The first Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race is kicking off on Thursday. Run on the rugged, technical trails of the Pisgah National Forest, the race promises to deliver a challenge to all entrants. Predictions for cold and wet conditions will only make the rooty, mountainous terrain even tougher.
The first-year race is small, with approximately 75 entrants, but it has attracted some of endurance mountain biking's best racers.
"It's so steep and there's so much singletrack here. I think it will be slick and treacherous but not muddy. I pre-rode the first full stage while marking the course yesterday, and the conditions are tricky. Some stuff you might consider riding before, you might think twice about now," said promoter Todd Branham.
"The race will be a real eye opener for a lot of people. We have a lot of people from out west who aren't used to this tight, technical stuff. It's not wide open like many stage races. We have a group from Pennsylvania coming down, and they'll love it."
In the men's race, Jeremiah Bishop, Evan Plews, Sam Koerber, Colby Pearce, Christain Tanguy and Max Knox are the obvious favorites.
"It's a jungle up here," said Bishop to Cyclingnews of the Pisgah Forest just before the race. "There are some big trees - some the size of dining room tables."
"Max Knox will be here from South Africa. He's a good stage racer, and it'll be interesting to see how he does in these conditions. I'm also watching Christain Tanguy. He's turned it on big this year and is really strong and fit; however, I've only seen him in 100 milers, not in any stage races, so I don't know what to expect of him."
Sam Koerber may be the man to beat. From Asheville, Koerber is racing with a serious hometown advantage.
"I could pretty much ride this stuff with my eyes closed. I don't have to think about what's coming. The trail appears before my eyes before I even see it," said Koerber. "I'm excited to get to race on some of these trails - they have a lot of history for me."
"I hope to throw a few attacks in there on my favorite sections of singletrack," said Koerber, who is feeling well prepared fitness-wise compared to some ofthe other races he's contested this year.
He was hoping for dry conditions, but he says he still doesn't think it will be muddy.
Koerber has been training for the race with his dad Bob Koerber, who will be contesting the 40+ division.
"Almost every training ride I've done lately is with my dad. We squeeze it in after work. He's in pretty amazing shape. He wasn't planning on doing it but I think he is really excited to be racing and wanted to do it all along."
In the women's race, Cheryl Sornson, Sue Haywood and Carey Lowery will vie for the top spot.
"It's drizzling steadily and it's chilly. I think we're all thinking about the weather," said Haywood, who has ridden in the area, but never raced in Pisgah before. "I guess we'll be wet and muddy right off the bat. It's been awhile since I've ridden in wet, slipper conditions."
Evaluating her odds, Haywood said, "Cheryl and I have a lot of good experience on technical terrain, but Carey probably trains more seriously, so she may have a serious fitness advantage."
Sorenson is a Pisgah newbie. "I've never ridden here before. The technical part sparked my interest. I wanted to check it out," said Sornson. "Plus it adds a little spice that it's wet and cold."
Current weather forecasts predict rain and 40-degree temperatures for the opening time trial and the first long stage. Temperatures may drop enough at higher elevations to produce snow on Saturday. Cold conditions are expected throughout the race, including the final two long stages.