves. Luckily the gloves were an even number of rights and lefts. And we were off….
A little rain greeted us on the trail and so did humidity. Felt like someone breathing on you all the time. These folks are used to it. Not me… The biggest obstacle of the day was the Farlow Gap. It was basically a super steep downhill river bed with massive boluders. Not really sure how or why they decided to build a trail there. Walking downhill is truly humiliating, but better that than going to the hospital. There was a ripping downhill to the finish and I am convinced that every promoter has this in their plans - crush them all day and then have some fun downhill at the end so they forget about all the misery throughout the day. Day 1 was in the books and then this happened when I got home….
STAGE 2: 39 MILES, 3900 FEET ELEVATION
Stage 2 started with a nice section of pavement where the organizers had one of the main intersections closed in town. The locals didn’t seem to mind and we took over one lane of the highway leading to Asheville. The pace was hot as the pros kept it cooking at the front. But with only so many gears on the mtb I was able to hang with the main group we got onto the steep dirt climb and then Kaboom! I was off the back. I really was enjoying the singletrack sections through the hardwood forests. All the leaves were off the trees but it was pretty cool through some of these forests. Again, not in California, where oaks and dry grass are the norm. Since my dropper post was broken I ended up getting a Fox Transition put in by the folks at Sycamore Cycles. What a dream this post it. No more air to add to the post. I am sold. It performed amazingly.
STAGE 3: 30 MILES, 6,000 FEET ELEVATION
This was probably my least favorite of all the stages. We basically started in the same spot as the day before, went up the same hill we went down yesterday, did a loop and then went down the same descent again. Lots of hike and bike (well that was all the stages so far). Still some pretty nice single track through the forests and lots of creek crossings. Water everywhere. There was a tendency to do some long gravel climb then go down on some ripping single track. Can’t complain about that.
STAGE 4: 32 MILES, 4,000 FEET ELEVATION
In reality the promoter took off about 10 miles and a 1,000 or so of elevation due to a massive thunderstorm that had moved in that morning. Rain poured down on us at the start. Rather than risk the riders safety they just cut the stage short. It sure didn’t feel like it though. After a big gravel climb we were off on single track (seeing the trend?). Every day also had an endurance section where the riders were timed on some ridiculously heinous downhill. The Enduro section today was Pilot Rock and it was truly horrible. Massive boulders, tree roots and slippery granite produced lots of crashes. I kept it upright, but I was tiptoeing around the course. Locals describe the Pisgah as “rooty, rocky and steep”. I would say that is true. Riding across a perpendicular root that is wet…never done it before and the pucker factor was in full effect.
STAGE 5: 29 MILES, 2,300 FEET ELEVATION
The promoter truly saved the best for last. We started at the Brevard Music Center and did a neutral roll out to the gravel road start. From there we went up a gravel climb to some amazing single track. I was seeing roads all over the place, so the potential in the area seemed endless. We hit another downhill over this river gorge on the way to another gravel climb. On the way there was a bacon hand-up, which was truly amazing. Who doesn’t like bacon in the middle of a ride? The last gravel climb put us in the hardwood forests once again. The gravel road turned into a grassy/moss carpeted road. I saw a hunter walking down the road. I am sure both of us were thinking, “What in the world?”. We topped out above the Music Center where there was a crowd of people cheering/heckling us on. Whiskey shots were flowing for riders and spectators alike. And one of the funniest things I ever heard heckled…I had my front fork locked out to get traction on the uphill. I reached down to unlock at the top. Some guy saw me and said, “Check out the roadie unlocked his top cap.” Haha. Mountain bikers don’t lock out their front fork on long uphills???? A ripping 5 mile downhill followed with banked turns, jumps, bridges and the like. So much fun. I finished up at the college where my wife and aunt were waiting. Truly a great stage race. Check it out! https://www.blueridgeadventures.net/pisgah-stage-race/race-5/
Bike Specs: I rode my Ibis Ripley with custom wheel built by yours truly. They were the same wheels I used in Cape Epic last year. Boyd Cycling Ridegeline carbon rims with White Industries hubs, WTB tires, 11-42 rear cassette, 30 tooth front chain ring, brand new Fox Transition dropper, Rock Shox 100mm travel front fork, Easton carbon bars and stem, WTB seat. I would recommend a 130mm front fork due to the rocky, steep terrain. Otherwise my set up worked quite well. Huge thanks to Uncle BT and Aunt RD for the great crash pad in Brevard. Comfort is always key to these races. Having a nice place to stay is a must. Big thanks to Sycamore Cycles in Brevard too. They had a bike wash that cost $20 a day where they would wash your bike and lube it for the next day. I firmly believe when you race you need to recover, not spend your entire afternoon cleaning your bike. Makes it way more fun….