Breaking Away: Brevard’s “Tour de France”

Wes Dickson is owner of Sycamore Cycles in Brevard. Transylvania County is becoming an epicenter of cycling in the Southeast. Photo by Tim Robison

Wes Dickson is owner of Sycamore Cycles in Brevard. Transylvania County is becoming an epicenter of cycling in the Southeast. Photo by Tim Robison

Cyclists in and around Transylvania County wanted their own version of the Tour de France, and the Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest answered by sponsoring an annual fundraising event, Assault on the Carolinas. All proceeds benefit local charities, but the ride attracts participants from across the continent.

More than half of the states in the U.S. are represented by riders, in addition to a strong showing of participants from Canada. So many cyclists registered for this year’s event, in fact, that the 16th Annual Assault on the Carolinas reached its 1,000-person limit months before the ride — which happens (rain or shine) on April 11.

The Assault on the Carolinas starts and finishes on Main Street in downtown Brevard, and features three route options — a 100K (65.8 miles), a 60K (37 miles), and a 40K (25 miles). All three are fully supported with well-stocked rest stops, bathroom facilities, traffic support at major intersections, well-marked courses, and a hot lunch after the ride.

Tom Dempsey, from Cedar Mountain, NC, is an avid Assault participant. “My first Assault ride was in 2010,” says Dempsey, “and I have participated every year since, riding the 100K route each time.” He says he’s lucky that his company, SylvanSport, an event sponsor, fields a team of riders. “We come from several states to ride the Assault together.”

Teamwork definitely offers added encouragement and camaraderie. Ultimately, performance in a potentially grueling 100K comes down to individual stamina and conditioning. Asked how he trains for such an intense and physically demanding event, Dempsey confesses, “I have one of the most undisciplined training routines of any human being that you will meet.”

Last year he prepped by riding the Bracken Mountain trail in Brevard several times a week, but in previous years he says his entire preparation regimen consisted of “just getting off the couch.” No matter how he gets ready, though, Dempsey says that the Assault is always an incredible thrill.

“The exhilaration at the start of the ride is an adrenaline high, for sure. That usually carries you through, up, and over Walnut Hollow — the first steep climb. From there you roll through the beautiful East Fork Valley, and on up near the highest point in South Carolina. Speed down into South Carolina, and gear on through the valleys below.

“The six-mile climb back up Caesar’s Head is the biggest test,” he goes on, “and makes the final 15 miles back to Brevard seem almost like you’re coasting.”
Assault on the Carolinas was recently rated a “Must-Do” bike ride by Active.com, and riders come from far and wide to experience it. One reason the ride is such a magnet for cycling enthusiasts, says Wes Dickson, owner of local bike shop Sycamore Cycles (another event sponsor), is the timing.

“It’s the first warm-up event in the area, and is a great early-season test of fitness and riding prowess,” Dickson explains. “Other regions are still dealing with inclement winter weather, so Assault on the Carolinas attracts a lot of riders from northern locations, too.”

Dickson has been involved with the event since its inception, participating in the 100-K ride at least 10 times. Cycling has been one of Transylvania County’s major outdoor-recreation activities for generations, but as the popularity of cycling has seen explosive growth over the past two decades, so has the reputation of the county as a prime place to bike, regardless of skill level or cycling-terrain preference.

Now Brevard finds itself at the epicenter of the bicycling in the Southeast, and events like Assault on the Carolinas are continuing to spawn bike-related tourism, from weekend warriors to Olympic-class professionals. Because it boasts major cycling destination Bent Creek, Asheville is certainly still a top destination for cyclists. However Brevard offers faster access to hundreds of miles of quality biking with relatively little vehicular traffic, making it a more convenient option.

“It’s just plain fun,” adds Dempsey. “You meet many riders of all abilities, from many places. I’ve certainly enjoyed making some new friends along the way.”

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