Boone man wins Blood, Sweat and Gears
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Beloni, riding for Magic Cycles in Boone, won the Blood, Sweat and Gears by crossing the finish line with a time of 4:52.35. He edged Ryan Jenkins of Salisbury, who finished with the same time, and Nick Fishbein of Concord, who finished with a time of 4:52.37.
Noah Niwinski, who is also from Boone, was fourth with a time of 4:53.01.
Sarah Matchett, riding for Cool Breeze Coaching Center in Davidson, was the fastest woman on the 100-mile course. Matchett finished with a time of 5:20.23, and was the 50th fastest overall.
"There were probably six or seven of us who were coming over the hill at Mast Gap, and then coming into the finish there were three of us," Beloni said. "I wasn't feeling so good, but it worked out in the end. It was a tough spring, and it's a finish that is not set up for big groups coming in racing, but it worked out."
It was the first time Beloni, who just finished graduate school at Appalachian State, ever attempted the 100-mile ride. It did not mean he was not familiar with the course. Beloni trained on different parts of the course, but had never trained on the complete course at the same time.
"I would do a climb here and a climb there, so I'd remember what they were like," Beloni said. "I knew all of the descents, so I was really comfortable going downhill, which is a big advantage on these tricky descents. Sometimes there is some gravel, so knowing what's coming up is definitely an advantage."
Beloni said Snake Mountain, which is generally regarded as the halfway point of the ride, was the final obstacle that separated the final contenders who had a chance at winning.
"It's such a long climb and it's so steep and it comes at the 50-mile mark, so those who did not pace themselves earlier in the ride were sort of feeling it there," he said. "Of course all of the other hills after that, George's Gap, Rush Branch and Mast Gap, they all just sap your legs. By the time you get here, you just want to stop peddling."
Jenkins is a teammate of last year's winner, Charlie Brown, who was sixth in the ride with a time of 4:53.52.
The top 11 finishers completed the course in less than five hours. The 11th place finisher, Boone resident Thatcher Hurt, finished with a time of 4:56.26. Blowing Rock resident Aran Cacciola was 12th with a time of 5:00.00.
Beloni enjoyed his victory.
"It's fun," Beloni said. "It's a ride, so it's different than a race in winning it, but it's cool to be here. I'm riding for Appalachian State University and Magic Cycles in Boone, so it's cool to be able to be local and represent the area in such a phenomenal event."
Matchett participated in the 100-mile ride after participating in the 50-mile ride for several years. She has participated in several triathlons, but decided she wanted to try her hand at the 100-mile course this year.
"It was perfect. It was a perfect day," Matchett said. "It wasn't too hot. I got help from all of my amazing teammates. There was one woman who was really strong, but I caught her at George's Gap, but I got a little break between us. I was looking for her for about 40 miles, and I wasn't sure I was going to find her."
The ride, now in its 14th year, raises money for the Watauga County Red Cross' Jeremy Fund, which provides disaster relief for victims in Watauga and Avery counties. Although it's a fundraiser, it's hard to keep the riders from competing for a victory.
Matchett said the competitiveness kicked in from the very start for her.
"From about when they said 'Go,' pretty much," she said. "I said out loud I wanted to beat 5:30 and when you say that out loud, you pretty much better do it."
Ride director Scott Nelson said it was good to have as many as 70 percent of the riders return to the event.
"It's very rewarding from the point of the organizers, the volunteers and even the community can come back," Nelson said. "We can't really explain why they do it. We don't know why. We're just grateful that they do."
Nelson hoped the ride, through sponsorships and entry fees paid by the riders, the event would net at least $70,000. After the bills are paid, Nelson hoped for around $50,000 that would be available for the charities earmarked by the Red Cross.