Johnson City Omnium: Historic sweep for Sweeting

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 4, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Forget about a third time, the first time was the charm for Robert Sweeting.

His first time racing in the Johnson City Omnium, Sweeting became the first rider to win the Roan Groan road race and follow it up the next day by winning the overall omnium title.

Sweeting, a 24-year-old who resides in Asheville, won both the Roan Groan and Temple Hill Time Trial on Saturday for the Pro 1-2 class. He followed it up with a solid fourth-place in Sunday’s Phil Bachman Toyota Criterium.

Representing the Kenda 5-Hour Energy team, Sweeting didn’t have his teammates to push him along. Yet he was able to beat members of the 10-rider Team Athletix Globalbike for the overall title.

“This crit is super technical and I felt like we would rip it up for the first 10 laps, get a breakaway going and maybe even lap the field,” he said. “So I raced it really aggressively. Globalbike had a great plan, had a few guys mark me, and refused to work with me. They forced me to chase and played it perfectly.”

Still, they weren’t able to hold off a determined Sweeting, who fought throughout Sunday’s race to stay with the lead pack. He knew that falling back in the field wasn’t an option.

“This is one of those courses where if you’re riding in a top-five position, it can be relatively easy,” Sweeting said. “But if you’re riding in 30th place, it’s the hardest course in the country. I just tried to stay up front and it was a little easier to take on a few of the Globalbike guys at a time.”

With the fourth-place finish in the criterium, he rolled to a 64-50 victory over runner-up Joseph Welsh in the overall standings.

However, Welsh had the upper hand in the criterium.

The 22-year-old Memphis rider broke away from the pack with 10 laps to go and stretched out a big lead, which he maintained the rest of the way. In a battle of the Globalbike riders, he won by a quarter-lap over runner-up Benjamin Renkema of Greenville, S.C.

Welsh thought the 0.6-mile course around downtown Johnson City, with its many twists and turns, was a perfect fit for his style of riding.

“My true love is cycle-cross, and that is very turny,” he said. “I like tight turns at high speeds, so I like it when it’s really, really hard like it was today. A course like this not only suits me, but it’s fun to race, more fun than a course which is wide open.”

Welsh still expected the pack to catch him, especially drafting down the long straightaway past the finish line, but they were never able to close the gap. As the laps wound down, he heard the crowd roar louder each time, but only knew the race was in the bag when he hit the final turn.

“Three to go, two to go, the crowd was getting louder and louder,” Welsh said. “I was trying not to look back so I didn’t know how far up I was. You have to be careful. There are a quite a few ruts on the other side of the course, and I didn’t want to wreck by doing anything stupid or not paying attention.”

Pennsylvania rider Anna Barensfeld used an all-around strong performance to score the win in the women’s division.

After winning Saturday’s Roan Groan, she placed second in the time trials and second in the criterium to beat Sara Tussey of Winston-Salem, N.C., by a 69-61 margin.

During the criterium, however, it was Tussey who adapted best to wet conditions after an early-afternoon rain shower.

“It was a little tricky with the rain,” Tussey said. “I usually don’t race well in the rain, but when I got the corners figured out and the sun popped out, I was able to do my thing.”

Her thing was picking the right strategy and the right time to make the winning move. She decided to go early instead of waiting for the last lap.

“I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint, so I was looking for three, two, or one (lap) to go,” she said. “There was a lull with three to go, so I hit it, got a little gap and held it to the line.”

Nolan Tankersley, a 17-year-old high school student at Unicoi County High School, gave the local Tri Cities Road Club reason to celebrate.

He finished second ahead of another TCRC rider, Brent Baker of Kingsport, in Sunday’s Category 3 race. By doing so, he clinched the overall omnium title 54-51 over Jimmy Picard, a 27-year-old from Richmond, Va.

“I was surprised by my results,” Tankersley said. “Friday we went out on the road (for a practice ride) and I wasn’t feeling it. Yesterday my legs weren’t feeling it. Today I just came out and was able to get it.”

Tankersley described Saturday’s nine-mile ascent to the top of Roan Mountain as painful. However, it didn’t slow him down in the criterium, where he was able to do better than expected.

“My goal was just to finish in the top five,” he said. “I just wanted to get points for the omnium. Once I got second, I was thrilled.”

A few other local riders were among Sunday’s top finishers.

Chris Cannon of Jonesborough finished second in Category 5, followed by Jimmy Hayes of Elizabethton in fifth, and Alan Sparks of Johnson City in seventh. With his fifth-place effort, Hayes finished runner-up in the omnium results.

Among the juniors, Jordan Lewis of Gray posted a second-place and Eric Cooper of Erwin finished eighth.

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