When Dustin Mealor was handed the bottle of champagne that went with winning the Georgia Cup’s Gainesville Criterium on Saturday night, he looked at its handler for a second then asked for directions on how to open the bottle.
Once he learned the steps and stored them in his memory bank, he proudly took his rightful spot atop the podium on the stand and sprayed it on a small group of thrilled fans, his moment to soak up taking his first podium as a Pro-Am cyclist.
"This was a smaller race, but still very nice to win," said Mealor, who is a graduate of Habersham Central High. "I think maybe I caught some of the other racers off guard tonight."
Mealor not only won the race, he also managed to lap the field in this hour long race that looped around the downtown square on a 6/10-mile course. His only malfunction during the race was a broken shifter that went out on the final lap.
"I just looked down on the last lap and it was broken, it just snapped," said Mealor, a student at Gainesville State College. "Thank goodness it waited for the final lap for that to happen."
What made this victory even sweeter for the local cyclists was having a group of supporting family and friends on hand to see Mealor’s victory for Iron Data Cycling in his 40th race of the season. Locos Grill & Pub’s Casey Magner placed second and Team United Healthcare’s Eric Murphy finished third.
What is equally as important as Mealor’s win is his background story. Now weighing in at a svelte 170 pounds, he's a far cry from where he started when he first got on a bicycle in 2003 weighing 320. Recently out of high school, at the time, he came to the reality he needed a lifestyle change when a doctor warned of all the health-related problems that come as a result of obesity.
Mealor took the doctor’s words to heart.
When he started riding with the assistance of a local bicycle shop in Habersham County, the first 70 pounds "melted away" since he’d never regularly exercised before. Then the work got a little more difficult to shave away the rest of the weight bringing him to where he is today. His story has reached a national audience as a subject for a story in Bicycling Magazine.
"My goal now is to stay lean," Mealor said.
The Gainesville Criterium was part of an evening-long festival that stretched into the night, including live music during the Pro-Am Race on the stage from local band King Daddy Polecats. The crowd was fairly equally divided between those crowded around the finish line studying the nuances of the race, and those that wanted to dance to the music that echoed for all to enjoy.
"I think this is a good crowd tonight," said local cyclist Ken Robinson. "This is a great atmosphere for the race."
In the Elite Category 3 race, Eric Neely placed first (43 minutes, 52.733 seconds), Chris McGee finished second (43:53.784) and Eddie Murray placed third (43:53.839). In the competitive under-35 race, Isaac Strickland finished first (29:02.474), Erick Carlson placed second (29:02.603) and Travis Turner finished third (29:02.934).
In the competitive, 35-over race, Tony Blansit finished first (29:40.642), Star Bridges placed second (29:47.678) and Jon Dalman finished third (29:47.698).
Igor Rudalev won the masters race (40:33) and James Holmes finished second (40:37). The weekend concludes with a 66-mile race today at Tadmore Elementary.