Pisgah Stage Race: Prologue (Day 1)

Chris is busy distributing bikes today, so I (David) will be your guide to day 1 of our Pisgah adventure.  Our journey started before dawn on Thursday morning, as we wanted to get out to Brevard in plenty of time to set up camp before the kickoff event for the race, the “Tornado Time Trial” (named in honor of the Brevard College mascot, on whose campus we would be racing).

In the morning rain, Chris and I loaded up the car with our supplies.  Now since this was going to be a 4 day race, we really had no clue how much stuff we needed to bring along; you don’t want a broken shoe to ruin the rest of the event.  As you can see below, we erred on the side of “if it fits in the car, let’s bring it!”   This was Chris’ clothing supply for the race, and I brought an equal amount of my own, not to mention spare tubes, shoes, helmet… even spare derailleur hangers!

Pisgah Pre Race Clothing Lay Out

Add to that our food and camping supplies and we had one packed little car.   Here’s Chris putting the finishing touches on the packing by loading up our race bikes.

Loading the Car

We each brought a spare bike just in case (like I said, you can’t be too prepared), but our main race rigs were both 2009 GT Marathon Carbon Pro Mountain Bikes, basically in stock configuration.  The only difference on my bike was the addition of Kenda Nevegal Stick-E 2.1 tires, in deference to what I’d heard about the rugged nature of the Pisgah trails.

4 ½ hours of rainy driving later and we arrived in lovely Brevard, NC.  After a quick stop at our campsite to set up our tents and get changed, we shuttled over to the Brevard College campus to check out the prologue course.

We got to the course early so we could set up the GT Dirt Coalition tent right on the finish line and show off our GT rigs.  A lot of folks stopped by to ogle and ask about our carbon wonder bikes; you’ve got to admit, they do look good under the sweet GT tent:

Tent Setup Day 1

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we got everything set up, the skies cleared and we had ourselves a beautiful evening for racing.  Here’s a shot of the surrounding vista (once the clouds cleared):

Clear Skies Day 1

Now of course since it had been raining non-stop all day, this still meant that the course was a swampy mess!  Since we had time, Chris and I took a reconnaissance loop of the course by foot; it was only about a mile long and was sort of a mash-up between a cyclocross course and singletrack.  Here’s a picture of Chris trying in vain to scramble up what turned out to be a muddy descent midway through the course:

Climbing uphill

After that, the course snaked into a small wooded hillside with a brand new singletrack switchback climb.  Since it was brand new, the singletrack section was super-soft and the off-camber roots were super-slick, as we soon discovered on a (possibly ill-advised) warm-up lap.

But hey, we came here to race!  So we suited up and headed out with the first race group of the afternoon (the different categories were broken up into different waves on this first day since the course was so short).   The pace was fast from the gun and folks were slipping and sliding their way through the woods; I quickly lost contact with the leaders, but you could always tell where they were by the lead moto pacing the pack on his very cool fat-tire motorcycle:

motorcycle pacing

Due to the sloppy conditions, the race was shortened down to 4 quick laps; I guess it was a bit of foreshadowing when even the 1 mile prologue course was wet and brutal!  But we made it through in one piece and without any major time gap to the leaders, plus we looked good in our Performance Velo Club and GT Dirt Coalition kits, respectively (that’s me on the left and Chris on the right):

posing by the tent

Plus it got our bikes used to being nice and disgusting, a state they would maintain for the remainder of the race:

muddy bike

Seriously, there was no hope keeping our rides clean in these conditions; I was continually amazed (and slightly suspicious) when people showed up the for the next morning’s stage with spotless bikes.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, so we’ll save that for a later post.

Anyway, after getting mildly cleaned up (all we could get to was the bathroom to Brevard College’s baseball stadium), we settled in to watch the rest of the racing.  Mmm, barbecue:

eating bbq and watching racing

After a few more heats, it was finally time for the pros to toe the line.  The biggest name (and fastest rider) was definitely Jeremiah Bishop, but also in the field were Sam Koerber, Christian Tanguy, Harlan Price and Atlanta Olympic champ Susan Haywood on the women’s side.  Needless to say, these guys were fast!  They were churning out lap times in nearly half the time it took our field; but they are paid to ride bikes after all!  Here they are hammering off the start line:

pros starting

And in case you are wondering about those sweet looking wheels hanging in the foreground, those are from the boys out at Industry Nine, based near Brevard.  I was a fan of this model; nothing says mountain biking like ultralight hubs laced to a tubeless carbon rim (hey, why not):

i9 wheel

Back the race, here’s a clip from the first corner, with Jeremiah Bishop (in a recurring theme for, I don’t know, every day for the next 3 days) leading out the field:

Once they got in the woods you could really see the skill level of these guys; they just seemed to power through sections that left me bogged down and grabbing for more gears. It was like they were ghosts mysteriously flying through the trees; alright, maybe not (I saw plenty of guys slipping through the mud, even in the pro race), but I wanted to come up with a cheesy tag line for this cool photo I took during the race:

Ghost MTB Rider

Bishop kept killing it through the race, making it look way too easy in the singletrack:

As he lapped some slower competitors, he cruised in for the blowout victory.  Arm’s up, Jeremiah:

On a side note, also during the pro race, I saw one of the famous white squirrels of Brevard! No, seriously, they are renowned for these snowy rodents. You can read all about them here.  Chris still doesn’t believe me since I have no photographic evidence, but I can’t be too crazy if they have a whole festival dedicated to the cute critters.  I’m not sure what a “squirrel box derby” is, but I’m guessing that a: it’s awesome and b: you probably don’t want to tell the ASPCA about it.

So there you have it, our first day of the Pisgah Stage Race was done, and literally all of Pisgah’s epic backcountry awaited us.  The only real bummer of the weekend occurred when we got back to our free campsite that night and found out that some obviously cold folks had decided to help themselves to our sleeping bags and cooking stove.  It wasn’t exactly how we wanted to start our first night, but we packed up (what was left) of our campsite and headed down to the Davidson River Campground (where we stayed for the rest of the race).  It was definitely the right move, as all of the folks at the campground (employees and campers alike) were super-friendly and helpful.  A special thanks goes out to Nancy, a front desk employee, who loaned me a sleeping bag and mattress for the duration of the race; if you are in town to check out the trails, I definitely recommend giving the Davidson River Campground a try.

After a quick reset of the campsite, we packed it in for the night, with dreams of sweet singletrack dancing in our heads.

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