By Jesse Wood
May 15, 2014. Fred Pfohl, owner of Fred’s General Mercantile, has been wearing his 1993 Tour DuPont jacket lately in anticipation of the inaugural Beech Mountain Metric, a grueling cycling event that begins in Banner Elk and ends atop Beech Mountain this coming Saturday.
See, in the ‘90s the Tour DuPont was among the nation’s premiere cycling events, a domestic one modeled after the Tour de France, and one of the stages of the race took riders up the Beech Mountain Parkway from 1993 to 1996. It featured high-profile European teams and attracted elite cycling talent such as Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond.
“It was about the biggest thing that ever came to Beech Mountain,” Pfohl said. “We didn’t know exactly what to expect with the first one. It was like the circus came to town. They moved in over night, set up everything from grandstands to finish lines, to one of those big TV screens on a truck. Helicopters were in the air following the race and motorcycles – that was the first year the Highway Patrol used motorcycles – preceded the race to get people out of the way.”
After DuPont, a chemical company based in Delaware, dropped its sponsorship in 1996, organized road cycling ended its run atop Beech Mountain. But that will change during the upcoming weekend with the Beech Mountain Metric, which features two timed routes of 61 miles (8,000 feet of climbing) and 43 miles (5,600 feet of climbing). Both routes end atop the resort town.
“Well, we are definitely excited. Almost 800 riders, which you known anytime you bring that many folks to Beech Mountain and along with friends that come up with them, it’s a big boost to our economy, so we are excited,” Pfohl said.
The Beech Mountain Metric, which has 761 registered riders, is a Blood Sweat & Gears Events ride.
Blood Sweat & Gears (BSG), an extremely popular ride, is now in its 16th year. It began has a charity ride for the American Red Cross and incorporated into a nonprofit three years ago. In the last two years, it has raised $169,000 for various local charities. In addition to proceeds raised to help those in need, it also contributes a substantial economic impact to the area. BSG President Scott Nelson said last year’s race had an economic impact of $1.3 million.
Every year, BSG sells out within minutes of registration opening to the public. Last year, 1,000 people were placed on the waiting list – behind the lucky 1,200 that were able to register. Because of the sheer logistics of more than 1,200 people settling into Valle Crucis to begin the 50-mile or 100-mile loop and the cap that the National Park Service puts on the ride, BSG doesn’t accept more cyclists. BSG even added training rides to accommodate more people.
Nelson said eventually discussions revolved around a potential second ride. The question, “What ride doesn’t occur anymore that should?” was asked, and Nelson said almost every person answered, “Nobody climbs Beech Mountain anymore.” Last July, BSG began coordinating with the Town of Beech Mountain and its tourism development authority and a planning committee was formed. Before you know it, Nelson said more than 700 people had registered for the race.
In addition to the Beech Mountain Metric, BSG Events also has another inaugural ride scheduled to begin in September 2015 that will be based in Blowing Rock. The race will round out what Nelson is calling a BSG Events “hat trick.” The race, which begins and ends in Blowing Rock, is still in the preliminary planning stages but will follow some of the course of the recently-defunct Bridge to Bridge ride that went from Lenoir to Grandfather Mountain. Actually, the folding of the Bridge to Bridge race prompted BSG Events to consider a similar race because, as Nelson noted, that climb up Grandfather was epic.
Just as folks atop Beech Mountain are excited about the new race, so to are those based in Blowing Rock.
Blowing Rock Chamber Executive Director Charles Hardin noted the economic impact the riders and their friends and family will have on the region when they eat, lodge and shop in Blowing Rock. Hardin also pointed out that riders will prefer the loop ride as opposed to the point-to-point ride. When describing BSG’s reputation for producing quality rides and its successful volunteer structure, Hardin said, “They have all the components to make a really great event.”
Recently, Blood Sweat & Gears adopted a new slogan. It’s called, “Helping our community one revolution at a time.”
Nelson noted that BSG has established and solidified an authenticity of “who we are, what we do.”
“There’s no motivation other than trying to help our community,” Nelson said, adding that BSG Events is able to do that two different ways through philanthropy and driving the economy through tourism.