With a light mist falling over the start line, more than 300 riders embarked on Stage 1 of the 2019 Haute Route Asheville. Before them lay two options: a 103-mile Original course or a 55-mile Compact option. But first, everyone had to scale Elk Mountain, just three miles from the start line.

Morning showers kept riders cool on the opening climb, and scattered rain over the next few hours meant riders spent time on both wet and dry roads. Jeff Mahin, a professional chef and restaurateur from Southern California, is used to consistently sunny weather. He commented that the rapidly changing weather just made the stage more interesting “There were periods when it was a downpour, with water coming down and coming up from wheels in front of you at the same time. Then the skies cleared and it got warm, then it rained some more and cooled off. It was like experiencing three different seasons in one ride.”

Speaking to riders at the first feed station, the first climb was a hit. Larry Jones, from Chicago, Illinois, said, “It was a nice start, an easy way out of town. And then first climb was tough, but it was what we expect. The road winding through the trees, it was absolutely beautiful. This is my first time in Asheville. I did Haute Route Norway last year and I really liked it. This was closer to where I live in.”

David Burke, another veteran of Haute Route who lives in Tucson, Arizona, added, “Elk Mountain was a beautiful climb. It was early, so not much warm-up, but it’s a good way to stretch the legs. On the way to the feed station after the climb it was kind of relaxed, but I suspect it will go hard again when we hit the next timing mat. That’s the nature of an Haute Route.”

A few hours – and a few climbs - up the road at Feed Station 3, Washington D.C. cyclist Mindy Simmons prepared to start the 33-mile timed segment on the Blue Ridge Parkway. “It’s been fun. I’ve been meeting some cool people and working hard and rolling with the weather.” Asked about the Blue Ridge Parkway segment, Mindy exclaimed, “Oh it’s amazing! Last year I did it and it was all in a giant cloud, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it actually looks like. It’s long, but you settle in and try to find good people to ride with and chat with. And the descent is a blast, too!”

By the finish, the sun was out and everyone was smiling and relaxing in the park with a cold, locally-brewed beer from Sierra Nevada Brewery. Reflecting on the day, Richard Haslinger commented, “That was long and hilly, but that’s why I signed up. Even with the rain it was perfect. Very well supported. Nice roads. I retired a week ago so this is my retirement trip. I drove down from Michigan to Asheville and now I’m enjoying a cold beer. This is what Asheville is famous for! It’ll be part of my recovery.”

Oliver Quinn added, “Thank you for the Haute Route gilet. I took it off and on 6 times maybe - it was my rain jacket, so thank you. It was nice, really amazing. At the top of the mountains we had clouds and you could see some peaks with views coming in and out. And I just got a massage, so I’ve had a good day.”

After 103 miles of riding, North Carolina’s own Kerry Werner, a professional cyclocross and mountain bike racer, took the stage win and overall lead on the Men’s Original course. It’s a tight race, with Jeff Mahin only four seconds behind. On the women’s side, Lesley McCormack took a commanding lead on the Women’s Original course. The stage winner and overall leader for the Men’s Compact course was Quentin Turnbull, and going into tomorrow’s Stage 2, the Women’s Compact leader is Karen Pilosof.