ROAN MOUNTAIN — Robert Sweeting decided to go his own way at the 27th annual Roan Groan cycling race on Saturday.
It turned out to be a winning formula.
Sweeting, 24, first broke away from the pack with runner-up Shawn Gravois. Then, he pulled away from Gravois going up Roan Mountain to win by a three-minute margin over the 56.5-mile course, and win the first leg of the three-race Johnson City Omnium.
“I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a climber. I’m more of an all-arounder,” Sweeting said. “So, I worked from the bottom and tried to get as much of a gap as possible before the real climb started. Then, I wanted to ride my own pace. I just kind of wanted to do my own thing.”
It is a unique relationship with Sweeting and Gravois, who are friends and rivals. The two went to the same high school in Sarasota, Fla., but never knew each other until both attended the University of Florida.
Now, they live together in Asheville, N.C., and are often training partners, despite riding for different teams.
Sweeting, representing the Kendra 5-Hour Energy team, was a lone wolf on Saturday, beating Gravois and a pack of nine other riders from Team Athletix Globalbike.
“Globalbike had 10 riders here and I figured they would send guys in the break, and if I was in the break, they wouldn’t work with me,” Sweeting said. “So, I made a move with Shawn about 10 miles before the break and went from there. After we got a seperation, I decided to go around him and make my move.
“When I turned around and I was by myself, I knew it was a nine-mile climb. But, I couldn’t stop, so I just went for it.”
Sweeting pedaled to a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 55 seconds. Gravois was second at 2:45:56, and Christopher Brown of Chattanooga finished third, another 14 seconds behind.
Gravois, usually the stronger climber of the two roommates, admitted to being surprised that Sweeting was able to pull away.
“Bob is a bigger guy, more of a time trialist, so I thought us climbers would be able to close the gap on him,” Gravois said. “It was pretty windy, and I thought it would be hard for one guy to pull way. I was kind of surprised we didn’t catch him, but we put in a good ride. It was definitely an unpredictable race.”
In the women’s division, Anna Barensfeld, a 28-year-old from Pennsylvania, used a different strategy to win. She never attacked during the 31.5 miles, even the nine-mile stretch up Roan Mountain. She decided a steady pace was the best way to go.
“One of the teams did some attacking early and I appreciated they tried to animate the race,” she said. “We got a little bit of a gap. I knew it was a waiting game until I got to the hill, then I just tried to set a tempo. I settled into my pace, a one-hour pace right at the bottom of the mountain.”
Despite a pace of two hours and four minutes, she faced serious competition, at least halfway up the mountain. It took a long time to shake off Sara Tussey, a 32-year-old from Winston-Salem, whose strategy was to ride behind Barensfeld’s rear tire.
Tussey, who finished third behind Nashville’s Katie Ryan in the women’s competition, said it was tough to keep up with Barensfeld.
“It was brutal,” Tussey said. “When we started the climb, I knew it was long. I tried to stay with her as long as I could, but after three or four miles, I finally had to say, ‘Girl, you go. You got it.’ I was trying to limit my losses at that point, just trying to get to the top. That last little stretch was a killer.”
Hugh Moran, a 41-year-old from Asheville, had the distinction of the first rider up the mountain. He made a winning pass less than half a mile from the finish in the Masters division race.
It came during a 1.7 mile-climb to the top of the mountain, which was added for this year’s race.
“I don’t know that the extra 1.7 miles changed the race a whole lot, but it made it a lot more fun,” Moran said. “Everyone held a lot more in reserve in the beginning because they weren’t sure what the extra miles would mean in the end.”
After the tough climb, Moran faced a final obstacle as the police pace car slowed when the terrain leveled off at the top of the mountain. Moran quickly reacted and darted past to avoid a collision.
Unlike the Pro race, Moran’s victory was a team effort.
He rode the course with Asheville Bike Racing Club teammate Erik Ostergaard a week before the race, and worked with the Industry Nine group during Saturday’s race to gain the No. 1 position.
“It was a total team effort,” Moran said. “At the bottom of the hill, I had my Industry Nine teammates lined up for me and got me in the right position. There were two guys who had the responsibility of keeping it (the pack) together to the bottom of the climb. Then, they were able to string things out and set us up. They did their jobs, and I knew I just had to do mine.”
The second part of the Johnson City Omnium took place later Saturday with the Temple Hill Time Trial. The event concludes today with the Phil Bachman Toyota Criterium in downtown Johnson City. Races start at 8 a.m. with the featured Pro 1/2 race scheduled for 2:30 p.m.