Drafting and gentlemanly manners help Rossman to top time in Cheaha Challenge
by Joe Medley
PIEDMONT — Stephen Harrell could have been forgiven a selfish impulse during Sunday’s Cheaha Challenge.

The 29-year-old Atlanta cyclist was a week shy of the first anniversary of suffering a broken femur. He’s on the comeback and had a chance to win Sunday, but there’s a code among cyclists.

He in a working tandem who benefits most from another’s drafting work on the climbs yields to his buddy at the finish line in a recreational ride.

Harrell yielded, and William Rossman bore the fruits of his labor as the top finisher in Sunday’s ride, crossing the finish line in four hours, 56 minutes and 50.911 seconds. Harrell was second in 4:56:51.250.

“We talked about it, and, you know, a little bit coming in, I felt that William had done the lion’s share of the work up in the mountains,” Harrell said. “If it were a race, things might be different, but, at times, I was hanging on.

“I felt he was the stronger of the two, so I wanted him to take first.”

Click for a gallery of photos from Sunday's cycling events

Shelby’s Terri Sullivan was the strongest female in the field for the second time in three years. The 51-year-old co-owner of Birmingham’s Sullivan Communications, a two-way radio dealership, met her goal by finishing in 5:27:41.485.

“My goal was to do it in 5:30, and I think I made that,” said Sullivan, whose 2011 winning time was 5:46.22. “Being first woman was a bonus.”

Like Harrell, Sullivan is on a comeback/reinvention push. She was an avid runner until the sport became too painful, prompting her to take up cycling in 2004. Now, she mixes the two sports.

“I love to bike. It is so much fun,” she said. “It’s not near as painful.

“When I finish running 20 miles, my whole body just aches, but I can cycle, like right now (after Sunday’s 102-mile ride), and I feel good.”

Harrell, Sullivan and Rossman were among 565 riders in the 21st Cheaha Challenge. Another 302 participated in various divisions of Sunday’s fourth-annual Foothills Classic Road Race.

The Foothills typically draws professional and high-amateur racers who come to Calhoun County for Saturday’s Sunny King Criterium races in downtown Anniston. This year’s crits drew 550 racers.

The Cheaha Challenge is timed but more of a recreational ride, perfect for amateur riders and comeback riders like Harrell.

Harrell, who works in procurement for Kimberly-Clark Corp., broke a femur in one of the early races of the 2012 Athens (Ga.) Twilight Criterium. He’s riding more in century rides, trying to work his way back into the more competitive crits.

In rides like the Cheaha Challenge, cyclists work together, often with strangers. They take turns drafting to conserve energy. Harrell said the understanding is “pretty unspoken” for the more veteran riders.

“Now, talking about the finish was different,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something that’s normally discussed. Is there going to be a sprint? Is there not?

“… We really didn’t talk much the whole way, but I thought about it as we were getting closer: ‘Do I really want to make this a race situation, or do I just want to finish the race and enjoy it?’”

Rossman, a 32-year-old inventory audit associate for Sam’s Club in Peachtree City, Ga., enjoyed winning his first Cheaha attempt. He and his girlfriend, Jen Heintz, came to Piedmont thanks in part to advertising.

Heintz won a Cheaha Challenge jersey in a raffle at another race, the Six Gap Century in North Georgia.

“We had thought about it before,” Rossman said. “I love mountain centuries, and it’s close by.”

Rossman and Heintz came Friday and stayed in Jacksonville. They watched the crits in downtown Anniston.

“It was really great,” Rossman said. “We loved the crits. It was wonderful, and, it looked like, the Mellow Mushroom dinner (catered) on Friday night. That was great, so we did that.”

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
© 2013