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Pisgah Payout: Rich New MTB Stage Race Ahead in NC

The Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race offers 130 total miles of riding, 31,000 cumulative feet of climbing and a $15,000 purse for dividing between the victors.

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Racers will glimpse Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah National Forest during the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race in North Carolina. Courtesy photo
Racers will glimpse Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah National Forest during the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race in North Carolina. Courtesy photo

Todd Branham is banking on the famed technical trails of the Pisgah National Forest to lure cyclists to the country’s newest multi-day endurance stage race — The Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race set for Oct. 15-18.

OK, alluring trails and a bit of good ol’ cash money.

Branham, the event’s director, is less than two weeks out from the debut of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race. The event will be run out of Brevard, North Carolina, and will feature a cloverleaf-style course. The race boasts 130 total miles and more than 31,000 cumulative feet of climbing over its four stages. More than half of the riding is on singletrack, claims the race’s Website. And according to Branham, that singletrack is punishing and extremely demanding.

“We’re going to blow some people away. These trails have lots of character — big roots and rocks and water bars,” Branham told Singletrack.com. “I think a lot of people out there have heard of Pisgah, but they don’t really know what it is. It is brutal. It’s ultra steep and the singletrack is slow, tight and rocky.”

Branham has another plan in case the challenging trails don’t pull in the participants. At $550, his race is on the cheaper side of registration fees for multi-day races, also known as epic races. The entry fee gets a racer four uniquely marked courses, aide stations, transportation between the start and finish lines, two meals, a massage and a small swag bag. It also pays for mechanical staff and emergency personnel on course. Lodging and meals, however, are up to participants.

Branham is also offering up $15,000 of his own cash in prize money to be split between the 10 categories: Pro Men, Pro Women, Elite 40-plus, Singlespeed/team, as well as the Men and Women’s 29-under, 30-39 and 40-plus groups.

Branham said he believes prize cash and a cheaper fee doesn’t necessarily make a race successful, but it can act as enough incentive to sway would-be racers who are on the bubble of signing up.

“We’re proud to keep the cost low and to offer the biggest cash purse in America,” Branham said. “If you paid a touring company at Pisgah to take you on all of these trails you’d probably end up paying about the same amount.”

Epic Challenges

The race boasts 145 total miles and 38,000 cumulative feet of climbing over its four stages. Courtesy photo
The race boasts 130 total miles and 31,000 cumulative feet of climbing over its four stages. Courtesy photo

Financials, organization and prize cash are hot topics in the world of North American epic racing at the moment. The last two years have seen the introduction of new races across the United States and Canada. And many organizers have seen that sustaining the multi-day events is much more expensive, time-consuming and frustrating than they originally imagined.

A few races have even gone bust. Last year the American Mountain Classic brought the Epic format to Utah, featuring four days of racing around the Brian Head ski resort. The race was called off in 2009 because registration numbers were too low.

Colorado’s Breck Epic and the Intermontane Challenge stage race in British Columbia both debuted this year. The Colorado race suffered from scheduling conflicts — its early July date was just one week before the USA Cycling national mountain bike championships.

The Intermontane Challenge earned bad press due to its shaky organization. Riders got lost on the third stage after a disgruntled local resident tore down course markings.

Pisgah Possibilities

Branham believes the Pisgah race will be able to avoid such pitfalls.

“As long as I pay people the money I said I’m going to pay and not get them lost, I’ll be OK,” Branham said. “I realize that putting on an event like this is a huge risk. I think I have the right formula.”

Branham hopes that formula can pick up business soon. The local county restricts him to only 150 participants. As of Oct. 6, 67 had registered. Among those set to race, however, are a few top endurance racers, including Jeremiah Bishop, Ben Sonntag, Sam Koerber, Christian Tanguy, Max Knox and others.

“We have the cheapest race with the biggest payout and the gnarliest course,” Branham said. “I think people will realize this pretty soon. I’m not looking to get rich. I just want to bring something cool to this community and show people the trails I love.”