Local cyclists prepare for 80-mile road race from downtown Elizabethton to Carvers Gap

Published 8:35 am Monday, June 1, 2015

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips Cyclist Drew Bailey, left, and Johnny Mitchell push themselves up the last curve before Carver's Gap as they prepare for the June 6 Roan Groan.

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips
Cyclist Drew Bailey, left, and Johnny Mitchell push themselves up the last curve before Carver’s Gap as they prepare for the June 6 Roan Groan.

Last Sunday, two local cyclists, Drew Bailey and Johnny Mitchell, made their way up the curvy and steep Highway 143 en route to Carvers Gap. On June 6, the two riders will make the same trip again, as the Carvers Gap location will be the finish line of the 35th Annual Roan Groan Bicycle Race, welcoming professional riders to the end of an 80-mile journey.
During the school year, the two riders both compete for the Milligan College cycling team. But during the summer months, they both race for their respective teams. For Mitchell, who races for the Finish Strong Elite Team, this will be his second time participating in the Roan Groan, which according to him, is about as hard as cycling gets.
“It is tough as it gets,” Mitchell said after completing his Sunday practice run. “Especially, with them making it longer this year.”
This year, racers will start at Cat Island Park in downtown Elizabethton. Those racers who are doing the long race will have to complete two trips around a 25-mile loop before making their way toward Roan Mountain, where they will have to climb Highway 143. The last bit of the race will crescendo into a 7 percent grade climb to Carvers Gap, elevation 5,512 feet.
“The bottom loop is not easy,” Mitchell said. “It is super hard, and then you have to climb up this.”
In preparation for the race, Mitchell and Bailey plan to climb up to Carvers Gap once a week until the day of the race. Last Sunday, the two riders rode for four hours, before coming to a stop at the top of Roan Mountain.
“This is my second time doing this, this week,” Mitchell said Sunday. “We also didn’t come the straightest way over. We came over Dennis Cove, which is a smaller mountain over in Hampton. Then we hit this super hard dirt gravel road for ten miles. And then we came up. We are just trying to put in a lot of miles and get familiar with it.”
For Bailey, this will be his sixth time riding in the Roan Groan. He will be competing for Team KBC Devo presented by Aubrey’s Restaurants. And for the two Milligan riders, it is going to be different racing against each other during the June 6 race.
“Now we are like enemies,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “The only time it is beneficial to race against a collegiate teammate is during breakaways. If Bailey and I both got into a breakaway together, we could work well together, because we are familiar with each other. But the problem with that now is, we know each other’s strength and weaknesses, so we can take advantage of that.”
The Roan Groan, which is sponsored by Norwell, is the first of three races that make up the New Belgium Slow Ride Omnium. Also on June 6., racers will compete in the Tupelo Honey Time Trial at 5:30 p.m. in Erwin. The final race of the omnium will take place on Sunday, June 8 in Johnson City. The Franklin Woods Community Hospital Criterium will begin at 8 a.m. in downtown Johnson City.

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