ROAN MOUNTAIN — Although there are no mountains in Florida, it didn’t keep a pair of riders from the Sunshine State from playing king of the mountain at the 29th running of the Nor-Well Roan Groan bicycle race on Saturday morning.
Jimmy Schurman, a 22-year-old from Deerfield Beach, won the Pro 1-2 category in the 55-mile road race that ends with nearly an eight-mile uphill climb. His time of 2:31:26 placed him 39 seconds ahead of runner-up Shawn Gravois, a 26-year-old from Sarasota.
“I knew there were some strong riders who can climb well,” Schurman said. “I’m more of a steady rider, so my strategy was to get in a breakaway at the beginning of the race and hit the climb with a gap. It worked out even though a couple of dudes bridged up. I got to the climb in a breakaway and was able to ride my own pace. That’s what got me the win.”
Schurman was the second straight Florida native to win the Roan Groan, following Robert Sweeting’s victory last year.
Cameron Cogburn of Cambridge, Mass., finished third in Saturday’s race, 50 seconds behind Gravois. Scottie Weiss, a 42-year-old from Radford, Va., and Brian Sheedy, the 2011 Johnson City Omnium winner, rounded out the top five.
Gravois picked up 25 points towards an overall omnium title. He assumes a favorite’s role as Schurman is skipping today’s Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterum to prepare for a race later this week in Canada.
Still, Gravois had his sights on a first Roan Groan title. He was runner-up for a second straight year despite a well-earned reputation as a strong climber. However, something didn’t feel right to him heading into the race.
“I was feeling a little flat,” he said. “I’ve been training in the mountains the last two weeks. Jimmy was hitting it really hard at the bottom and I thought he might be going too hard and might blow up. But he held it the whole way. Once we got to the flatter part at the top, he was able to crank it up a little bit. I wasn’t able to close on him and there wasn’t any drafting. It came down to he was stronger on the climb, the strongest today.”
Fans could be excused for seeing double in the women’s race. Emily Shields, a 19-year-old from Salisbury, N.C., wound up a couple of bike lengths ahead of her twin sister Katherine at the finish.
The twins are no strangers to the mountains, currently living in Banner Elk where they attend Lees-McRae College.
“We’re very competitive,” Emily Shields said. “The good thing is I like mountain biking better and she likes road better. We usually trade off. It’s not like one of us always beats the other one.”
Being twin sisters, they enoy a natural chemistry. It was needed as they used teamwork to beat out Nina Laughlin, a 21-year-old from Boone, N.C.
“It’s nice having both of us,” Katherine Shields said. “If other people attack, we can trade off until the other person recovers. We can tell if we’re hurting just by our form. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Erik Ostergaard had the honor as the first rider up the mountain as the winner of the Masters Elite category. The 37-year-old from Asheville held off Brad Price of Kingsport and Kenneth Poole of Nashville in a tight finish.
“We got in a break three-quarters of the way into the race,” Ostergaard said. “The seven-man break whittled down to three people about halfway up the climb. That’s pretty much how the finish played out. I kind of waited until the very end.”
The Masters had a 30-mile ride, but the same grueling finish to the top of Carvers Gap. Ostergaard, who rode 200 miles per week in preparation for the race, had to overcome one significant obstacle in his winning effort.
“I struggled on the middle of the climb with cramping, but I worked through it,” he said. “I managed to hold it off until right after the finish.”
Johnson City’s Mike Walters, the current Tennessee Road Race champion, took top honors in the Elite 40/50/60 category. The 42-year-old completed the 30-mile ride in 1:50:14 to finish nearly three minutes ahead of runner-up James Pittman.
Racing for the Tri-Cities Road Club, the Roan Groan was the one race Walters had marked on the calendar.
“This race has been a goal of mine,” he said. “It’s taken two years where I’ve really focused on this race. I’ve trained up for it and I climbed it 4-5 times already this year to know how I could keep the pace. That’s what I did. I went after it and I won it. I’m glad to win it for the local club.”
Later in the day, the cyclists competed in the Temple Hill Time Trials. The final phase of the Johnson City Omnium, the Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium, is scheduled for today in downtown Johnson City.
Races start 8 a.m. with the juniors. The women’s pro race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. with the pro men scheduled to race at 2:30 p.m.