published Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Cyclist dies in 3 State event on Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

Chattanooga police have confirmed that a cyclist in the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge bike ride was hit by a car and killed on Ochs Highway.
Chattanooga police have confirmed that a cyclist in the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge bike ride was hit by a car and killed on Ochs Highway.
Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Former pro cyclist George Hincapie talks to the bikers before the start of the 26th Annual 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge, presented by Village Volkswagon of Chattanooga and The Chattanooga Bicycle Club. The race featured 100, 83 and 67-mile routes.
    Photo by Connor Choate.
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Before Saturday, Michael Schwaid never stopped short.

He’s competed in 100-mile rides — “centuries,” as cyclists call them — for at least eight years. He came to town from Tampa, Fla., last week to attempt the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge, an event some call the biggest cycling draw in Chattanooga.

But as he approached Lookout Mountain — the last mountain — Schwaid gave up. Rain slicked the roads all day Saturday, and he felt it too dangerous to continue. Looking back, he said, he was lucky.

Another rider died Saturday after colliding with a car around 400 Ochs Highway, about three miles from the event’s finish line.

Chattanooga police said Antonio Jose Desousa Ribeiro, 49, of Jacksonville, Fla., was riding downhill in an area where he had to make sharp left and right turns close together.

Ribeiro lost control and went into the path of a car traveling uphill, spokesman Nathan Hartwig said. He died at the scene.

Riding downhill is always dangerous, but Schwaid said Saturday’s ride made him more nervous than usual.

With cold, rainy weather, the Florida native shivered, shaking his handlebars as he glided along. Just a little twitch could tip him, or any other rider.

Only once did he cut loose — really cut loose. On a straightway, he hit about 32 mph. Then, he felt his bike wobble, and he started to spill. But he corrected and straightened his body.

Soon after, he decided he better not proceed, but he understands why others wanted to finish.

“It’s expensive,” he said of signing up for the event, which costs between $65 and $90, depending on when you register. “You’ve come quite a ways. You want to get your money’s worth. I can see how it can happen.”

This is the 26th year of the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge, and area cyclist Jack Howland said it’s the biggest event in Chattanooga. This year, 2,017 riders registered.

Howland said the location draws many riders. Even though the ride is only on Saturday, some participants come early, and others stay on a few days. Riders enjoy taking in the tourist attractions of Chattanooga.

But more than the city, the ride itself is the main draw. Riders competing in the 100-mile course climb Raccoon, Sand and Lookout mountains, crossing into Georgia and Alabama along the way. On a clear day, it’s beautiful.

“For the city of Chattanooga, it’s a big event,” said Howland, who races with the Village Volkswagen Elite Cycling Team. “But even throughout the Southeast, it’s well known. It’s a great route.”

Howland has competed in the event many times, but he sat out Saturday after seeing the forecast. Many others, even those who suited up Saturday morning, felt the same way. Around 10 a.m., 3 State, 3 Mountain Ride Director Dawn Salyer said by phone that several riders abandoned the course early because of the weather.

Dan Searle was not one of them. He completed the course, though he said event volunteers at the top of Lookout Mountain warned him that proceeding was dangerous.

“It was ugly,” said Searle, of Nashville. “Braking distance was quadrupled.”

Mark Vandevelve, of Birmingham, Ala., also finished the run, but not without a heavy heart. As he descended Ochs Highway, he looked to his left. There, in the middle of the other lane, he saw a sheet draped over a body.

For the next three miles, one thought stayed on his mind.

Be careful.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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