At 7:00am Friday morning, hundreds of intrepid cyclists rolled out of Asheville to tackle Stage 1 of Haute Route Asheville, a 103-mile loop featuring nearly 11,000 feet of climbing. Rain showers and fog helped make this long stage epic and memorable, yet didn’t dampen riders’ enthusiasm for the challenging and scenic course.
Following well-deserved recognition of our Project Hero riders, Bobby Wheeler and Mike King, and a beautiful rendition of the national anthem by Terry Lynn Queen, riders enjoyed a police escort out of town before heading up the first timed segment on Elk Mountain.
The sinuous and narrow roads in the region around Asheville are remarkably smooth… and very rural. With so few cars around, riders could enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pisgah National Forest as they climbed the second timed segment on North Fork Road.
Following a twisting descent and valley road to the second Aid Station in Burnsville, riders joined up to tackle the third timed segment. To make sure Haute Route timed sections don’t only reward great climbers, this section featured rolling hills and long flat stretches where flatlanders had an advantage and cooperation was crucial.
Fueling up and packing pockets with extra food was important at the third Aid Station, 63 miles into the stage and just feet away from the ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next 33 miles took riders past flowing waterfalls, through picturesque tunnels, and up to the event’s highest elevation at 5600 feet above sea level.
For at least one rider, Haute Route Asheville was able to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Craig Ethridge, riding for the Happy Tooth Foundation, told Haute Route, “Having [support moto driver] John behind me for 40km on the Blue Ridge Parkway was unbelievable, maintaining a buffer behind me as an added sense of safety and service on those long descents. Having people out there that are true professionals and understand cycling… I just felt like ‘this is never going to happen for me again’. It was really amazing.”
Even the local news media was out at the event. Bixby Stewart, an Asheville native who came back to support the event, told KLOS News, “Haute Route, being an international organization, has specifically chosen to come to Asheville, and they come to some of the most famous places for riding in the entire world: San Francisco, the Alps. They’ve chosen to set up shop here in Asheville, which, for me as a native, is very exciting. This puts Asheville cycling on the map more so than it already was.”
Back at the finish in downtown Asheville, Linda Spina, who earned the day’s Lanterne Rouge distinction, encouraged others to come ride Haute Route Asheville, saying: “Do it. It’s tough, the camaraderie is amazing, the support is incredible, and the sights are fantastic. You really test your limits and find what’s deep inside, but it was just awesome.”
Tomorrow, riders will roll out of Asheville along the French Broad River as they start Stage 2, an 84.1-mile loop featuring 8350 feet of climbing. While there’s less elevation gain on Stage 2, it features the steepest climb of the event. Crabtree Gap hits hard with pitches over 20%.