Pisgah Productions dished out another weekend of epic racing in North Carolina with its Pisgah 111k and 55.5k events last Saturday and Sunday. The courses, which both feature a number of classic Pisgah highlights, some hard hike-a-bikes, and a few stream crossings for good measure, were looking a little more intimidating than usual after a week of soaking rain.
A stacked field rolled out of the Pisgah Ranger Station early Saturday morning for the 111k, with things separating almost immediately on the first gravel climb of the day up to Buckhorn Gap. A group of seven including heavy hitters Thomas Turner (Jamis), Sam Koerber (Industry Nine), Gordon Wadsworth (Blue Ridge Bicycle Co.), and Tristan Cowie (Sycamore Cycles) crested the top together on their way to the days first major challenge: Squirrel Gap trail.
It was there that Cowie first showed his cards, attacking up Squirrel and quickly establishing a gap. “He was riding next level today,” Turner said later. Luck, however, was not on Cowie’s side, and he flatted soon after on the Cantrell Creek descent, allowing Koerber and Turner to slip past. And at Aid #1 that’s where things stood, Koerber followed by Turner out front, with Cowie chasing back and Wadsworth and Chris Tries (Piney Flats Bicycle Co.) rounding out the top five.
By Aid#2 a resurgent Cowie had ridden himself back to the front, taking Koerber with him. “I tried to stay on his wheel and lasted about 10 minutes,” Koerber would say later. Cowie was on his way to a big win, when another flat descending Spencer Gap trail ended his day. With Cowie walking out of the woods, Koerber led through Aid #3 and up Laurel Mountain trail when he too had flat trouble. He tried to put some air in, but the tire wouldn’t seal, forcing him to put in a tube – passing the lead to Turner in the process. Turner kept things smooth through Aid #4 and over Black Mountain trail to the finish, taking his second 111k win in two years, with Koerber rolling across in 2nd. Behind, Wadsworth piloted his singlespeed to a well-deserved 3rd overall.
In the women’s race, an expected battle between Kaysee Armstrong (Liv) and Nina Otter (Liberty Bikes) never materialized. Armstrong dropped Otter on the first climb of the day up to Buckhorn Gap and rode steadily from there, cruising to line and repeating last year’s win. Otter struggled to find her rhythm, and perennial Pisgah powerhouse Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) rode to the second spot of on the podium, with Otter rounding out the top three.
A majority of 111k racers awoke early for round two on Sunday, and they were joined by a few new faces for the 55.5k. While it’s half the distance of Saturday’s race, the 55.5k is a slightly slower course, and riders were in for another big day in the saddle.
In the women’s race, it was Elizabeth Sampey, who had passed on the previous day’s racing, turning the screws at the front. Kaysee Armstrong (Liv) gamely kept things close, but she was unable to match the pace of Sampey, and took second. Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) took her second podium in as many days with third.
In the men’s race, it was Saturday’s top riders Thomas Turner (Jamis) and Sam Koerber (Industry Nine) riding together at the front all day. The two got an early gap by riding nearly all of the climb up Black Mountain trail, a stretch that forced most of the field to hike. Turner led for almost the whole day, but a crash that sent him off his bike on the final descent down Black Mountain trail gave Koerber a gap he held to the line. A very strong ride from Nick Bragg (Piney Flats Racing) netted him a well deserved podium as he crossed the line in third.