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JB’s Go Big or Go Bigger: I will not ride hardtail at Pisgah!

I learned a few new lessons and had to re-learn a few. One, in particular, I am working on ingraining for the future...

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I woke up at 6:30 am yesterday out of habit. “I’m really sore,” I thought as I waddled to the bathroom.

A look in the mirror the day after was amusing, to say the least. “Damn, I look like I was in a bar fight last night.” I did have a few beers and hung out with friends listening to the Ras Alan roots/reggae band but it wasn’t that wild.

I scanned down. Around 40 cat claw marks on my arms, some rock dings in my shin and the general full-body ache of a money game of rugby.  Oh, and the gash in the middle of my nose — the kind boxers get post-TKO. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of it, but on the King stage I stopped in the feed zone and asked for a multi tool to adjust a slightly loose shift lever.

The guys at the aid station looked flustered, wide-eyed. Hmm. Didn’t think much of it until rumors at the finish of me crashing came around via the internet. I wiped my sweat and saw some dried blood.

Apparently I had blood streaming down my face, but had no clue. Combined with my pit stop it was logical that some thought I had a dramatic over-the-bars wreck.

My triceps and forearms were worked, partly because I took advice from Wess at the local shop to ride the hardtail on two of the less-technical days at Pisgah. Ha.

Guess the saying is true. When people ask what the trails at Pisgah are like the answer is, “well they are like Pisgah.” Super steep, rough trails, soft dirt roots and forest that looks more like Costa Rican rainforest than American southeast comes to mind.

When you seriously consider a drop post or riding the Jekyll for an XC stage race you know you’re dealing with special terrain.

Honestly I was more than a touch anxious about the prospect of racing through blind corners at breakneck speed on double black diamond terrain. I knew I would be chasing Sam Korber — local trail guru and mountain man — on his home trails.

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It would be one thing if like I could get a lot of time on him but it seemed he was in Rambo mode and climbing stronger than ever. In fact, Sam struck first blood on stage 1, the White Squirrel loop, and had a death grip on the green leader’s jersey for the first two days.

Day 1 we had two inches of the most epic rain I have seen during a race, making my weary first day more of a mental test than I dare expose in public.

I was still trying to get sorted since I just wrapped up the Gran Fondo 48 hours earlier. The wind howled and broke branches and felled trees en mass, conspiring to make the Pisgah Forest an impenetrable Pan’s Labyrinth of briers, laurel and downed trees.

Unless you’re a local badger or Sam Koerber, it is the perfect backdrop for an upset.

It was fun for the first hour of insane downpour, but I stopped to pick up my flat kit that fell off my bike and was running solo.

The last two hours it became a bicycle Armageddon, it was so dark under the double canopy of hardwoods and Laurel the size of apple trees it became almost as dark as early night. I felt that the midday light bequeathed our fate to night’s dark intent.

The cutting slurry of garnet, quartz and granite ate many racers’ brake pads through the backing plate. Mine went even farther — halfway into the piston!

The 30 percent grade hike-a-bikes on slippery ridge line, rock and log water bars to the top of black mountain are sinister on a good day.

After my second fall, scrambling rocks with a bike on my back I started to wonder if it was my time to get second place.

I toughened up and kept a steady march to minimize my loss. “Its a long race,” I kept telling myself, knowing I get better day after day in these things.

I found my mojo on day 2 and, despite flying on the climbs, had to play catch-up after the dreaded Farlow Gap descent. I netted enough time to go from the 20s into the lead! If my competition was green to this terrain I wouldn’t be so fearful for life and limb, but it’s easy to get sucked into a gap jump line when following someone through home turf into unknown tunnel of green speed jungle, so I was careful to ride my pace, sometimes full-speed when I could see what was coming, sometimes with the caution of a dog that’s cornered a snake in a burrow.

I did hang it out, for sure, and found my backcountry wings.

It was amazing to go that fast on rough terrain once I gave all trust to the 29 Scalpel. I dropped pilot rock at full tilt and let the bike do the work.

It was so fun railing with Sam on Black Mountain trail. We hit some sweet step-downs, manuals, whoops and wall rides. I made sure to respect this terrain since it’s got teeth, and I was rewarded the win by a mere few minutes at the closest Pisgah Stage Race GC yet.

How long will my stage race streak last? Not sure, but who’s got time to count when you’re in the speed tunnel.

I learned a few new lessons and had to re-learn a few. One, in particular, I am working on ingraining for the future.

I will not ride a hardtail at Pisgah.
I will not ride a hardtail at Pisgah.
I will not ride a hardtail at Pisgah.
I will not ride a hardtail at Pisgah.
I will not ride a hardtail at Pisgah.

Enjoy the ride!

— JB
Cannondale Factory Racing


Jeremiah Bishop’s occupation has always been Adventurer/Explorer, which led him to his career as a pro mountain biker. He races full-time for Cannondale Factory Racing, has over 100 race wins, including eighth place at worlds, and is a two-time U.S. national champion in short track and marathon. Jeremiah is an ace stage racer and a star of the ultra endurance race scene. He is also a cycling coach (on pavement as well as dirt) and stays true to his adventurer roots by fishing, hosting the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo charity event and getting in extra time outdoors with his family. Check out Jeremiah’s regular Singletrack.com column with pro tips about racing, training and life, Go Big or Go Bigger

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