BEECH MOUNTAIN, N.C. — Beech Mountain Resort is hosting a USA Cycling National Championship for a second straight year, but the performances are more like something from Travis Pastrana than Lance Armstrong.
Home to the Gravity Mountain Bike National Championships, riders will come off the mountain in downhill and dual slalom courses. There are obstacles and jumps, making the ride more like motocross and the extreme action which Pastrana is known for than the traditional cycling which Armstrong became famous.
“We’re definitely more like Travis Pastrana,” explained Pro rider Ryan Taylor, who with three other riders took practice runs on the downhill course on Thursday. “To be a top level racer, you have to have fitness like Lance Armstrong, but the action is more like something you see from Travis Pastrana.”
The extreme racing is part of a celebration called Brews and Views, on July 20-22, which includes beer tasting and live music as well as the championship mountain biking event with 500 riders competing.
Beech Mountain Resort put in a bid with USA Cycling to host the nationals in October 2010 and found out the week of Christmas they would be the first resort in the Southeast to be awarded the event.
Last year, 330 riders participated in the races including 50 from the Pro division. Following that success, trails have been developed and attachments to carry bicycles on the ski lifts have been built and will be used in the future.
“Bringing national competitors into the area has been a huge success for us,” said Ryan Costin, General Manager of Beech Mountain Resort. “We feel fortunate to host this event.”
Riders from the West dominated last year’s action.
A pair from Utah — Logan Binggeli and Mitch Ropelato won men’s Pro Downhill and Pro Dual Slalom titles. Jill Kintner from Seattle, representing the Red Bull team, won gold medals in both women’s events.
Showing the level of talent, the runner-up in the men’s downhil was Aaron Gwin of California, whom Taylor called the ‘The Lebron James of mountain biking,’ and whom fellow rider Brandon Blakely simply referred to as the ‘the world’s best.’
Seeing that kind of competition, only makes local riders better according to Blakely, who lives near Asheville.
“The quality of the event is awesome,” he said. “The Beech Mountain course stands out with the quality of the corners, and seeing the top riders is cool because you look at their lines and what they’re riding on. You appreciate what it takes to be on that level.”
There was some criticism from some of the riders out West who didn’t come to last year’s race, held after the World Championships. The elevation, while impressive at over 5,000 feet, was nearly half of some of the other venues which have hosted the event.
Taylor said the technical aspect of Beech Mountain more than makes up for the perceived shortcomings.
“The trail system is second to none,” he said. “The elevation is half of some of those out west, but the course is just as challenging.”
Just like road racing, time trials and criteriums, there are different categories of riders. Jay Goodrin, a Category 2 rider from Greenwood, S.C., was one of those participating in the demonstration on Thursday.
As a former motocross rider, he understands why the racing is considered more in tune with what he used to do than what a traditional cyclist does.
“It’s a smooth transition from motocross,” he said. “You have a lot of same skills, being comfortable with the speeds, the jumps, it really helps out. It wasn’t that big of a crossover.”
It still promises to be a challenge for him and others.
Last year, rain turned the track wet and muddy, while the downhill course was dry and really fast during Wednesday’s practice runs. With the unpredictability of mountain conditions, random wind gusts made it a little scary for the riders on more than one occasion.
Taylor said it’s a ride which requires enormous concentration.
“It constantly has features — rock gardens, a lot of turns and lots of jumps,” he said. “You don’t get a chance to catch your breath, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.”