History Lesson: Lees-McRae Home Course
Today’s history lesson;
Lees-McRae Cycling was founded in 2001 and began primarily as a mountain bike team. Lees-McRae’s meteoric rise to prominence was fueled initially through the success of our mountain bike team.
There is a long list of riders that forged the early success of the program including Scott Stewart (Jelly Belly), Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Ally Stacher (Specialized/LuluLemon), Carla Swart, PJ Noto, Ben Hulse, Steve Solt, and Aaron Bradford (Rocklobster).
Very early in the program former coach Doug Owen cut some trails adjacent to the lacrosse fields, these trails quickly adopted the name “Pirate Trails” and became very popular with the cross country team. The 2006 and 2007 Collegiate Short Track Mountain Bike National Championships were held on this loop, which included a famous and technically demanding creek crossing. Today these trails have been widened considerably, enough to form the bulk of our cyclocross course. Early in the program’s history the first generation of the slalom course was built by David Flynn, Aaron Bradford, and others.
In 2005 the cycling team was granted access to the LMC owned parcel of land we now know as the home course. The land is steep, wet, and full of rhododendrons. The trail was laboriously cut that summer by then assistant coach Brian Sheedy. Years of roots and forest carpet would take decades to wear in, but the trail was there nonetheless! After an initial conference race the bid to host Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals was won. In 2006 local ski resort Sugar Mountain provided the venue for the downhill race. The 2007 slalom course was designed and built entirely by Chris Herndon, Brian Sheedy and the cycling team with huge hours of manual labor.
The 2006 Mountain Bike Nationals were preceded by ten days of torrential rains, making the cross country course near impossible to ride. This experience is chronichled in the movie “Unclipped” by Kevin Holldber featured on the sidebar of this blog. The consequence of all this rain coupled with thousands of tire tracks meant the trail was bedded in one weekend.
In 2007, the loop being well established, riders began experimenting with different variations of the loop using some alternate lines. The Lees-McRae home course is in a continual evolution as the course wears in improves with time. As an example of this evolution, in 2010 instead of riding directly down the stream, Assistant Coach Robert Jameson crafted a go around which quickly replaced the stream in the standard loop.
In addition to the members of the Lees-McRae Cycling family, our course is maintained through the help of local riders Matt Herdklotz and Sean Peppin. If you see these guys around, be sure to thank them for all the work they’ve done.