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International strategy gives Ward victory in Roan Groan

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Jun 3, 2018 at 5:14 PM

ROAN MOUNTAIN — The 34th annual Carter County Roan Groan bicycle race had an international feel to it Saturday.

Pro winner Tanner Ward used a strategy he brought from racing in Belgium to the area's top road race, while the women's Pro winner, Ricio Parrado, was from South America's Team Colombia.

Although rainy and windy conditions made the 80-mile ride from downtown Elizabethton to Carvers Gap even more challenging, Ward decided to use the European-style strategy and go hard on the 7.2-mile mountain climb at the end.

It worked out perfectly for the 25-year-old Little Rock, Ark., rider who finished in 3:35, nearly six minutes ahead of runner-up Zach Nehr. He first did a breakaway on part of the course which incorporates both Carter and Unicoi Counties.

"I didn't do a huge sprint, but I just accelerated and got a gap," Ward said. "I second-guessed a little on whether I should keep rolling, but I kept it steady for a while. Then, I just used my climbing ability to stay away. I had been racing in Belgium, climbing like at 8,000 feet. It's not this long (of a climb), but the way they race over there is full gas from the go, so I thought I would do the same here."

With Ward out of sight, it gave Nehr little chance of an attack. Still, he enjoyed the challenge, particularly the mountain finish where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at Carvers Gap.

"The longer it is, the more I like it, especially that 40-minute climb at the end," said Nehr, a 22-year-old from Milwaukee. "What was really hard for me was that 30 minutes coming into the base of the climb. But I like the challenge. I tried to stay patient on the climb because I knew how long and hard it was, but I attacked three times in a row and I got away from (third-place) Sean Gardner with about a kilometer to go."

The Roan Groan was the first stage of the three-part Johnson City Omnium.

The Tupelo Honey Time Trials were conducted later Saturday on a course in the Temple Hill community of Erwin, while the Ballad Health Criterium in downtown Johnson City takes place Sunday.

WOMEN’S RACE

Parrado, from the Colombia capital city of Bogota, won the women's Pro 1/2 race over runner-up Loir Nedescu from Minnesota by 38 seconds.

Team Colombia coach Gustavo Carrillo spoke on behalf of Parrado, who doesn't speak English.

"We did a pro race at Winston-Salem last weekend and we drove up here and rode Thursday as part of the trip," Carrillo said. "This is such a great event. It's the only trip we do in the States."

Nedescu was battling Parrado for the lead as the riders started their ascent up the mountain. She eventually pulled a little ahead before Parrado finished with a strong kick to pull away at the end.

"I knew she was my main competition," Nedescu said. "She's really a strong climber. I had her for a little while, caught back up to her towards the end, but she put in a dig which I couldn't match. But it was a good climb and I'm happy how it went."

It was Nedescu's third time racing in the Roan Groan and she improved one spot after finishing second last year.

The Women's Cat 3-4-5 race was much more competitive with 14-year-old Caleigh Raser from Georgia beating local rider Trevy Ramos, a surgeon from Johnson City, by less than a bike length in a sprint to the finish.

FIRST UP THE MOUNTAIN

Jordan Swingle, from Davie, Fla., earned the distinction of first cyclist up the mountain. He won the 30-mile, men’s Cat 5 race after avoiding a multi-bike accident near the Highway 321 intersection in Hampton. Still, there was one more challenge with over 5,500 feet of elevation at Carvers Gap.

"It was a brutal climb and the rain and wind may it even tougher," Swingle said. "I had to take off my goggles where they were fogging up and I got soaked. With the wet road, you had to watch the guys' wheels in front of you."

More close-quarters racing will be on tap today with the fan-friendly Ballad Health Criterium starting at 8 a.m. The women's Pro race is scheduled for 1:50 p.m. and the men's Pro race is set for 3 p.m.

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