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A cyclist enthusiast dream… World-class cyclist to compete in Fat Tire Criterium in downtown Elizabethton

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com  
   
A big-time event is coming to Elizabethton during the weekend as the Elizabethton City Council approved a request allowing the Fat Tire Criterium to be held in the downtown portion of the city with the Roan Groan which has been held annually with this year marking the 35th year that we have raced the Roan Groan in Carter County set to take place on Saturday and the Criterium to be run on Sunday.
World-class cyclists from all corners of the world will be coming to participate in both races as the Criterium moves from Johnson City to Elizabethton for 2020.
Race Director Reneau Dubberley said with the absence of cycling competition in 2020 due to the COVID-19, that this year’s registration is up eight percent over last year’s entries.
“Elizabethton and Carter County has been very supportive of us having the Criterium here this year,” said Dubberly. ” A fact not well-publicized is the fact that the Mayor of Elizabethton Curt Alexander is a past state road race champion when he was a teenager.
“He is experienced with what is expected in bike racing so he is very familiar in the communication is a lot easier when you talk to someone who understands what happens when it comes to a bike race.”
On Saturday, the Roan Groan will begin near the monument at 9 am and three categories of racers will be racing different lengths finishing with a Category 1 climb of 7.4 miles and 2580 feet to Carvers Gap on Roan Mountain.
The Pro 1-2 field will be completing a course of 80 miles adding in an additional loop of Simerly Creek Road. This race includes a total of 9747 feet of climbing for the cyclists.
In the Elite Masters, Women Pro 1/2/3 and Category 3s will be completing a 55-mile course that features 7020 feet of climb.
The remaining categories will all complete a 30-mile course and a total of 4040 feet of climb.
On Sunday, the cyclists will compete in the Fat Tire Criterium, a very closed-circuit race,  for cash prizes totaling over $13,000. The two races in Carter County are used by these cyclists as they prepare to participate in such races as Tour de France and Tour of California as well as competing to become National Champions.
Last year’s Pro-Am women’s Roan Groan race winner Madeline Bemis returns again this year as part of the Morson Forensic team powered by Milligan College.
“I am very excited about the race this year,” Bemis said. “A lot of us haven’t raced since the spring so this will be an awesome opportunity to test the legs and definitely keep me motivated throughout the summer.
“I can speak for all of us that the team is racing very strong so we are really, really excited to get out there and show what we can do.”
Another racer who also is looking forward to the weekend’s Criterium is former Johnson City resident Sam Blackmon who now resides in Greeneville, SC, and has raced the course before. Blackmon doesn’t attend Milligan but has been given a spot on the Morson Forensic team to compete.
“With the sponsors that we have, it’s amazing that we get to do what we are going to do this weekend,” he said. “Some of the riding here is some of the best in the country.
“So being able to compete here is just amazing. It’s up in the air as far as the results as to where everyone is in their fitness so it’s going to be an interesting weekend and fun.
“This is one of the most difficult races. Finishing on a 7.5-mile climb up Roan Mountain when you have already done about 70 miles of riding is tough. It will be testing for everybody.”
Many downtown restaurants and stores plan on being opened on Sunday as there are 13 separate races throughout the day beginning at 8:20 am and wrapping up after a 90-minute race that starts at 3 pm.
For those who enjoy cycling and competition in general, the race features an exciting competition within hands- reach along the sidewalks with the cyclists racing past on the streets of downtown Elizabethton.
Streets to be impacted by closure due to the race include Hattie Avenue, Sycamore St., East E St., and N. Riverside Dr. Motorists are urged to use extreme caution while traveling downtown.
Reneau added that if there was one thing that he would want to see is that every one social distance and wears a mask.
“I hope that everybody will pay attention and do social distancing,” Reneau said. “The racers have to race without masks due to oxygen intake is one of the main things that you need for endurance athletics.
“They are prepared to wear masks when not racing. Wearing masks is for the other person and not you. There has been very little racing in the United States and Europe so we are trying to figure out how to do everything safely.”
The race’s local sponsors are Ballad Health, Elizabethton Carter County Chamber of Commerce, Edward Jones – Curt Alexander, New Belgium Fat Tire, Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, Nor-Well, Holiday Inn, and Tennessee Hills Distillery.