Criterium Bike Race Brings Cyclings Best To Shelby, North Carolina

I found this picture of an annual cycling event that took place in Shelby, North Carolina from 1996 to about 2000.  It was “The Shelby Criterium” a closed looped course in the uptown area.  Mike Keeley served as director.  

The above picture is Pro Elite Cyclist, Eric Wohlberg who was riding for Saturn/Timex at the time, my wife, Debbie and myself.  Wohlberg finished second during the year pictured. His career spanned at least 20 years, and here are a only a few of his many accomplishments.  He was a three time Olympian, winner of the Tour of Gila (a stage race held in New Mexico) and eight time Canadian National Time Trial Champion.  

Eric became good friends with Mike Keeley, and would stay at Mike and Rhonda’s house when racing in the criterium.  I also became friends with Eric and would share an occasional email with him over the years.  Being a car person myself, Eric would often share photos of his progress on  the restoration of a 1965 Mustang, and later a Sunbeam Tiger. 

If you’re old enough, and remember the TV series “Get Smart” you’ve probably seen a Sunbeam, as Maxwell Smart drives one up to his office, each and every episode. 

The Sunbeam Tiger was produced in England from 1964 through 1967, using a 289 cubic-inch Ford engine, and a 4-speed Ford transmission.  A very rare and desirable car for the astute and serious car collector, for sure.    

Mike Keeley and I were fortunate to have been able to take some enjoyable and casual bike rides with Eric, and also share some good conversations, both on the road and off.     

Eric Wohlberg has been inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame.

Eddy Merckx from Belgium attended as a spectator at least one of the Shelby Criterions: 

Merckx is the most famous cyclist of all time.  Winning the Tour de France five times, five Tours of Italy, one Tour of Spain, three world championships, and every major one-day race.  He also set the “hour record” in 1972, Mexico City.   

Cycling comes to Cleveland County:  

During the spring of 1980, I read an article in the Shelby Star about some local cyclist, participating in an event, called “The Assault on Mount Mitchell” which caught my attention.  The ride started in Spartanburg, South Carolina and finished at the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet above sea level…a place called Mount Mitchell.  

I thought…maybe this is something I’d like to do, as a challenge to myself.  So I began riding for my  preparation for the 1981 event.  All I can say, it was the most difficult physical event I’d ever participated in my entire life. 

I was new to cycling, and had not eaten enough, nor drank enough water, and was totally dehydrated. 

In Spartanburg, the temperature that that June morning in 1981, was about 75º, but 103 miles later, the temperature at Mount Mitchell was 55º, and with a 35 mph wind gust.  After reaching the top it felt really cold, due in-part to my sweat soaked cycling clothes.  I was freezing, and this was June!

I lost almost ten pounds in less than nine hours, after leaving Spartanburg, when finally reaching the top.  On several occasions I stopped at water falls, coming out of the rocks, and would stand underneath the gushing springs with my eyes closed.  I had a fabulous feeling come over me…no pain, and the very cold water out of the mountain felt icy cold.  But the good feeling was brief, and only lasted till I opened my eyes.  Many more miles to Mount Mitchell, and the pain and weakness would come back with a vengeance, after getting back on my bike.  

However, after another hour or so, I finally made it! 

Unfortunately, I became sick numerous times on the way down the mountain, via my car ride home.  The next year, however, I was better prepared and didn’t have any problems.  I would eventually do the “Assault on Mount Mitchell” seven more times. 

The late, Charlie Rhoden (local pharmacist and drug store owner) brought advanced cycling to Shelby and surrounding communities in the late 70’s.  Charlie would later become the North Carolina State Road Racing Champion for multiple years, and also the state Time Trial Champion.  I learned a lot from Charlie.  

Charlie’s theory for becoming a better cyclist:   “Always ride with someone better than yourself… and you will become a better cyclist.”    

This could also apply to our personal lives:  Think about it…  

Eric Wohlberg inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame

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