Camping in the Smokies

Cycling clubs adopt county as new training base

Slipping into a pair of lycra shorts for the first time is a bracing experience for any cyclist. For Detroit native Brian Cox, embracing his sport’s rite of passage proved especially grating.

Cox, who traveled to Blount County last week with 50 of his cycling club friends, was diagnosed with a hernia four years ago. He’d ballooned to 216 pounds from his normal 178. His doctor prescribed medication to control his blood pressure, which was well out of control.

To help get things in order again, Cox said he turned to cycling. His health quickly returned. The pounds came flying off. Then, on a late afternoon ride, his dad pulled up next to him at an intersection.

“He said, ‘You know you look silly with all that tight, plastic stuff on your body,’” Cox said.

Ribbing aside, Cox was hooked on cycling, quickly finding like-minded Detroit friends to share the ride. They soon formed a club. A few years ago, the Metro Detroit Cycling Club whizzed by Maryville native Eddie Sloan, who was vacationing in Michigan. Sloan got onto their train and struck up a friendship, telling club members to look him up if they ever came South.

Two years ago, they did, taking part in the annual Tour de Blount bicycle rally, making Sloan the club’s Tennessee president in the process. When MDCC riders returned home, they spread the word to other clubs: Maryville was the place to go if you want to ride some hills.

With all in agreement, the clubs bid farewell to their previous spring training site in the North Carolina mountains to call Blount County home. With local riders showing the way last week, the event was a bigger success than he’d hoped, Sloan said.

“I’m so happy it worked out as well as it did,” he said. “They absolutely loved it. They said, ‘This is the best trip we’ve ever taken.’”

Riders from the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club and the Major Taylor Club from Columbus, Ohio, joined the Detroit club for their week-long stay. Together with Sloan, area riders, including Cycology Bicycles owner Tim Patterson, gave the three clubs the full tour of Blount County cycling, including “the Wall” above Camp Montvale and “Sweetie Pie,” two of Maryville’s most feared climbs.

“These guys were experienced, long-time cyclists,” Sloan said. “They said, ‘This (the Montvale climb) is the hardest thing I’ve ever been on.’ One of the guys from there said, ‘If someone from Tennessee says it’s hard, believe them.’”

The Detroit club caravanned to Maryville in five vehicles. Their Columbus group chose the economy route, cramming 13 cyclist into one, hard-charging van, complete with racks for 13 bicycles on top.

The hardships were well worth the effort, Cox said.

“The thing about North Carolina is you didn’t have the variety of terrain,” he said. “We had riders that didn’t come (to the training camp) in the past because it was nothing but climbing.”

Another benefit of moving the camp to Blount County is location. At the Carolina site, the teams would bed down for the night in cabins in the woods with too few amenities, including enough places for everyone to sleep and no where to buy supplies. Basing operations in Townsend, the clubs not only had access to all types of riding but restaurants and sightseeing for those who still had the energy post ride.

“This location is best,” Cox said. “There’s no comparison.”

Cycology hosted a pizza party for the clubs toward the end of their stay. Sloan said it’s unlikely MDCC or one of the other clubs will return for the Tour de Blount a week from Saturday. If not, they’ll be missed, and not just by him.

“This whole community pulled this off,” Sloan said. “This was so great.”

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