ASHEVILLE — The Western North Carolina version of the Tour de France — albeit a mini tour — will speed across the mountains May 17-19.
The Haute Route, a three-day stage race, which offers the world’s most prestigious multiday events for amateur cyclists, is returning to WNC after its Asheville debut last year, with some 300 cyclists from around the world, a 50 percent increase in participation from 2018.
The course features some of the sweetest cycling routes, starting and ending downtown at Pack Square on May 17 and 18, traversing the sinister twists and steepness of Town Mountain Road, the scenic grounds of the Biltmore Estate, Elk Mountain Scenic Highway and even a stint on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Even though last year’s race was plagued by heavy rains, the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission reported that the 2018 Haute Route Asheville generated nearly $1 million in local economic impact, including more than 1,100 room nights in local hotels and more than $64,000 in tax revenue.
Sports Commission president Demp Bradford said it’s not just the dollars, but the international exposure that’s good for Asheville, cementing the region as a tour de force as a cycling destination.
“Even with the extreme rains, I think the event was successful because everyone had a good time, the comments were good, and everyone was able to complete it safely,” Bradford said.
"One of the flattering things is some of the Europeans compared Asheville and the terrain favorably to the European rides they were used to,” he said.
The Haute Route began in the mountains of Switzerland and France using the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites and infamous climbs like the Alp’ d’Huez for race courses.
There are now Haute Route events in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, and only two in the United States — Asheville and San Francisco.
So far, there are riders signed up from 32 states and six foreign countries: Great Britain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland.
The first day will circumnavigate Mount Mitchell with nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain over a 103-mile course. It will include Elk Mountain Scenic Highway and travel the parkway from N.C. 80 to Town Mountain Road. A shorter, “compact” Day 1 will have 55 miles of riding with 6,034 feet of elevation change.
Day 2 climbs nearly 9,000 feet over 97.5 miles, winding through the gardens of the Biltmore Estate before heading west toward Canton, through Haywood and Madison counties, returning along the French Broad River. The compact course is 57 miles with 3,616 feet of climbing.
Day 3, a Sunday, is a 5.6-mile time trial up Town Mountain Road, with a gain of 1,209 feet and an expected crowd of spectators yelling and clanging cowbells.
The winners, including women, who typically comprise 10-20% of the race field, will have posted the best times over all three days and segments.
Last year’s male winner was Corey Davis, of Greenville, South Carolina, who also won last year’s 100-mile Assault on Mount Mitchell, which is May 20 this year. The female winner was Danielle Baker of Durham.
“Asheville has a storied cycling history, including hosting major cycling races, being home to several champions, and developing into a renowned training hub for road cyclists and mountain bikers,” said Jim Rutberg of Haute Route North America.
“Asheville is a vibrant and welcoming city … the breweries, restaurants, galleries, and nearby attractions give athletes and their families a lot of options during their three-day stay.”
The Haute Route Asheville is May 17-19. No roads will be closed to vehicles during the races. For more on the Haute Route, visit www.hauteroute.org.
by Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen Times