WCU’s inaugural “Airport Assault” bike race this weekend

The WCU Cycling Team

The WCU Cycling Team

The WCU Cycling Team will host its first ever bike race this weekend for about 150 cyclists spanning from across the state down to Florida, as well as Puerto Rico.

The 15 teams that are signed up for the “Airport Assault” will participate in three events – an individual time trial, a road race and a criterium event.

The time trial, beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, will be a short but steep climb up a mountain to the Jackson County Airport. The 1-mile course is popular among riders in the area for its difficulty and an unofficial leaderboard constantly challenging them to record their fastest time.

Later in the afternoon is the road race, which features a 9-mile loop traveling throughout Cullowhee. Cyclists will depart at 1 p.m. by the Health and Human Sciences building on Little Savannah Road and will make their way up and down several demanding hills while passing by Western’s main entrance.

The road race portion of the "Airport Assault."

The road race portion of the “Airport Assault.”

The criterium event on Sunday, once again starting at 9 a.m., will take place on the landing strip of the Jackson County Airport. This high-speed race is designed to be a short course with sharp turns, and should translate into an exciting, viewer-friendly way to finish out the competition.

There will be an awards ceremony following the criterium event with 62 awards handed out to the riders of each race, including spray-painted, custom-made medals from spare bike parts for first, second and third placing.

Patrick O’Neal, a student at Western and the President of Road Cycling for the WCU team, has been working around the clock for months to put this event together – sorting out the logistics, assigning the Cullowhee Valley Fire Department for law enforcement, designing the course, finding volunteers and more.

“It’s really exciting to see it all come to fruition this weekend,” said O’Neal.  He referred to the event as the greatest achievement of his college career and will be competing in all three races.

Parking on Saturday will be available at the Health and Human Sciences building and a shuttle will be taking spectators to and from the airport on Sunday. Each race is free and open to the public.

Visit the WCU Cycling website for more information, or check out their Facebook page here.