If you’re going to put on and sponsor what has quickly evolved into one of the region’s most popular road-bike events, it sure helps to have a qualified nutritionist on staff.
When it came to stocking food and drink at rest stops along the Blue Ridge Breakaway’s grueling 65-mile haul — with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain — the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce turned to its own Lois Beery, the chamber’s administrative assistant who teaches nutrition as a personal wellness coach on the side.
Beery is now in charge of the beverages and food bike racers will use to refuel when rolling up to the eight rest stops incorporated into the route.
Bike riders on the race committee imparted inside information on what they need to have good race outings, Beery said, which has helped her in setting up the rest-stop stations.
“You want carbs that are salty, because they’ll need the sodium,” she said. “Then, drinks such as Gatorade to provide magnesium and potassium.”
Protein, too, is important, but racers don’t have time to sit down and feast on steak dinners. They want items they can grab and eat and go, Beery said. That means offering them an array of snacks such as trail mix, peanuts and the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As for after the race? Pasta — massive quantities — with an array of toppings will be catered by Nico’s, along with fresh salad.
Rides at the second-annual Blue Ridge Breakaway will begin and end at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in Haywood County. There are four routes, geared for beginner through advanced riders. The centerpiece race is the 105-mile century ride that ascends through Haywood County to the Blue Ridge Parkway before descending back to Lake Junaluska.
Bill Jacobs of Cashiers is a returning racer. He got into the sport after participating in the grueling 50-mile Tour de Cashiers 15 years ago, in his 50s.
“I said, ‘never again,’” Jacobs said ruefully. “Didn’t work out that way.”
Jacobs has come a long way since that first, painful experience. For one thing, he knows now to focus carefully on the fuel he feeds his body — not just at rest stops during the race, Jacobs said, but all year long.
“I follow a healthy overall eating approach,” he said. “I’m careful about meaty fats, and eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and some carbs — (also) nonfat dairy and wholegrain breads. I do eat meat, but I tend toward selecting fish.”
Jacobs, unlike some riders, isn’t particularly overzealous about selecting a particular race-day breakfast — he wants some protein in it, so he’ll likely eat eggs.
“I really don’t do anything extreme,” the Cashiers resident said.
“Concerning diet, cyclists burn a lot of calories and some of us have to be careful not to lose too much weight,” Jacobs said. “So I eat a lot.”
Last year, Jacobs rode coast-to-coast in 35 days of cycling.
“On the cross-country ride I actually gained a couple of pounds, by eating pretty much all the time, both on and off the bike,” he said.
A moderate, thoughtful approach to fueling and training — in addition to eating well and in a balanced fashion, Jacobs most weeks gets in a 60- to 70-mile bike ride, plus mixes in some shorter outings and workouts at the gym.
You can’t control every variable in bike racing, however, and one thing about racing up to the Blue Ridge Parkway is that you never know quite what the weather is going to bring. Last year, Jacobs bailed out at Balsam Gap and took a back way back to town. It started raining, and several racers became hypothermic, forcing rangers to shut the parkway to them for safety reasons.
“That’s just the risk you take,” Jacobs said.
A marketing event
CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber of Commerce, said the rest stops are supplied with ponchos, trash bags and newspapers (good for stuffing inside those thin racing outfits and cutting the wind). The ponchos and trash bags will be there, she said, if like last year rain pours on riders in the Blue Ridge Breakaway.
“These stops are an oasis in the desert,” Hipps said, adding that six to eight volunteers will staff each rest stop.
“It is very detailed to put on,” she said. “A lot of logistics are involved with this.”
Despite the bad weather last year, racers’ after-race reviews were overwhelmingly positive, Hipps said.
That’s important, not only because you want racers to enjoy the event, but because Blue Ridge Breakaway is also serving to market the region.
“If they have a good experience, this will be a special place in their minds,” Hipps said in explanation.
Typically, August is a fairly slow month for tourism and visitation in Haywood County. That’s why the chamber targeted a road-bike event for this time of year, Hipps said.
“It’s a passion for these people,” she said of the racers. “And many are of a generation who have means, and disposable income.”
Calculating that the bikers drive approximately two hours to participate in Blue Ridge Breakaway, they’ll probably opt to spend the night, she said (it’s no fun trying to drive home after cycling more than 100 miles). Roughly speaking, the chamber expects each racer to drop about $150 a day in Haywood County.
As of Monday, 270 people had signed up for the ride, double the pace of entrees as of a week out last year. There were 300 total participants last year, with as many as 500 expected this year.
What to expect on race day, Aug. 20
• The routes goes from Lake Junaluska through Jonathan Creek, on to Fines Creek, then back through Clyde. From there, metric-century and century riders go through Bethel, Sunburst Trout Farm and past Lake Logan. One hundred-mile riders climb all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then stay on it until Soco Gap, descending through Maggie Valley and back to Lake Junaluska. If you’re in an automobile in these areas on Saturday, Aug. 20, please keep an eye out for cyclists.
• The Blue Ridge Breakaway starts at 7:30 a.m. Please be careful of riders if you are in the Lake Junaluska-Jonathan Valley area at that time, as large groups of riders will be on the road together to start the ride.
• Riders may register on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 6-6:30 a.m. at Lake Junaluska.