CALHOUN COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Most of the 2017 Cheaha Challenge went well as usual, just as it has for 25 years in Calhoun County.
This year, however, someone fired a pellet gun at two of the cyclists, hitting one of them.
"Why they did this, I don't know. It's just pure meanness," says Sheriff Matthew Wade.
"We're going to do our best to find out who this person is, and to bring them to justice," he adds.
The cyclist, Jeffrey Pratt of Birmingham, says he was shot on Highway 9 in White Plains, about seven miles from the finish line.
He says he waited until crossing the finish line to file a police report to honor his late mother by finishing the race.
"I'm trying to do something and leave a little legacy for my grandkids, doing this really to honor my mom, she passed the day before Thanksgiving," Pratt told The Anniston Star.
Pratt told WBRC he heard, then felt the shot. He says the pellet didn't go into his leg but did leave a cut.
Sheriff Matthew Wade says there was more: a vehicle was shot as well, possibly by the same person.
"The back window of a truck was shot, with a pellet rifle, victim saw it happen, got in the car and followed the suspect," he says.
Wade says the shooting victim and truck owner each gave a detailed description of the late 1990s model Chevrolet pickup the shooter was driving.
This comes three years after a Piedmont man posted video of himself threatening a cyclist, and weeks after a father and son were arrested for threatening cyclists in St. Clair County. Both cases ended in arrests, with the Piedmont man, Fred Maddox, even pleading guilty to menacing.
Wade says the cycling industry has become a moneymaker in the county, between annual bike races like the Cheaha Challenge and the Sunny King Criterium, the Chief Ladiga Trail and the bike trails on Coldwater Mountain. But some people get angry when they have to pass, or stay behind, cyclists or groups of cyclists on highways mostly used by cars and trucks.
Wade says Sunday's Cheaha Challenge did not require any roads to be blocked off, and people in vehicles could pass whenever the oncoming lane was clear.
Wade reminds motorists to share the road, saying cyclists have just as much right to use it as any motorized vehicle.
"We'll do our best to bring this person to justice. It will be a felony," Wade says.