Stage 3 seemed like the turning point for me. It was a shorter stage with a little bit easier technical challenge so I started to inch my way closer to the 40+ elite men at the front and the more days recovery from the USA XTERRA Championship in Utah the better my legs were getting. I also find having a carrot dangled in front of me makes me ride faster both up and downhill so as I got closer to the men I would ride faster to stay there. I was still taking it a bit more conservatively than I was proud of on some of the downhills but what I considered conservative was starting to be faster.
It is funny how different the mountain bike community is and how different mountain bikers within that community are. Mountain biking has the endurance junkies like Jeremiah Bishop who are spandex, heart rate monitor wearing yoga participators. Not much different than a triathlete. Then there is the other end of the spectrum: the wool jersey, baggy pants, rigid, singlespeed, singletrack junkie that would probably prefer to shuttle the climb. This race had both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between. Including a dude on a Pugsley who couldn’t seem to get the start times right as he was late more often than not.
Our household had its first show of blood with Fred gashing his knee to the kneecap on his stem after running over a camera lady. That shows how technical the descent was as running over a person looked like a better line than what was on the ground. He had a visit to urgent care and emerged with four stitches and a knee that looked like it was 9 months pregnant with a white squirrel. Nasty. Needless to say he was still finishing and planning to win anyways. Nails I tell ya!
Stage 4: Promised Land Loop 39 miles, 8000 feet climbing
Yes, 8000 feet. That is a first for me. So are any stages above 30 miles so 39 miles and 8000 feet, wow.
This was the mother stage according to all those who figured they knew what they were talking about. Apparently this was the stage that would have all of us begging for mercy by the finish and hallucinating before we got there. I was pretty sure I was hallucinating when randomly in the forest some dude with a banjo appeared on one of the switchbacks of a climb but he really was out there 30 miles out in the middle of nowhere. Awesome! I think this was also the stage with a beer feed zone?
This stage started pretty crazy with us climbing the super steep Black Mountain climb connecting to a trail called Turkey Pen. To give you an idea of how hard this intro to the stage was it took me over 90 minutes to ride 7 miles. Ouch. It was so worth it though as Turkey Pen was loamy, skinny, steep, rooty, twisty awesomeness every time we went downhill. Sadly, we had to go up vertical goat paths to get to the downhill which did mean a bit of hiking for about 2-3 minutes at a time. I was with both of the top singlespeeders for a lot of the race and saw how hard they had to pedal which completely eliminated any whining I might have done in my 28×36 as I think they were riding a much bigger gear with no options. After we finished that first 7 miles the race started to open up and included another dose of Squirrel Gap Trail which I crushed compared to Tuesday. I had a decent battle with the top Open Man that day but he dropped me on the last climb from the horse stables. My main competition in the women’s race was Karen Potter but given she chose to ride a hardtail for this race I feel like she might have brought a knife to a gunfight. The funny thing is that I always put the same amount of time on her no matter how long the stage so I was probably going out harder and dying whereas she was staying the identical pace throughout the day.
4 hours and 56 minutes of pure rad awesomeness later, I was in the creek for a dip and still in the lead. Same goes for Fred and Shawn and Kate was all smiles again after the stage. She was also eating pretty much nonstop from morning to night which was one of the other insane things I witnessed during the week. I had to be careful not to leave any of my toiletries lying around lest they be mistaken for dip.
Stage 5: Transylvania Loop, 42 miles, 6,400 feet climbing
The last stage was far and away my most favoritest of them all. I had the hot tip of leaving clean/dry shoes and socks in the first aid station which made the 40-odd F day much more bearable after EIGHT full dismount creek crossings. That is right, we did 8 ice baths in the first 15 miles and then got down to business climbing up Laurel Mountain. Did I mention how cold it got the last day? Heather was an angel to lend me her winter riding gloves which I appreciated so much the whole day.
The race started with a road section that Garth assaulted from the gun. When I found myself in the break I felt it necessary to stay there just for the heck of it and was happy to see my legs were the best of the whole week. When Sam, Jeremiah and Adam caught Garth Prosser and I we were not far from the first piece of singletrack. At about 7 miles I was in FOURTH. Yeah baby! However, as we stormed downhill I was passed by four more of the top guys who I followed to the aid station at mile 15, sadly losing time at every creek crossing. This was the only day I had a chance to be in front of the evening’s sponsor at any point in singletrack: Sycamore Cycles’ Wes Dickson who was racing pro as well. I struggled a little with getting on and off my bike on the Laurel Mountain climb because I chose to ride new shoes with brand new cleats which were a bit tight in my pedals.
Those moments of mild frustration were quickly forgotten when I started the descent on Pilot Rock. Lots of big rock features, and tight, rooty switchbacks are right up my alley. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pretty happy with it all. It was so ridiculously radtastic. Thom from cyclingdirt.com was on that descent and after an initial moment of camera-shyness caused a dab I managed to clean the rest of the descent all the way to the bottom which earned me a solid whoop from the white squirrel as I rode past him on the rock garden. After another road section we rode to the Avery Creek trail and the uphill singletrack leading to that descent proved to be the cracking point of some of the boys in front of me as I rode past three guys there and never saw them again. I have to admit I wanted to beat them so I was flogging it up the last climb on Black Mountain. I still didn’t catch the super fast Gerry Pflug who has won the police and fire games but I think I got the closest this day. I finished 8th this stage which was my best finish overall of the race and I still felt pretty darn good at the end.
Big smiles all around when Fred, Shawn and I all won our divisions and Kate won the first check of her pro career. Not too shabby MelRadders! We celebrated with a glass or two of the Shannon Ridge Zin we all hauled out of there for winning 🙂 I was sad that Kate didn’t own the pie eating contest at the end but she says she is only good for volume not speed. I did get some fun video of Adam’s battle with the kids, which was good entertainment to end a freaking amazing, hilarious and memorable week.
This race is a must do. If you think you are badass for riding BC Bike Race and Trans Rockies you can’t actually claim anything until you come and attempt Tom and Heather’s race. We all look like we have been wrestling cats now with our arms and legs covered in scratches… this is the reason there is a lion in the logo. You go out there and wrestle the Pisgah lion in the trails. The Pisgah Stage Race has all the sketchy, steep, gnarly, nasty descending you hope and wish for that you must earn with heart and leg pounding ascents and gorgeous vistas. 195 miles and 29,000 feet of climbing is the badge of badass that all you mountain scouts are searching for. Go and get some for yourself. I will definitely be back as the combination of awesome course, incredible volunteers, random trailside memorabilia (including a giant white squirrel, a banjo player, Darth Vader, funny lady yelling in the bushes, and awesome aid station people) and incredibly friendly Brevard locals makes this a world class grassroots adventure. All the fun and comraderie of a small race organized with the precision of a pro event. Kind of like TR3 and BC Bike race had a baby… haha!
Oh yeah and all you XTERRA racing people… I am guessing you are going to see some fast bike splits from Fred and Buttons. The secret to that isn’t so secret anymore! Kate is a 2nd year rider so where there is a will there is a way to complete this race even if it is technical. That said, she turned pro in her second year so she is a bit of a freak.
I will be especially happy if this race has carved the legs I need for a good go at the XTERRA World Champs. I couldn’t have worked any harder this week and I am feeling so calm and happy about the race. So now it is time to sharpen the triathlon skills for a short while. Departure for Maui is only a week away and the big show is three weeks and counting. So looking forward to our new course!
Thank you so much to Shimano XTR for a perfect performing bicycle all week. Thanks to Chris Avery for maintaining my Specialized Epic 29er for me, we all totally appreciated all your help! Thanks to Champion System for my super comfy race gear. Thanks to Maxxis and the Ikon 29er EXO for smooth rolling every day. Thanks to Powerbar Perform and Pure and Simple bars for tasty fuel on the trail. Thanks to Nathan Hydration for the hydration packs and Catalyst electrolytes we were pounding every stage. Thanks to Sundog Eyewear for 20/20 trail vision. Thanks to Profile Design and Titec for comfy gloves and solid bits and pieces on the bike. Thanks to ESI grips and Genuine Innovations Race Day Air kits. Thanks to USANA for maintaining my health and GoPro for helping me document the race. Thanks to AVIA for helping me look cool NOT running all week, haha! Thanks to Powertap for the solid preparation for the event. Thanks to Todd and Heather for the invitation to the race… you two are fantastic and thanks to Hunter Subaru for the sweet parking spot for Shawn’s Outback at the awards dinner. Lastly thank you to Fred, Buttons and Shawn for an incredibly fun week in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am sad it is over.. until next year!
Now… back to the pool for me.