published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Bikes taking over Chattanooga with nearly 200 riders, 25,000 spectators predicted



Racers pass through the finish line during a leg of the Women's USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships in Chattanooga in this 2013 photo.
Racers pass through the finish line during a leg of the Women's USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships in Chattanooga in this 2013 photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

INSIDE TODAY'S PAPER

An 18-page special section devoted to the USA Cycling Pro National Championships is your complete event guide, with course maps, traffic tips, race schedule, rider profiles, viewing spots and more.

The Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships may not boast the name recognition of the Tour de France.

But this weekend's nationally renowned cycling event is essentially a Tour de Chattanooga.

For the second year in a row, the event is bringing some of the best pro cyclists to the Scenic City and putting Chattanooga on display to members of the international cycling community visiting for the event and watching from afar.

"In the bigger context this is a great way to showcase Chattanooga," said Ruth Thompson, the events and marketing coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga. "It's a great showcase because as the cameras follow the teams on the course, the international audience is getting a spectacular view of the whole city."

In total, 185 racers will compete in Saturday's time trial and Monday's road races.

On Saturday, the start and finish of the time trials will be at the front of the Volkswagen assembly plant at Enterprise South. The time trials start at 8:30 a.m. with hand-cycling races followed by women's and men's time trials at 11 a.m. and noon, respectively.

On Monday, an estimated 25,000 spectators are expected to line a course that stretches from Frazier Avenue in North Chattanooga to Lookout Mountain for the men's and women's races. Women will start at 9 a.m., followed by hand-cyclists at 12:30 p.m. and then the men at 1:30 p.m.

Though the crowds are expected to include plenty of nonlocals, Chattanooga residents spending their Memorial Day weekend at home may have to break out their road maps.

Traffic will be rerouted in several locations throughout the weekend as the city caters to the event.

Monday's race will include plenty of attractions to keep casual fans interested. At M.L. King Boulevard and Market Street where racers start and finish, there will be sponsor tents, bike shops, games and giveaways. Big-screen televisions will help spectators keep track of where the cyclists are on the course.

Along the northern portion of the course on Frazier Avenue, a block party will offer spectators a chance to get close to an uphill stretch that was not a part of the race course last year.

Riders will be forced to climb Kent Street, a task that Rob Borland, USA Cycling chief marketing officer, said will "sort the race out and spice things up a bit."

A third designated public viewing area is atop Lookout Mountain. Because Lookout Mountain Highway will be closed to motorists, CARTA is offering a free shuttle from Finley Stadium every 20 to 30 minutes from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Food and entertainment will be at each location, but the best attraction, Thompson said, is the race itself.

"It'll blow you away," she said. "Until you see these guys screaming around a corner at 45 miles per hour with their wheels centimeters off of each other, you don't really appreciate what they're doing. It's incredibly intense."

WRCB-TV meteorologist Paul Barys said the weekend forecast looks clear. The most likely chance for rain is Monday afternoon, when he said there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.

"It's not going to be outrageously hot," he said. "But it's going to be warm. Pack a hat if you're going to be standing outside for a long time."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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