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Peak Cycling: Introducing the Blue Ridge High Country
After cancer, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong was burned out on biking.
In January 1998, Armstrong moved to Europe to train with the U.S. Postal pro cycling team, hoping to regain his form after treatment for the testicular cancer that almost took his life.
"I was riding with buried doubts, and some buried resentments, too," Armstrong recalls in his autobiography, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. Some less-than-stellar finishes in early spring European races sent Armstrong into a tailspin. He quit the U.S. Postal team, flew home to Texas and became a self-described bum who drank too much beer, ate too much Mexican food and channel surfed his way through the day.
Armstrong might still be on the couch today, a forgotten footnote in the history of sports, if it weren't for his visit to the Blue Ridge High Country.
In April 1998, Armstrong, overweight and out of shape, traveled to Boone in a last-ditch effort to get his cycling career back on track.
With the help of riding buddy Bob Roll and coach Chris Carmichael, Armstrong threw himself into riding. "All we did is eat, sleep and ride bikes," Armstrong writes.
Through fog and chilly rains, Armstrong attacked the rugged hills of the High Country, regaining his fitness and his confidence. In a grueling climb to the top of frosty Beech Mountain, Armstrong found his form mentally and physically. Armstrong took the summit of Beech a restored man.
"I was a bike racer again," Armstrong writes of his peak experience. "I passed the rest of the trip in a state of near-reverence for those beautiful, peaceful, soulful mountains. The rides were demanding and quiet, and I rode with a pure love of the bike, until Boone began to feel like the Holy Land to me, a place I had come to on a pilgrimage. If I ever have any serious problems again, I know that I will go back to Boone and find an answer. I got my life back on those rides."
From the depths of despair and disease, Armstrong rebounded to win the Tour de France three years in a row and become the world's top endurance athlete. And his renaissance as a rider began in the North Carolina mountains.
In the Blue Ridge High Country, road cyclists can find natural beauty, challenging climbs and exhilarating descents for their own peak experiences.
"The western part of North Carolina is simply some of the best road riding in the world," Bicycling magazine said in March 2001. The 470-mile Blue Ridge Parkway straddles the area, and the hills are laced with a network of paved, low-traffic back roads that offer both inspiring scenery and rugged terrain.
With its weathered barns, log cabins and old country stores, the countryside sometimes looks like the land that time forgot. But a few miles away in Boone and Blowing Rock, great restaurants and a variety of accommodations pamper active visitors.
Bike racing hasn't attained the popularity of NASCAR in the Blue Ridge High Country, but the area does have its chapter in American cycling history. Some of the world's best riders raced through the area in the Tour DuPont in the mid 1990s. Several routes in Road Cycling the Blue Ridge High Country retrace portions of those classic Tours.
The Blue Ridge High Country is the mountain and foothills region centered on Boone in the northwestern corner of North Carolina. The dominant landform here is the Blue Ridge, the front range of the Appalachian Mountains. The Blue Ridge runs northeast to southwest from Pennsylvania to Georgia, attaining its highest elevations in the North Carolina High Country.
There's tremendous variety in the road cycling options in the Blue Ridge High Country. Terrain on the rides varies from nearly flat to almost wall-like. Elevations on the rides range from 6,630 feet above sea level to just under a thousand feet. Whether you're looking for an easy family spin or a stout ride to test your limits, you can find it in the unique part of America known as the Blue Ridge High Country.