The stage racing hangover is as real as any substance abuse hangover. Every part of the body aches, the sense of time and place is less certain than on a regular-day. And the mess you’ve got to clean up is substantial. But unlike any other hangover you’ve got all the memories from the incredible experience, new friends with whom you share a remarkable challenge, and the work day seems boring rather than difficult. For the 200 participants of the 10th running of the Pisgah Stage Race the Stage Race hangover is especially real. Roots and rocks of the Pisgah National Forest on repeat for 5 days of epic racing through terrain as steep and challenging as it is stunning.
Racers from 15 different countries and all over the United States gathered to enjoy the 10th annual event and the Blue Ridge Adventures crew served up the most delightful, difficult, and dialed version of the race yet. The “Classic Course” was used for the fourth of 5 years it is permitted for. Begging the question “whats next?” from veteran racers.
Open men and Open women were deep with talent from across the globe. Local racer Tristan Cowie (Sycamore Cycles) was present to defend his title and seemed fit to do so against the competition of Kerry Werner (Kona Endurance Team), Tristan Uhl (Giant co-factory), Travis Livermon, Elliot Baring (Starlight Apparel/ Pivot Cycles), Stefano Barberi (Starlight Custom Apparel), and Dylan Johnson (Leska MTB). The Womens Open field was similarly stacked with defending Champion; Canadian Jena Page Greaser (Hyper Threads/ Rocky Mtn), watching all corners of the globe as Ada Xinxo (Trideporte/ Tracks Ibiza) from Spain and Jen Neilsen (SouthPaw Bicycles) from the USA. You could hear the thunder clouds gathering with all the power moving through the opening ceremony.
Launching out of Cove Creek Campground on Day 1 racers were immediately faced with the technical climb up Daniel’s Ridge; fresh rain covered rocks put riders right into the technical riding they would face all week and cards were immediately shown. Tristan Cowie launched off the front to gain over a minute on the competition while Stefano Barberi lead the remaining riders; struggling to come to grip with the trail which was OH so different from his native kitty litter dirt. “Were not in Kansas anymore Toto!” Post race Barberi told me that it had been nearly a decade since he had ridden anything like the wet roots and rocks of the Appalachian back country. Werner, Livermon, Uhl, Baring and the others filtered in quickly behind at the finish line but Cowie held his lead to take the first of 5 leaders jerseys. Jena Greaser would lead Ada Xinxo by a similarly small margin. Day 1’s stage was the “XC” stage with long gravel climbs accessing mostly fast; less technical, singletrack. Day 2 would yield the real deal singletrack and would put riders onto the Squirrel Gap “Half Track” for most of the stage.
After a long road rollout riders descended S Mills River trail to a narrow strip of singletrack clinging to the side of of the mountains moving from South Mills River back toward Pisgah Forest’s famous gateway and Black Mtn Trail. The lead pack flung themselves down S Mills River trail with incredible skill and smashed up to Squirrel Gap to launch the fireworks.
The men’s group stayed together with a lead trio of Werner, Livermon, Cowie until the final gravel ascent up to Black Mtn where Livermon opened up more than a minute gap on Cowie; who shut the gap down by the bottom of the Black Mtn enduro segment. With only a few milliseconds on the day Livermon took the stage and Cowie kept the leader.
In the women’s race leader Jena Greaser would handle Squirrel Gap efficiently to add another handful of minutes on Spain’s Ada Xinxo:
Other races were beginning to shape up as well with Duo Mens new leaders of Nick Erhard and Matt Higgins (Trailhead Outdoors) locked in an epic shred-off with the local powerhouse squad Wes Dickson and Joe Driver (Sycamore Cycles). Master’s men’s two-time champion Josh Whitmore (CTS Cycling) already commanding a strong lead. Singlespeed Legend Mike Montalbano and his Masters Womens Rescue Racing teammate Carey Lowery also both fitting into commanding leads. Our mixed duo team took a substantial hit when my partner Emily Hairfield had another crash her while making a pass on the gravel; putting of off the back of the main group and limping into the finish while Ridge Supply’s Chris and Lauren Komanski surged to a commanding lead.
Stage 3 is the Pisgah Stage Race’s sleeper stage. While the heaviest with gravel of any of the stages and ample descending stage 3 would see a shakeup in many categories. Open Men saw attack after attack by 2nd placed rider Travis Livermon. The unattached rider making his return to mtb racing after many years riding in circles in fields (also called “cyclocross.”) Livermon SAILED across the course with Stefano Barberi and Tristan Cowie both in tow; attacking on the final gravel climb back up Maxwell Cove to the back side of Black Mtn. Livermon and Barberi on-two’d until Cowie was cracked beyond ability to respond. Cowie attempted to reconnect again on the Black Mtn descent as he had the day before but was unable to bridge the gap and suffered a 3 minute deficit to Livermon; who pulled on the Starlight Apparel leaders jersey with no plans to relinquish it.
In the women’s race the story remained the same as Jena Page Greaser continued to dominate not only the Womens overall lead but also the Women’s enduro. It take a lot more than legs and lungs to win the Pisgah Stage Race and Greaser was proving her mettle on the downs as well as the ups. Mens Duo the lead once again swung back in favor of locals Wes Dickson and Joe Driver (Sycamore Cycles) as they take all others to school teaching a masters class in smash.
Day 4 is the Queen Stage of the Pisgah Stage race, heading back through the treacherous overhang of Squirrel Gap before climbing to the highest point in the race. The hour singletrack climb up Laurel Mtn culminates with an intense Hike-a-bike before leveling breifly and then sending riders rocketing back to earth on the Pilot Rock trail. If riders dont hear angels on the way down its because theyre seeing them at the Pearly Gates. A gravel road rollout gave way to Squirrel gap chunder where Tristan Cowie knew he could leverage his singletrack skills to possibly sneak away. But there was no sneaking away from Livermon for the previous champion. However while the drama was playing out between the two titans it was National Ultra Endurance series champion and up-till-now non-factor Dylan Johnson who surged ahead to ascend Laurel Mtn and work the gravity down Pilot Rock to take the stage win!
Stage 5 is the JoyRide day for most riders. But Open men was still open enough with the most technical descent of the week in the form of Farlow Gap. The double black diamond trail drops steeply down from elevation crossing some of the most technical singletrack in the Pisgah Forest. Farlow Gap breaks men and minds and it no short spin to the finish line. Additionally the forest service climb in the second half of the race would allow a riders fitness to shine and make up any time lost on the early descents. Stage 5 is no pushover in that it can still provide the game change. Dylan Johnson delivered one more stage winning rally but the overall remained unchanged and the podium still stood with Travis Livermon in the lead, Tristan Cowie in second, and Kona’s Kerry Werner in 3rd.
I sat down with Mens Open winner Travis Livermon after the event and threw some questions his way.
After a week of shredding the final standings were tallied and the leaders jerseys thrown in the wash. Podium presentations done and wounds cared for. The hangover from the Pisgah Stage Race is profound because of the family built at the finish line on each stage. The magical thing about the Pisgah Forest is that the difficulty of the trail brings every rider to failure eventually. Earning riders all a mutual respect for having completed each stage.
Lock and load the FULL results and spreadsheet HERE
Till next year Pisgah Stage Race #PartyOn