Pisgah Stage Race: Looking back

Our team of Johnny & Chris has finally recovered from their second place finish at the epic 2012 Pisgah Stage Race – 5 days, 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing on some of North Carolina’s best mountain bike trails. Now that they’ve had some time to recover, we’re handing the blog over to Johnny, to wrap up their racing experience.

Chris & Johnny on the final podium (Johnny is on the right)

So I have had over a week to reflect on the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. I want to give you the highs and lows, products I am glad I had, and a few final thoughts. If you are thinking about doing any mountain bike stage races, especially the Pisgah MTB Stage Race, be sure and read this post along with our coverage during the race.

Highs:

  • Incredible world class trails – My new favorite place to ride.
  • Descents – Challenging, yet rewarding. You have to know how to ride a bike here.
  • Waterfalls/scenery – In one county alone there are more than 250 waterfalls and many of the 400 miles of singletrack pass right by some of the best.
  • Fellow racers – Everyone who participated and volunteered at the event was super friendly, ready to help out, and just a joy to be around.

  • Less of a race feel – It didn’t have the feel of a race. I mean this in a good way. There were no signs of prideful, ego-boosting personalities.
  • Satisfaction of completion – Finishing this grueling event is a feat in and of itself.
  • Weather – While the rain of Stage One was rough, the blue skies, low humidity, and fresh mountain air overly compensated for it.

Lows:

  • Weather – Part of the Pisgah National Forest is considered a rain forest, I believe it now.
  • Climbs – Long, never ending. Each time you think the next turn will bring relief, the trail goes up even higher. A familiar phrase from course marshals was, “Straight up that way.”

  • Mental – You get used to the physical difficulty of the race. What is more important is being strong mentally to keep going and keep pushing, no matter what it looks like around the next bend.
  • Bike part destruction – Your bike and parts will be put to the test. Bring a spare bike, just so you know you have a replacement of every part on a bike. It is truly the easiest way to ensure and bring all the spare parts you might need.
  • Recovery? There is a question mark because by the time you finish the stage, get cleaned up, eat, and get your bike ready for the next day, there isn’t much time left before you wake up, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Products:

  • Forte Pisgah MTB Tires – With the weather on day one, tire selection was critical to maintaining forward momentum on the narrow, rock strewn, rooty singletrack (or as some call it, halftrack). Therefore I was very glad I had the Forte Pisgah tires below me to grab hold of the rugged terrain. The Forte Pisgah excels at gaining traction in this type of environment. They did such a good job of maintaining traction on the trails that they boosted my confidence while riding and given the trail conditions I was more willing to attempt difficult sections, knowing the tires would not break loose. Let’s just say the tires definitely earned their right to be named Pisgah and also a long term place on my bike.

Forte Pisgah MTB Tires

  • White Brothers Loop 140 TCR 26″ Suspension Fork – Pisgah Mountain Bike trails are for true riders. One has to know how to handle a bike to survive the trials in the Pisgah National Forest. With that in mind, I enjoyed checking out the other racers bikes to see what products they were using. On multiple occasions I spotted a white brothers loop soaking up the roots and rocks at Pisgah. I have been riding the Loop now for about 9 months and with Pisgah to cap off my testing I can honestly say it has earned its keep on the front of my bike. The fork just works, it comes out of the box ready to go and it isn’t overly complicated with buttons, knobs, dials, and levers everywhere. In most cases, with such long days on the trail with varying terrain, I could just set the threshold damper all the way and leave it all day.

  • Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur – As I am sure you know by now, the trails at Pisgah are tough, rugged, yet rewarding. I was glad to have the XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur. I imagine the sound of chain slap would have driven me crazy by the end of the 5 day event. This technology is here to stay, as SRAM now has a similar feature in their TYPE 2 models. I did have to add some tension on one occasion during the week with the built in tool. I am curious to try out the SRAM version to see how it holds up because I am not sure how many seasons the Shimano mechanism will make it through.

Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur

  • Shimano XT PD-M785 MTB Trail Pedals – Slippery Roots, skinny trails, creek crossings, and mud strewn singletrack call for two things when it comes to pedals; secure footing and mud clearance. The XT trail pedal has both.

  • DT Swiss Tricon XM1550 Wheels –  As mentioned before, the Mountain Bike Trails at Pisgah are tough. They will test a rider and the bike to the limits. The trails are laced with rock gardens, roots, drops, and high speed descents with all of the above. I was riding these wheels to find out if we should bring them in to our product lineup, and these wheels took it all in stride. They are very stiff with a low weight, the perfect combo for a multiday stage race. After multiple encounters with rocks, roots, and drops they are still spinning true.
  • Brakes – We quickly realized how important brakes are at Pisgah. If you don’t know what I am talking about, see the post on Stage One. I began the race with the new Magura MT series disc brake. They are light weight and have great modulation. Once the pads were gone after stage one and no shops in town had a replacement set of pads (keep this in mind when gathering spare parts to bring to an event), I had to switch over the set of Shimano XTR BR-M988 Hydraulic Disc Brakes for Trail off of the spare bike. The Shimano brakes were a little heavier than the Magura’s; however, the increased power and finned pads were welcomed on the steep mountain descents. My verdict: All Mountain Riding: Nothing beats the power and cooling technology of the XTR’s. Cross Country Riding: Light weight and superior modulation make the Magura MT series a top contender.
  • Grips – I was fortunate enough to try out both the Ergon GS1 and GA1 grips throughout the stage race. My thoughts. The Ergon GA1 is labeled as All Mountain and it is when compared to the other grips in the Ergon line. I loved the feel and shape of the grip. The contour through the palm was excellent, as it filled the gap you normally find in the center of your palm when wrapped around a bar. These grips excelled on the descents, dampening vibrations and providing a solid feel.  These have made a permanent home on my bike.The Ergon GS1 grips have a larger surface area for your hand to rest on. Some people love these grips and use them on all their bikes; however, they are not for me. I enjoyed them on the climbs, being able to adjust my position and rest my hand some. On the other hand, with the steepness of the descents, I found myself sliding forward and with nothing to really wrap around I had to hold on much more tightly to keep my weight back on the bike. I had the feeling on many occasions that I was going to slide over the bars. These may be for you if your typical rides aren’t as steep on the downhill sections.

Ergon GA1 grips

  • Rockshox Reverb Adjustable Seatpost – This is one item I would not do the Pisgah Stage Race without. Having the ability to lower my seat to clear so many trail obstacles was priceless. I am not the only one who feels this way. Just ask most mountain bike riders and they will tell you their dropper post is their most favorite piece of equipment. The RockShox Reverb set the bar high and is one of the best dropper posts in the market.

  • Devinci Dixon- It was a blast riding this bike at Pisgah. Even though the Devinci Dixon is made in Canada, I think it was built with the Pisgah trails in mind. What a bike. The split pivot suspension design works very well under power and braking. My consensus for the race; Most others brought the efficient climber (29er hardtail) to race on with the thought they would just suffer through the descents.  The climbs were difficult in that everyone suffered, no matter the bike. Therefore, I was one of the few having a blast on the Dixon bombing down Farlow and Pilot Rock. If having fun, ripping down world class singletrack is your thing; you must try the Devinci Dixon.

Interbike 2012 Wrap-up: Part 2

Since there is almost no way to see everything at the annual Interbike trade show, in our wrap-up we’re just talking about the interesting bikes and gear that caught our eye as we walked the convention hall floor or the Outdoor Demo. Check out our photo album on Facebook for even more shots from the show, and if you missed Part 1 of our wrap-up, you can find it here.

When we visited the Outdoor Demo at Interbike, the bikes we really wanted to check out were the new carbon mountain bikes from Devinci – they’ve updated their entire lineup, from the World Cup winning Wilson downhill bike, to the nimble 29er Atlas to the super fun Dixon all-mountain 26″ ride. We had a blast testing out their new bikes, and even got suspension designer Dave Weagle to break down the 2013 lineup for us:

And since he was hanging out, we even got Dave to explain how Devinci’s patented Split Pivot rear suspension works, and what makes it great:

While we’re talking bikes, Fuji has a great lineup of road, mountain and cyclocross bikes on tap for next year, with updated graphics and components. One of our favorites was this gorgeous 13.2 pound Altamira road bike with Oval components tubular wheels:

This new Outland 29er mountain bike also caught our eye, with its flashy paintjob and short rear chainstays, for great handling:

One of Fuji’s most interesting new bikes was this Altamira CX Disc model, featuring cable-actuated disc brakes – almost every bike manufacturer featured either a cross or road bike with disc brakes:

Giro was at Interbike with an updated 2013 lineup, but their new Air Attack helmet was drawing lots of attention. Its aero shape may look odd, but Giro designers claim that it is almost as efficient at cooling your head as their standard helmets, yet almost as efficient aerodynamically as their time trial helmets:

Meanwhile their new Empire shoes are all about style, adjustability and fit – laces are back, and they’ve never looked so good:

Pearl Izumi was busy at Interbike showing off their Project X mountain bike shoes, which are as colorful as they are well thought-out. The heart of these new shoes is the sole, which features a flexible carbon shank embedded in the bonded outsole.

This shank is designed to be stiff while pedaling, for maximum efficiency, while still retaining sufficient flex for comfortable walking – a great combination for cyclocross or mountain biking:

Louis Garneau debuted their lightweight Course lineup of shoes, helmets and clothing at Interbike – including this great-looking new helmet and Boa lace-closure cycling shoe:

 Louis Garneau won a design award for this Course vest, which features a gripper hem and open back panel so that you can reach in your back jersey pockets – one of those “why didn’t anyone think of that before” moments:

Ergon was on hand with new grips and packs, but their most interesting new gear was this intriguing CF3 Pro Carbon seatpost. It is designed to act as a leaf spring to absorb shock while riding – and it’s intended for use on the road:

And finally, just to show that even the hottest new trend has been tried before, check out this pair of 650B (or 27.5″) mountain bikes from Ritchey – the one on the left is their latest and greatest creation, while the one on the right is Ritchey’s first foray into the 650B world… from 1977!

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race Final Preview

A more detailed write-up of the final stage and a full race retrospective including in depth product reviews is on the way. We didn’t want to leave you in suspense however, so let it be known that we held onto second place duo team. If you just can’t wait to learn more about Pisgah Stage 5, check out Cycling Dirt’s video recap here (you’ll notice one particular Team Performance cyclist bravely pulling the field at about 1:16).

More to come!

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – Stage 4 – Deathmarch

If any of you remember our coverage from the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race from two years ago, you may remember that Team Performance had a VERY rough stage 4. We limped across the line after 7 hours and 30 minutes of the most difficult riding we had ever done. Having that experience going into stage 4 2012 created a sense of dread as we lined up for the start.

The stage was basically identical so we knew in advance that we had to start by climbing the steep side of Black Mountain.

We sat in the pack and quietly hoped that the third place duo team was suffering as much as we were.

Black Mountain eventually gave way to Turkey Pen Gap. Todd (the race organizer) called this section of trail the most “back woods” section of the race and he wasn’t kidding. The trail was so overgrown that riders could barely see a couple of feet in front of their front wheels. This didn’t decrease the technical nature of Pisgah Forest, so it was a game of reflexes trying to stay upright.

Once through the dense Turkey Pen Gap we headed back onto Squirrel Gap. This time we rode it the other direction and it was dry. What a difference! We were cleaning lines that only days ago we had to walk.

At the end of the day we solidified our lead over third place (and lost even more time to the first placed team). Tomorrow brings the climb up Laurel Mountain and the Pilot Rock descent. It’s going to be a brutal day but at least it won’t be snowing!

2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Easy Day?

We were informed last night by the Pisgah Stage Race director that today would be the easy day. Let’s just say that an “easy day” in the Pisgah Stage Race is one of the most difficult days back home! While there were some lovely high speed sections, we also encountered the usual Pisgah Stage Race mountain climbs where only the strongest riders can power up while staying in the saddle. But first let’s take a look at some videos from Stage 2. Here’s the start of the stage:

A quick view in the pack mid-race:

And then the madness that is Farlow Gap:

Now let’s get back to the third stage – our day started like every other.

We pulled into the start about 30 minutes before the gun fired thanks to one wrong turn on our way in. That still left us enough time to get ready and warm up a little before the start.

The Performance Team felt strong today, now three days in. We know you are wondering, and yes we were able to put a little time back in between us and the third place team. The cheering section out there was also in full regalia:

The course was the usual mix of rocks, roots, and stream crossings.

Tomorrow we’re going to work on capturing some video as we tackle the stage that everyone calls the most difficult stage in the race. In the meantime, you can find us doing us what we do best in the latest video from Cycling Dirt here. (That would be eating)

The product of the day is Paceline Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r.

If there’s one product that I (Christopher) would not be able to live without at an event like this, it would be good chamois cream. Paceline’s Eurostyle has just the slightest hint of the cooling effect that differentiates it from non-eurostyle types of cream. It’s not overpowering and it really does last a very long time. Proper “body” care is absolutely essential to surviving an event this long and difficult and my care starts with Paceline.

2012 Pisgah Stage Race – Furious Farlow Gap

With minutes to spare we got our last needed set of brake pads replaced (check yesterday’s post to see why) and headed to the starting line of stage #2 of the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. The stage started out of the Cradle of Forestry, a first ever for the Pisgah Stage Race.

The Performance Team of Chris Danz and Johnny Pratt ended up in second place for the duo team category after stage one. Therefore, we had to do our best with sore muscles to maintain our position. While the weather for stage one created a mindset of strictly business to finish the stage, day two’s sunshine brought about smiles, excitement, and chatter among the racers as we barreled down the technical singletrack.

Do not be fooled however, because pretty soon the climbing ensued. The beast of the stage was a particularly steep 4 mile climb that put our mental game to the test. With mind and body battling it out we anticipated the infamous Farlow Gap downhill. Let’s just say this section is extremely difficult to complete in dry conditions, with so many drops, ledges, and boulders making up the descent. Then you throw in the downpour from yesterday and you now have the Farlow Gap Waterfall. Johnny was able to clean the line somehow, all the while passing racer after racer attempting to walk (more like slide) down with their bikes.

Meanwhile Chris was putting his medic skills to use bandaging up victims of the descent.

A happily bandaged rider.We both came out alive on the other end and powered our way to the finish.

We took third place for the stage and maintained our 2nd place position overall. We are excited to see what challenges stage 3 will bring us tomorrow.

Items we’re glad we had – Rockshox Reverb dropper post, White Brothers Loop Suspension Fork, Ergon GS1 Grips.

Ergon GX-1Casualties of the day: 1 Bottom Bracket – Even sealed bearings couldn’t survive yesterday’s stage.

Now we’re just a few back-porch repairs away from sleep. Tomorrow’s stage will be the shortest of the race at only 25 miles. Does that mean we’ll have a super easy time of it? Will our bikes hold up? Will we hold off that third place team? Stay tuned to find out!

Pouring Rain, Product Impressions, Pounding Hearts…..The Pisgah MTB Stage Race is Here!

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are about to change, the temperatures have dropped into the “constantly pleasant” range, the days are growing shorter, and our summer fitness is going to go the way of the white squirrels (hiding for winter). This can only mean one thing: it’s time for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race!

This year, one of our Pisgah veterans David will be spending the week reporting from Interbike so I (Christopher) am taking the opportunity to introduce another co-worker (Johnny) to the sweetest single track on the planet. Over the course of five gruelling stages we’re going to try to accomplish our eternal stage race goal: don’t be last.

In an attempt to not be last this year, I’ve got a new bike! Meet my GT Zaskar 100 9r:GT Zaskar 100 9rNow those with a sharp eye will notice that I’ve made a couple of upgrades to my Zaskar. I wanted to call out one in particular today. This week I’m going to be giving the most challenging test to our new Forte Tsali 29er tires.

Tsali SidewallThe Tsali is the latest in our new line of 29er tires. It’s named for a trail network that’s in the same area as the stage race, so this race should leave the tires feeling right at home. At 656 grams for a 2.2″ 29er tire, they are a great race ready tire. The dual density rubber has shown an impressive amount of grip on my training rides and I’m looking forward to really seeing what these tires are capable of. I’m about 160 pounds and with Stan’s Tire Sealant sealing these tires to ZTR Crest rims, I’m running these tires tubeless at about 25 psi.

Tsali treadWith rain in the forecast for tomorrow’s White Squirrel Loop, stage 1 promises to be a real test for the Tsali 29er tires and for us the riders.

Now I’m going to turn things over to Johnny for his first thoughts and product highlights.

Cue Jaws soundtrack. Why you might ask? Two reasons really.

  1. The 2012 Pisgah Stage Race begins tomorrow! My heart is beating a little harder today in anticipation. I can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow through my veins.From the race director:We’ve got another great year planned and are honored to have so many folks from such a vast area want to be a part of this race. We have 75 riders coming from 12 different states, including Colorado, Texas and Vermont. Over 20% of the riders are coming from outside of the United States from places like Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. The youngest registered racer is 22 and the oldest a mere 58. Only 12% of the racers are under 30 years old and only 16% of the racers are women.We’re excited to be starting a day out of the historic Cradle of Forestry on Wednesday! This is the first time an event like this has operated out of this facility and as you will see, it is spectacular. This is the site of the first forestry school in America, founded by Carl Schenck, also the stage’s namesake.
  2. We might as well be in a scene from the movie Jaws because 3-5” of rain is expected to fall in the region over the next 48 hours. The singletrack will be our great white, looking to eat us up with every twisting, slippery root and unsettling boulder. As if the trails weren’t epic enough, throw in all the rain and I can only imagine the battle between man and mountain that will ensue. Makes you want to come out and join us right? Be sure and lift up that warm mug of coffee tomorrow morning one more time for us.

In case you are wondering, this is what I saw this morning as the weather channel page loaded:

Yes, that pinkish white section, meaning 5”+, under the word Wednesday is where we will be racing.

With all that rain on the way, having a firm grip on the handlebars is going to be very important. Therefore, we will be sporting grips from Ergon. I am going to alrenate between their all mountain GA1 Evo, which I have been riding over the past 6 weeks, and their GS1 which provides a little more support. I love the subtle, yet important contour to the GA1 grip. It fits under my palm very well and spreads out the impact over a larger surface area of my hand resulting in more comfort. With these long stages ahead, comfort is going to be critical.

Here we both are, in good spirits, relaxing over a game of cornhole. Stay tuned tomorrow and through the rest of the week as we bring you live updates from this ultimate mountain bike adventure!

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