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Johnson City Omnium: Riders get ready to tackle Roan

June 6th, 2014 8:18 pm by Jeff Birchfield

The Roan Groan turns 30 today, hitting a major milestone for the oldest continuous sanctioned road race in Tennessee.

The course, which is 55 miles for the professionals and 30 miles for amateurs, is relatively short by road-racing standards. After starting near the Covered Bridge in Elizabethton, those last seven and a half miles up the mountain to an elevation of 5,512 feet at Carvers Gap separate it from nearly every other race in the nation.

In fact, only one section of the Tour of California can match it.

“It’s the only mountaintop finish for a sanctioned race in the Eastern United States,” race director Reneau Dubberley said. “So if you plan to compete, you need to come and do this race. This area with the mountains of Western North Carolina are where guys like Lance Armstrong and George Hincappie trained.”

Over 350 professional and amateur bicycle racers are scheduled to compete in the Johnson City Omnium which includes the Roan Groan along with the Tupelo Honey Time Trial in Unicoi County and the Franklin Woods Criterium in downtown Johnson City.

John DeLong, the 2009 omnium winner, and eight current Tennessee Bicycle All Round (TBAR) Champions are among those registered. The entries will look to match the historic feat of Asheville rider Robert Sweeting in 2012, who won the Roan Groan and became the first to follow it up the next day with an overall omnium victory. 

It was feat that even Tour de France veteran Brent Bookwalter wasn’t even able to complete. Bookwalter finished behind Virginia rider Jacob Sprouse in the 2008 Roan Groan, although Bookwalter did go on to capture the omnium title, then decided in downtown Bristol.

Several years including last year, the final result is about the omnium winner maximizing points in the individual events.

“The winner of the omnium last year didn’t win any of the three races,” Dubberley pointed out. “It’s short, only three races over two days. But, it uses all the skills and being good at one isn’t going to win the omnium.”

This year’s Pro 1-2 competition will include local rivals Nolan Tankersley of Erwin and Andrew Bailey of Piney Flats. In previous head-to-head races between the 19-year-olds, Tankersley has finished ahead of Bailey. However in two local training races leading up to the JC Omnium which Tankersely didn’t participate in, Bailey won and that experience might help on Sunday’s criterium course. 

Another factor is the East Tennessee weather, which can vary greatly from day to day.

Last year, the conditions were picture perfect for Jimmy Schurman’s victory ride in the Roan Groan although rain turned the Franklin Woods Criterium course downright treacherous the next day. It didn’t slow down Florida rider Shawn Gravois, the Roan Groan runner-up, who captured the overall omnium title.

“Gravois wrote an article about the race and mentioned just in one sentence so it wasn’t a major part of his race,” Dubberley said. “But, it was a major part for several of the others.”

While there are several categories to be contested, one of particular interest is the Women’s 1-2 where Tennessee state champion Amanda Ragle of Brentwood will be competing in the Johnson City Omnium for the first time. She is the highest-ranked national rider entered, although she could have some stiff competition from Stephanie Rynas of Chattanooga.  

The Roan Groan begins this morning with the first of seven groups racing at 9 a.m. Just before the start, there will be a presentation to Gary Nave, of Nor-Well, for 30 years of sponsoring the race. Larry Rosilina of Hampton will be recognized for riding in the most Roan Groan competitions, 17, and Johnson City physican Rachel Monderer will be recognized for riding in seven women’s  competitions.

The second event, the Tupleo Honey Time Trial, starts at 5 p.m.on Temple Hill Road in Erwin. 

The final event, the Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium in downtown Johnson City, begins 8 a.m. Sunday with a juniors race. Several classes will be contested before the main event, the Pro 1-2 race, begins at 2:30 p.m.

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