Bridge bicycle race is over

May. 18, 2014 @ 09:02 AM

For 25 years, a bicycle race known as "the Bridge" led thousands of cyclists from downtown Lenoir to the top of Grandfather Mountain, winding along more than 100 miles of around Caldwell County's roads.

But this year's Bridge Incredible Challenge, which had been planned for June, isn't happening, and it looks like the race may never be ridden again.

"The Bridge as we’ve known it and executed it in the past will no longer happen," said Deborah Ashley Smith, director of the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the race.

The chamber is in talks with an organization Smith declined to name that may end up taking over the race, but no final decision has been made. Another group already decided not to take it up.

The race was started for two reasons, Smith said: to bring tourists to the area and to bring much-needed revenue for the chamber, which is a nonprofit.

For most of those 25 years, the race was financially viable, helping fund chamber programs, but in recent years problems with the route, a reduced number of riders and the high cost of the race have made it financially unfeasible to continue, she said.

The race costs around $35,000 to put on, not including the 800 staff hours it took, and in recent years revenues have fallen to around $5,000.

“I look at it in two ways,” she said. “One, I’ve been here 14 and a half years, so it’s sad to see such a successful event have to come to an end, but on the other hand, everything is cyclical and we have to realize we had 25 great years. So as I look back, we are ending on a high note.”

The race had been run in September every year, but the chamber had planned to move it to June this year in hopes of boosting the number of riders. The September spot was seen as too late in what has become a crowded cycling season.

But if any new sponsor wants to keep the race in September, the weekend that the race once occupied has already been claimed by a new race, the Blowing Rock Fall Classic, which is using much of the Bridge route, said Sean Moore, co-owner of Luna Cycles in downtown Lenoir.

“The problem is that by letting it drop at all, there’s already somebody who’s taken that spot,” Moore said. “You don’t own the road, you don’t own the weekend.”

The Blowing Rock Fall Classic will be a 72-mile race starting in Blowing Rock, coming down U.S. 321 to Happy Valley, then west to Collettsville, up N.C. 181 to Linville, then back to Blowing Rock.