For five days each September, some of the best mountain bike riders from across the world compete on some of Pisgah National Forest’s most challenging mountain biking trails not for fame or fortune, but strictly for the love of the sport as part of the annual Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race.
In total, around 75 racers signed up for the 2013 race that covered around 200 miles of trails and roads and climbed more than 28,000 feet of elevation gain over the course of the race. The winning time at the 2012 race, posted by professional mountain biker Jeremy Bishop, clocked in at just over 16 hours, 21 minutes.
“Pisgah has earned a growing reputation for having some of the best trails in the country, and this five-day, fully supported endurance event delivers an unmatched sampler platter of some of the best singletrack in the country,” event director Todd Branham said.
The event is one of 14 similar races across the world, three of which are in the U.S.
In 2012, for the first time, the race featured a start and finish at the Cradle of Forestry, which provides an iconic location for the racers, as well as their family.
In addition to the action, the week’s events also include a daily “Leaders’ Awards Ceremony and Happy Hour” with adult beverages and a “Closing Ceremony Celebration Party,” including a vendor expo, children’s race, silent auction and live music.
For event organizers Todd Branham and Heather Wright, the race is designed as “a true race, not a test of survival.”
That competitive spirit resonated with participants such as Adam Craig, who participated in the 2011 race and was impressed with the quality of the trails in the area.
“After this week, I’m going to say Pisgah National Forest is definitely in the top three places in the universe I’ve ever ridden, maybe the best one,” he said after last year’s race. “I think the Pilot Rock trail, which you’re going to ride a bunch, and everyone else in the world should come ride, is probably the best downhill I’ve ever done.”
This year, around 20 percent of the participants are traveling from outside the country to race. Riders from Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands will all be vying for a chance at taking home the prize as they see if they have what it takes to beat out reigning titleholder Jeremiah Bishop.
Bishop, who races professionally for the Cannondale Factory Racing Team, has won the event the previous three years and is coming back this year for another attempt.
“The average age this year of the 75 people is 47 years old,” Branham said. “It’s truly an endurance event. When you get the average age of 47 years old, these people bring their whole family. So it’s good for tourism and it goes to show that cycling is a life-long sport.”
Logistically, race organizers are put to the test each year as the five days of racing requires an extraordinary amount of planning. Each day, more than 25 volunteers are out on the course at various remote locations providing rider assistance, aid and logistical support. To help sort out the logistics, Blue Ridge Adventures has partnered with Brevard College Cycling, Pisgah Forest Rotary Club, Pisgah Area Cycling and Upstate (SC) SORBA for volunteers.
The task is no small feat for the volunteers, some of whom are required to backpack via their bikes to reach the positions the night before to be prepared for the start of the race the following day. This year, the Pisgah Stage Race will kick off on Monday night at the Brevard Music Center.
The next morning, the riders will officially start racing at the Black Mountain Trailhead.
During the week, riders will celebrate the daily awards and leader’s jersey presentation, as well as enjoy a “backyard style throw down,” from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day at the Sunset Motel. On Saturday, Sept. 22, the public is invited to the Cascadia Evening, which will celebrate the Pisgah Stage Race Finish with an awards party that promises to be a good time for the whole family. Some of the planned festivities include: live music from regional Appalachian reggae artist Ras Alan, children bike races, a pie eating contest and a silent auction to benefit the Carolina Youth Mountain Bike League (CYMBL).
Some of the auction items include a New Belgium Brewing signature cruiser bike, an Industry Nine Wheelset, lots of unique items donated by area businesses and plenty of cycling gear.
Sponsors of the event include New Belgium Brewing, BIKE Magazine, Industry Nine and local businesses Sycamore Cycles and the Sunset Motel.
Supporting partners include the Land of Waterfalls, Hammer Nutrition, EmergenC, As Master, Raw Revolution, Shannon Ridge Vineyards, CyclingDirt, The Hub, Carmichael Training, and Starlight Cycling Apparel.
Several other local businesses are getting involved by volunteering, offering discounts to racers and decorating their storefronts with bicycle themes.
“Sometimes it takes a community to run a race and when it’s done well the community as a whole benefits,” Branham said. “The community support this year has just been amazing. It’s been great to see people in town excited about getting involved.”
For more information go www.blueridgeadventures.net.