With almost a 6% average grade,and some stretches approaching 20%, you had to be a little masochistic to enter the Blue Ridge Mountain Club "The Ascent" bike race. But oh what fun the inaugural year entrants had in negotiating the roughly 9.25 mile course, climbing some 3300 feet from the East Gate to the North Gate of the Reynolds Blue Ridge development, while treated to spectacular Blue Ridge vistas. Brian Sheedy of Banner Elk, left, was first across the finish line.
"This is, without question, one of the most grueling — if not THE most grueling — courses in the Southeast," proclaimed Pro division winner Brian Sheedy of Banner Elk and the former cycling coach at Lees-McRae. "This is right up there with the toughest courses in the United States, at least, but look around you. There is no more beautiful course and no more gracious hosts than Blue Ridge Mountain Club. This event is stunning, and it will grow."
"This race is spectacular, and our host Blue Ridge Mountain Club has just been great," Stackhouse told Blowing Rock News in revealing plans to make The Ascent an annual event. "We may not have had as much participation this first year as we had hoped, but we had a good field of competitors in all divisions and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. The whole package is one-of-a-kind, including the beautiful, if challenging course, as well as the post-race cookout and social. It just doesn’t get much better."
Blue Ridge Mountain Club General Manager Jim Pitts attended the race and was enthusiastic about its potential. "In speaking with the athletes competing today," Pitts revealed, "in four or five years this race has the potential to be huge. 300 to 500 riders is not out of the question. It is the sort of event that as our development grows and more homes are built the race should just get that much bigger. People will line the roads, cheering on the cyclists. We already had some of that today. People who had nothing to do with cycling were along the roads shouting words of encouragement to the athletes."
Read more of the story on BlowingRockNews.com (photo courtesy of David Rogers)