Rain turned an expected Sunday cruise for Shawn Gravois into a treacherous ride to the finish at the Johnson City Omnium.
With a seven-point lead in the Pro 1-2 category over second-place Brian Sheedy heading into Sunday’s Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium, all Gravois had to do was keep Sheedy in sight and he would become omnium champion.
About 15 minutes into his coronation ride, however, rain covered the course first in small showers, then with a downpour. It turned the streets of Johnson City into an obstacle course filled with slick corners and fallen riders.
Gravois managed to avoid enough of the chaos for a fifth-place finish, one spot behind Sheedy, to take a 56-51 win in the overall omnium title.
“The crit is always fun, but today with the rain, it was interesting,” said Gravois, a 27-year-old from Sarasota, Fla. “As soon as the rain started, there were all kinds of crashes on the slippery bits.”
Several riders decided to pull out of the race after crashing and it left Gravois with a clear option. While the natural tendenacy is to back off at that point, he said the key was to take the opposite approach.
“When it rains, you actually want to be aggressive and get to the front,” Gravois said. “You have less odds of crashing with the fewer guys around you and you can take your own lines through the corners. When you’re back in the field, you take the corners 3-4 wide, there’s more chances to go down. I went to the front and was able to get away from the field and stay away to finish fifth.”
Sheedy’s run to fourth was remarkable, considering the fact he had food poisioning coming into the weekend and felt dehydrated. In Sunday’s race, the Brevard, N.C. racer overcame a couple more setbacks, crashing twice.
“I don’t mind crashing if I don’t get hurt,” Sheedy said. “I was trying to miss the crashes in the corners and the first one I tried to miss when I deviated, I slid out.
“The second time I tried to miss a crash, I slid sideways and rolled my tubular out. I almost crashed again, but I didn’t go down that time.”
Christopher Uberti, a 26-year-old from Cincinnati, won Sunday’s criterium, and the points he earned put him third overall in the omnium.
While many of the other riders hated the wet track, it suited Uberti just fine.
“I love riding in the rain. It’s my thing,” he said. “For me, the slicker the track, the better.”
He described how treacherous it was, particularly on streets where new asphalt had been laid down and crosswalks were newly painted.
“The crosswalks were so slick,” Uberti said. “If you did anything, you cornered, you pedaled, you would slide out instantly. You just have to teach yourself to go easy through the corners and know your limits.”
The rest of the classes raced before the rain hit and the obstacles they faced were the other riders and the number of tight corners on the track itself.
Emily Shields, a 19-year-old who attends Lees-McRae College, won the Women’s Pro race 58-57 over her twin sister Katherine. Emily Shields had a three-point lead coming into the day, and finished fifth in the criterium, just one spot behind her sister. Her biggest decision was knowing the right time to make her move so she wouldn’t be surrounded by other riders.
“Today, I tried to sprint at the last second so I wouldn’t bring the whole field up,” Emily Shields said. “She still managed to get fourth and I got fifth so it was good. All the girls who were ahead of us weren’t close to us in the omnium so it didn’t matter.
“Sometimes when I see Katherine, it makes me go a little bit harder. I feel if she can do it, I can do it.”
Katherine Shields admits their competitive nature resembles that of the Williams sisters in tennis. But, she adds there is no one she would rather be runner-up to than her sister.
“We used to run a lot and if we’re going to get second, we always want it to be to the other one of us,” she said. “We would rather the other one of us beat us than someone else. No one can really tell us apart anyway, so they can’t tell who won.”
Alexander Ratliff, a 22-year-old from Roan Mountain, won the Men’s Cat 5 title, tying Ben Ratliff from Kingsport with 53 points apiece.
Ratliff earned the tiebreaker by virtue of his victory in Saturday night’s Temple Hill Time Trial, although he said the 30-mile Roan Groan road race was actually the strongest of his three races.
“I’m more of a climber,” Ratliff said. “I’m built for it. I’m more skinny and tall. I’m not built for the crit or the time trial. I can ride the entire race course from my doorstep and I’ve probably riden it 50 times since the race last year. I know exactly where to push myself and where to rest.”
Blair Ellis of Johnson City finished third in the omnium and Matthew Lee of Jonesborough was fourth as the host Tri Cities Road Club dominated the final results.
Former Science Hill golfer Jimmy Humston, who now lives in Nashville, broke up the party somewhat with a victory in Cat 5 criterium.
Michael Walters of Johnson City finished second overall in the Masters 40+ division. Other top finishers included Johnson City cyclists Philippe Roquiny in fourth, Jonathan Kinnick in sixth and Bob Whitaker in 10th.
Johnson City physician Rachel Monderer won the Women’s Cat 4 time trial on Saturday night and parlayed that effort into an overall omnium victory. It was a Johnson City sweep as Trevy Ranos took the Women’s Cat 4 crit victory on Sunday morning.
“I love riding in front of the people who know you and cheer you on,” Monderer said. “It’s a special thing to have your city support the bicycle racing. I put my head down, just pushed as hard as I could and heard them cheering me on.”