Biking

Local car-top observers can testify that bikes start popping up on roof racks in spring the way tulips do in April gardens. Many of those bikes have local owners, but herds of visiting cyclists also make their way to the Blue Ridge from far away.

Western North Carolina, says Dixie Bootleg 6 Hour Enduro organizer Matthew Martin, is one of the most popular cycling destinations in the East. Seems fitting, then, that the Mountain Sports Festival presented by RBC Centura features three events celebrating one of Asheville’s more popular pastimes.

This year, the spectator-friendly urban competition and the ever-popular Town Mountain Hill Climb returns to the festival lineup. And in lieu of last year’s mountain-bike time trail, the six-hour Dixie Bootleg Enduro debuts at the Alexander Mountain Bike Facility, rounding out this extravaganza of cycling events.

Dixie Bootleg 6 Hour Enduro

Individuals and teams race to complete as many laps as possible in six hours on the cross-country course at the Alexander Mountain Bike Park. The race happens Saturday, May 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Presented by 13-Rebels.

Asheville’s first endurance mountain-bike race, the Enduro is an abbreviated version of the ultrapopular endurance races that originated with the cult classic 24 Hours of Canaan in West Virginia (now 24 Hours of Snowshoe). In the Enduro, racers compete either as individuals or in two- or four-person relay teams. Teams are judged not on their time but on the number of laps they complete in six hours.

The Asheville area boasts hundreds of miles of trails, but Alexander Park is a perfect match for the MSF. Perhaps no other venue for the weekend’s events so explicitly blends the urban with the green earth. The trails, which traverse a wooded buffer surrounding the Buncombe County landfill, opened several years ago to mixed reviews. And though some mountain-bike snobs may turn up their noses at the park, it boasts both a dual-slalom downhill course and two cross-country loops, with more trails slated for development. “We want Alexander Park to be a place that more people want to ride,” says Martin, “and it happens to be a really good place to race.”

So good, in fact, that individuals and teams will crank out six hours of glorious riding with the potential for double-digit lap counts. Each loop is five miles, but unlike the long climbs and cruiser descents typical of rides in the nearby Pisgah National Forest, the trails at Alexander Park present a distinct challenge. “The terrain really varies,” notes Martin. “With constant up-and-downs, there isn’t a lot of time to recover.”

So how fit must one be to compete in the Enduro? “If you’re a four-person team, you don’t really need to be in shape: Do a lap, pass off to a teammate, take a break, and then ride again when you’re ready,” Martin explains. “For two-person or solo racers, being in shape is a definite, unless you’re a masochist.”

Who to watch

Dirt divas Trish Pinner, Jodi Grabowski and Tanya Nestvogel.

Directions

From downtown Asheville, take Hwy. 19/23 north to the UNCA exit. Turn left on Broadway, go under the highway, then turn right onto Riverside Drive/Hwy. 251 at the light. Travel about 6.5 miles; at the stop sign by the prison, continue straight (it’s a T-intersection, so bear left gently) and continue about five miles to the park.

Registration

Register at Pro Bikes (610 Haywood Road, 253-2800), on their Web site (www.pro-bikes.com) or on race day at Alexander Mountain Bike Park. Solo riders: $15 if preregistered, $18 on race day. Two-person teams (same-sex or coed): $25 preregistered/$30 race day. Four-person teams (same-sex or two male/two female): $48 preregistered/$55 race day.

Awards

Three deep in all categories.

Urban Decay Freeride Competition

The urban competition returns for its third year on Saturday, May 8. The two-part contest starts at 10 a.m. at City/County Plaza. The second part runs from 4:30 until dark. There are two classes: expert and amateur. Sponsored by Pro Bikes, Endless bikes, Evil Bikes and Magura USA.

Agape spectators will be dazzled as freestyle bikers go airborne, upside down, and sideways in the urban competition at the festival’s downtown staging area. Similar to BMX riding, its nearest kin, this event showcases big tricks on larger bikes.

Although the street competition may look perilous, the spectators are probably more nervous than the riders. “There’s a big intimidation factor, but the worst carnage is typically some good scabs and bruises,” says race director Sean Quigley. “The perceived danger is part of the obstacle.”

The contest is divided into two parts: the street course and a head-to-head race. In the street course, riders have 2-4 minutes to impress judges on “North Shore” style obstacles such as skinny bridges, ramps, teeter-totters and spines. (The North Shore in question is in British Columbia.) Competitors are scored on originality, style, air time, flow and diversity of tricks. A rider’s performance will seat them in the second part of the contest — a head-to-head race where the competition’s overall winners will be determined.

The 2003 urban competition had a strong turnout but not a lot of local riders. This year, organizers are encouraging more Ashevilleans to compete. “The caliber of local riders is really strong,” says Quigley. “The event is intended to showcase local talents; we strongly encourage local riders to compete.” Look for Ryan Taylor, Chris Herndon, Marshall Hance and middle-school teacher Nick Rogowski to impress the crowds in the pro-caliber class.

In addition to a few surprises to be revealed on the day of the contest, ace stunt rider Jeff Lenosky will show off his skills at a demo at the awards ceremony at Shotzy’s on Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville. But you don’t have to be a pro to compete in this event — anyone can sign up, though Quigley advises having at least intermediate mountain-bike trail skills.

Registration

Register at Pro Bikes (610 Haywood Road, 253-2800), on their Web site (www.pro-bikes.com) or on race day. $15 per participant.

Awards

Three deep; $500 purse for expert class.

Town Mountain Hill Climb

Five-mile grind from downtown to the crest of Town Mountain (presented by Ski Country Sports and Team Prestige Subaru – Asheville Woman’s Cycling Team. Friday, May 7 (first rider starts off at 6 p.m.).

Town Mountain may not look all that imposing to your average armchair desk jock in some downtown Asheville office spire. But the perspective is completely different from the saddle of a road bike. The Town Mountain Hill Climb celebrates the 22nd running of its quad-burning, five-mile course from downtown to the mountain’s crest. “What’s unique about Asheville is Town Mountain being dead-center downtown,” notes race director Craig Friedrich.

From the starting line at the intersection of College Street and Town Mountain Road, riders grind up the pavement, eventually climbing more than 1,000 feet to the finish. Friedrich is careful to point out that the five-mile course is not entirely uphill; nevertheless, the Hill Climb stakes its reputation on being a grueling race. “It’s a tough, steep, winding climb,” he says. “It’s pretty much relentless all the way up.”

As usual, Friedrich expects a strong turnout for the popular event. There are three race classes, and pro-caliber riders will be represented. Although the race typically draws riders from out of state, there’ll be plenty of strong local riders too. Look out for members of Team Prestige Subaru – Asheville Woman’s Cycling Team.

Despite the risks of moving an established event to an earlier seasonal time slot, Friedrich sees the Hill Climb and the Mountain Sports Festival as highly compatible. “The race and the scope of the festival are a perfect fit for promoting healthy lifestyles,” he declares.

And if actually riding the event entails a bit too much fitness, Friedrich recommends cheering the riders on from any Town Mountain intersection — or your office window.

Directions

The starting area for the Town Mountain Hill Climb is two blocks east of City/County Plaza, at the intersection of College Street and Town Mountain Road.

Registration

Preregister at Ski Country Sports (1000 Merrimon Ave., 254-2771) or on race day beginning at 4 p.m. (until full). $15 per rider (free for riders under 12).

Awards

Three deep in all categories.

Course records

Town Mountain Hill Climb Pro Category, Male: Scott Moninger, Boulder, Colo. 16:07 (2002).

Who to watch

Local roadies Caroline Camp, Jessie Karriker, Nancy Lux and Robin Pace.

Best Viewing Spots

Along Town Mountain Road north of the I-240 bridge crossing.

Bike Rodeo – Just for Kids

At the Festival Village in downtown Asheville, kids of all ages put their biking skills to the test as they navigate and maneuver their way through either the challenge or the nonchallenge bicycle obstacle course. Saturday, May 8, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sunday, May 9, 2 p.m.

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