Stage 1 - White Squirrel Loop
39 miles. 6,200+ ft of elevation gain
The day started with a few miles of bicycle path that 4 of us rode to the race start. It was a nice morning and did not look like we would see any rain. On Monday, when I arrived at Brevard it was raining pretty good. Then it rained last night before today’s stage. The pre-ride I was able to sneak in yesterday between rain showers was well worth it and gave me chance to re-familiarize with riding in the Pisgah.
Stage 1 started with a nice gentle paved climb paced out by a lead car. Once we turned right onto the 1st section of gravel the pace picked up but not too bad. Then we passed the horse stable area where the days 1st major climb started. Lots of winding gravel with false flats.
The first single track we entered was right off the top of the climb and I got to enjoy some big ring flowing singe track that leads down to Squirrel Gap trail. I was able to put a nice gap on the riders who were trading paint with me on the climb. It was fun, and eerie, to enjoy the entire dirt slalom by myself. It sure was fast and fun!
Onto Squirrel Gap: this trail is pretty technical with a narrow trail cut and often not much else. There are lots of rock features and tons of roots. All of this made more difficult by the fresh rain and very slippery mud. I really enjoyed Squirrel Gap, even though it is very exhausting and wee bit tricky. I gained some more positions and jammed down some muddy ruts complete with many surprise drops. Plassman don't care.
After Squirrel Gap I was looking forward to Aid 2, only to realize it was at the top of a long gravel climb. I was out of fluids and my mind just thought about water, cramping might get me later... Finally Aid 2 where the volunteers had everything ready and waiting for me, awesome. A couple of splashes of coke and I was on my way to finish the rest of the gravel and climb back up the dirt slalom in reverse to the trailhead for Black Mountain.
Aid 3 was a welcome sight and I grabbed water and some sprite, just as another rider rode by... So I jumped on the Anthem 29er and proceeded to chase. Soon I was hike-a-biking up many rooty switchbacks connected by short sections of trail. Then the real hiking started. A seemingly unending set of rock stairs and switch backs led to about 3 false summits. Then finally as I thought my legs would lock up, the true top and I jumped back on the bike with my quads not to happy.
The next descent was very techy and washed out with lots of drops. It was hard to attack because my legs were just shot from the hiking. At the bottom, I was relived to see the next trail head for the final hike to the last descent of Black Mountain. This descent is a real blast and I smiled all the way down to the finish.
4th Place - Open Men : 4:20
I was stoked that I took 50 minutes out of the previous time I raced this stage.