Wow, I can’t believe I made it to Pisgah! I have been registered for the Pisgah Stage Race for two years now. TWO YEARS. Two years ago I broke my collarbone and couldn’t race; last year I had Mono followed by getting hit by a car. I haven’t been able to stay healthy through September. Heather and Todd, the race promoters, have kindly rolled my entry over each year and I was really excited to finally get there.
I had made some [really good] Facebook friends in Rob and Brett and they kindly hosted me in Asheville before and after the race. (And lent me their car while I was there! Some people are just too nice).
I arrived the Friday before the race and Rob took me out to see some of the trails before the racing got started. I told him I wanted to see the gnarliest stuff first. So, day one, we rode Farlow Gap. Dear God. I had been warned, I knew the trails would be technical and I knew that bringing a hardtail would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight. But nothing could have prepared me for the gnar that was Farlow. Holeeee crap. Props to everyone who rides it.
We got to check out a few other trails so there were moments through the week where the trails were familiar. Always helps.
On Monday I headed to Brevard and met up with Jim, Madison and Alex who were my roommates for the week. We were a motley crew but somehow we all balanced each other out and I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd to hang with all week. And we all ended up standing on podiums by the end of the week…but now I’m getting ahead of myself!
Tuesday was Stage 1 and we started with a 20 minute stretch on the road that broke things up before a short gravel climb and the rest of the day entirely on singletrack. The route climbed and traversed (and hike-a-biked) through the stage before one big monster descent at the end. The trails were AHmazing. Like nothing I have ridden before. Everything was steeper. More roots and bigger drops. I knew I was racing for 2nd place with Pua Mata there and I was happy to finish there. I think I had overestimated the day so it was pretty nice to finish the stage feeling like the day was easier than I expected. Though it set me up to underestimate the next day…
Stage 2 looked like it should be a decent day for the hardtail with some monster gravel climbs. I had seen the final section of the stage and we had ridden the first part of the stage backwards the day before. I went out hard and settled into 2nd place again. I was bummed to see roommate Alex flat early but I kept my head down and focused on riding as hard as I could on the pedally sections and just doing damage control everywhere else. I definitely cracked at the end of this stage and it was all I could do to make up the final climbs. I still rolled in for 2nd – though I found out that 3rd place had gotten off-course early in the day which always makes any success bittersweet. But it was more super rad trails – some highlights I remember include riding through tunnels of Rhododendron. So cool.
Stage 3 was the hump day in a couple of ways; it was the middle day so we would be more than halfway through and it was the longest, hardest stage so everything after would be easier. We got to ride Squirrel Gap trail for the second time, this time in a different direction, which I liked even more. It even felt a little like the kind of tech that I saw at TSE so I felt, briefly, like I knew how to ride a bike again!
I was feeling comfortable in my usual 2nd place about halfway through the stage (after multiple creek crossings) when I started experiencing some pretty nasty chain suck. A long grassy, doubletrack climb (these became a running joke in our house – hilarious, right?) gave my drivetrain some relief and I forgot about it as I was distracted by four seemingly endless grassy miles. We entered singletrack again for the long climb up to the super fun descent down Pilot Rock. I was riding with Brenda and Lee Simril (Brenda was cleaning EVERYthing like a champ, it was pretty cool). The chainsuck got progressively worse on the technical climb and I tried babying it – hoping I could just nurse it to the finish. Instead, my chain broke. Luckily I knew I had a comfortable lead over 3rd place GC so I kept my cool, took my time and fixed it. Though I expected 3rd place to come around the corner at any moment, she didn’t and I got myself going again. I pedaled gently the rest of the way up the climb just to be safe. (And I may have uttered more than a few curses up the hike-a-bike – holy hell that was effing horrendous). But once at the top, the Pilot Rock descent was everything it was hyped to be and more. ROCKS! I heart rocks My chain held up and I finished the stage in 2nd. Again.
I was excited for Stage 4. Rob had taken me out on many of these trails so I knew a fair amount of what to expect. It was also a shorter stage and for whatever reason I was pretty fired up to be able to pedal super hard and ride fast at XC pace. I pinned it on the road start and hung on to the lead group for as long as I could, finally spitting out the back and settling into my normal 2nd place ladies position. I felt great, pedaled hard and railed everything I could. I had so much fun cruising down the super flowy Fletcher Creek descent and seeing how much I could stay on my bike on the technical climb up Trace Ridge. Another 2nd place and one day to go!
With nearly an hour up on 3rd place, I really just needed to cruise Stage 5. But this day included the descent down Farlow, which I knew was going to be a bit of a disaster for me. I told myself I would ride hard on the climbs and just mitigate that disaster and stay safe on the descents. I did that and was passed partway down Farlow by 3rd place (who was riding stuff myself and most of the guys were walking – pretty cool!). Though I was expecting it, it still stung. Though Farlow was a bit above me, I had a blast on Daniel Ridge trail just below. Off the tech, I got on my horse (read: bike) and pedaled as hard as I could through the next grassy, doubletrack (*sigh*) climb. I got 3rd place in my sights just as we got to the top of the climb but I couldn’t quite get up to her. Even though the final descent to the finish was all smooth and flowy, it was now raining and pretty slick. With lots to lose and nothing to gain, I again opted to avoid risk and rode my brakes down to the finish, 3rd on the day and holding on to 2nd overall.
Whew, what a week! After the post-race party and a lot of packing, I said good-bye to Asheville and made my way back to Utah…where the snow is already flying. That’s a wrap on my 2013 race season – my year of the comeback. Though some moments were better than others, looking back, I am enormously happy and thankful.
Thanks to the following for making it all possible: NoTubes, Cannondale, Kenda, Verge, Magura, Uvex, elete, Griggs Orthopedics, fizik, GU, Crankbrothers, Northwave, 3T, Progold, ESI Grips, and King Cage!