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RBR's "The Ascent": Intimidating, Masochistic Cycling Fun

By David Rogers. May 15, 2011. BLOWING ROCK -- With almost a 6% average grade,and some stretches approaching 20%, you had to be a little masochistic to enter the Reynolds Blue Ridge "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. Photos by David Rogers

"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 Reynolds Blue Ridge.  This event is stunning, and it will grow."

Sheedy traversed the route in 45 minutes, seven seconds, 46 seconds ahead of Lees-McRae cyclist Peter Haile (45:53), of Colorado.  Category 3 cyclist Alexander Timkovich vaulted ahead of the three other men's Pro 1/2 competitors in the overall rankings, grinding out an impressive 46:39.

17-year old Allison Arensman (Valdese) captured the inaugural women's crown in 1:01:41, a minute and 13 seconds ahead of former professional women's rider, Golden Brainard-Moore, of Lenoir.

Event organizer Andrew Stackhouse, principal of Pirate Race Productions.com of Boone, said the race, the course and the setting exceeded his expectations, even if the weather kept the number of expected registrations low.  "It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day and wonderful race conditions," said Stackhouse. "The weather and its threat of a lot of rain over the weekend kept a lot of people away, and another popular event, the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, is scheduled for Monday.  

"This race is spectacular, and our hosts Reynolds Blue Ridge have 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."

The race was run in several heats or categories, beginning with the Men's Pro Category 1 and Pro Category 2 (the presumed fastest riders), at 10 minute intervals, then ending with the women's division.

Reynolds Blue Ridge 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."

The women's champion, Arensman, proved to be an interesting side story.  Having just turned 17 and racing for less than a year, Arensman is a former swimmer whose coach suggested to her that she give cycling a try.  She tried, and got hooked.

After a short warmup ride along the flats in front of the East Gate, just minutes before the race Arensman developed a mechanical problem.  Fortunately, her father and a race support team member were able to identify and fix the problem.

Her chief competitor materialized as veteran cyclist Brainard-Moore.  In speaking with Blowing Rock News afterwards, Arensman looked at Brainard-Moore and said, "My dad and coach told me that in the early stages my strategy should be to just stay close to her, that she was the experienced rider and would know how to pace herself.  Then when we approached the top, my father just said it should be every woman for herself.  May the best finisher win. Well, that first climb at the start is brutal, and she just took off.  I was thinking to myself, oh my, if this is 'pacing,' what have I gotten myself into?"

Laughing, Brainard-Moore explained, "Well, I went out faster than I wanted to.  There was a stone that somehow got into the bottom of one of my shoes, so I couldn't clip the shoe into the pedals.  So the only way I could go at the start was to mash really hard on the pedals so I wouldn't slip off.  That meant going hard.  Then when we got a bit of a break, I turned my shoe up and knocked the stone loose.  But when I only discovered the problem right at the start, I couldn't do anything about it except apply hard pressure to the unsecured shoe.  Like I said, I went out too fast."

Arensman and her male champion counterpart, Sheedy, become the men's and women's record holders, setting the times to beat for future races.  But several racers told Stackhouse that a 50-mile course BEFORE you get to what can only be described as the tortuous, Reynolds Blue Ridge "grind" would make for an even better race event.

Even though particpation was relatively light this year, the participation was pretty broad, geographically. Colorado, Hickory, Wilmington, Greenville (SC), Davidson, Banner Elk, Asheville, Huntersville, Valdese and Charlotte were all represented among entrants interviewed by Blowing Rock News.

Click the attachment below for full race results.

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Download this file (Ascent results.pdf)Overall Results for The Ascent[ ]30 Kb
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