The clacking of 1,800 cycling shoes on the blacktop in front of Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium signified the start of the 40th Assault on Mount Mitchell early Monday.
Nine hundred riders from across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada departed from downtown at 6:30 a.m. heading up North Church Street.
Karl Johnson, president of the Freewheelers of Spartanburg, which organizes the annual ride, said 779 riders were signed up to make the 102.7-mile ride to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Another 121 riders were making the 75-mile journey to Mount Marion.
“We really had a good group this year,” Johnson said. “The numbers have been down slightly during the last two years for a variety of factors, but the spirit is always great… We want to make sure everyone gets (to the finish line) safely… I'm thankful for everyone who helped put this on.”
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The assault began in 1975 when a group of friends led by John Bryan decided to ride from Spartanburg to the top of Mount Mitchell, which is billed as the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, with an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet.
Bryan lost his battle with lymphoma in 2009. Johnson said he believes the patriarch of Spartanburg's cycling community would be proud if he were alive to see the participation today.
The Mount Mitchell ride has more than 10,000 feet of climbing, according to the Freewheelers of Spartanburg. The Mount Marion ride, added in 1993, has more than 7,500 feet of climbing.
Johnson called both rides a “test of the will.”
Engineer Michael Piczek of Orlando arrived in Spartanburg on Sunday night with his friend and co-worker Earl Green and Green's wife, Jessica Green, who teaches fifth grade.
Piczek said the group prepared for the event by riding together every Saturday.
“We chose the Marion option because Florida is flat,” Earl Green said. “We rode 40 miles up to 65 miles. We basically rode the same hill over and over.”
“It's a very social activity,” Piczek said. “Some of the triathletes were telling me it's a lot more social than swimming… It's a nice experience to be able to get out together.”
Johnson said about 300 volunteers help put on the assault this year.
Neither events are races, he said. They are rides. The finish times for riders are recorded, but there are no prizes for the top finishers.
In years past, the top riders have completed the Assault on Mount Mitchell in under six hours.
The finish line
Four cyclists made a pact Monday as they labored up to the summit of Mount Mitchell: They would cross the finish line together.
According to official timekeepers, the first to cross the finish line was Scottie Weiss of Radford, Va., with a time of 5 hours, 25 minutes and 22 seconds.
Second was Mathias Nothlegger of Charlotte, N.C., at 5:25:23, followed by John Overton of Charlotte and Brad Perley of Brevard.
The first woman to cross the finish line was Erin Burton of Charleston at 5:37.
Jennifer Heaslip with the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News contributed to this report.