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The cyclists who have participated in the Johnson City Omnium have left with a definite impression of the event which includes the Nor-Well Roan Groan Road Race, the Temple Hill Time Trial and the Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium.
“The riders say it’s the ultimate bicycle race in Tennessee,” race organizer Reneau Dubberly said. “Over 40 years, we’ve put together a pretty good opportunity for bike riders and they’ve come from all over. It features some of the top competition from the Southeastern region.”
The competition also includes riders listed from Michigan, Massachusetts and Hawaii as well as 2009 race winner John Delong and 2011 winner Brian Sheedy who skipped last year’s race to concentrate on cyclocross. It paid off as Sheedy won a silver medal at World Cyclocross Championship in February.
Others in the field include: Jeff McGrane, the defending Tennessee Category 2 State Champion, and Nolan Tankersley, a 17-year-old from Erwin riding for the host Tri-Cities Road Club who won the Category 3 Omnium title last year.
The 29th running of the Roan Groan starts off the action this morning. The race for the Pro riders is 55 miles long and has a finish climb of nearly eight miles. All the other categories will ride a 30-mile course from downtown Elizabethton to Carvers Gap near the top of Roan Mountain with the same finish as the Pro riders.
After the grueling mountain race, the day’s climbing isn’t over. The Temple Hill Time Trial has a 3.2-mile distance with a 1-mile climb averaging a 4.0 degree incline.
“It’s a straight three miles and they go straight out to the finish, man against the clock,” Dubberly said. “It’s a good one-mile climb at the beginning, then you have a fairly gradual climb to the finish. It makes two events on Saturday which involves climbing ability.”
Among the entries is past U.S. Time Trial record-holder Kent Bostic.
The omnium finishes the two-day event on Sunday with the Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium in downtown Johnson City.
A crowd around 2,000 spectators is expected to watch the racing around the downtown area which features the Pro 1-2 class at 2 p.m.
“I’ve heard the riders make comments when they are coming around the course for the last lap, they can’t take the time to look around, but they can hear the fans cheering harder and harder,” Dubberly said. “It’s very interesting. The fans are a major portion of the race.”
The racing in the criterium resembles that of NASCAR on bicycles.
There are techniques used like drafting, blocking and teamwork as well as the occasional beating and banging of the short tracks.
“The crtierium is a high-skill event,” Dubberly said. “Last year when Robert Sweeting won the road race and the time trial, the best he could do for the criterium was fourth because he didn’t have the team members to help him out. The criterium takes the teamwork.”
Nevertheless, Sweeting made history last year becoming the first rider to win both the Roan Groan and the overall omnium title. This year’s race promises to be even more fan-friendly than before with a notable holdover from the Blue Plum festival.
“This year, they will have a music stage on Sunday,” Dubberly said. “There will be downtown restaurants open on Sunday and the course, the riders say this is the best criterium course they race period.”
As with all the racing, there is no charge to attend. Dubberly said that fact makes cycling unique in the world of sports.
“It’s the only free professional sporting event in the world,” “Any other sport if you watch the professionals, you have to pay.”