published Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Ready. Set. Race! 2 Chattanoogans join nation’s elite for USA Pro Championships

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    Stephanie Rynas is one of two Chattanoogans competing in the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships this weekend.
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    Amy Phillips is one of two Chattanoogans competing in the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships this weekend.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

AMY PHILLIPS

Age: 40

Day job: Heath care researcher

Bike: Scott Foil

Team: Pepper Palace Pro Cycling

Favorite places to bike: Up Suck Creek and into the valley on the other side; Lookout Mountain; different routes in Red Bank that are part of the regular “Red Bank Ride.”

STEPHANIE RYNAS

Age: 26

Day job: Head athletic trainer for Dalton State

Bike: Scott Foil

Team: Taco Mamacita Women’s Cycling Team, part of Scenic City Velo

Favorite places to bike: Lookout Mountain and down into Lookout Valley; Taft Highway on Signal Mountain

Once the wheels start hitting the slopes of Lookout Mountain and North Chattanooga’s Kent Street on Monday, both inclines will quickly become the bitter enemies of many American professional cyclists.

But for Amy Phillips and Stephanie Rynas, the hills will be familiar adversaries.

The two women are the only Chattanoogans competing in the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships this weekend.

Both have poured hours into training on the local course and will join the country’s top female cyclists to take on the 64.7-mile road race, which starts at 9 a.m. on Memorial Day.

But they hope the fact that the race is on their home turf will give them a leg up.

“You ride those roads every day, and they’re just empty roads, or roads with traffic on them,” said Rynas. “There’s something about them being shut down and becoming this course — with all your friends and teammates on the sidelines cheering you on — that is going to be really special.”

This will be Rynas’ first time at the championships, while Phillips is coming back after racing in both the road race and time trials in Chattanooga in 2013. That was the first time USA Cycling held the women’s championships in conjunction with the men’s.

“It was great riding last year, and I’m excited to do it again,” said Phillips. “There is just nothing like being able to race on the same roads where you train.”

Phillips, 40, is only in her fourth year of bike racing. She fell in love with the sport and the competition while living in Chattanooga, which she praises for its diversity of road routes and training options.

She now rides with the Pepper Palace Pro Cycling team, which includes members from across the country.

To prepare for the race, she has been working with a cycling coach and tackling climb after grueling climb up inclines like Kent Street and Ochs Highway.

But the route is special, she says, because it’s home — and also because it’s so accessible to viewers.

“It’s a great way to learn about cycling, especially with these loops downtown where people can see the race multiple times,” she said.

Rynas, 26, began cycling in college and now rides with the Taco Mamacita Women’s Cycling Team, part of Scenic City Velo.

Last year, she didn’t think she was quite ready to shoot for the USA Cycling pro championships. But she set her sights on this year’s race, despite a nearly impossible work schedule as Dalton State College’s head athletic trainer.

During away games, she stowed her bike on the team bus and worked out in hotel gyms. Despite occasional doubts, it became clear at races earlier this year that she would be strong enough to join the field of almost 80 of America’s best women cyclists.

“I still alternate between ‘This is awesome,’ and ‘This is very scary,’” Rynas said, laughing.

Both Rynas and Phillips say they hope participating in the high-profile race will bring attention to the cycling community in Chattanooga, especially to the growing number of female cyclists in the region.

The Taco Mamacita Team has a goal for more local women cyclists to become competitive in regional and national road bike racing. The team wants to develop a core group of women to become professional road racers.

“Chattanooga is a great destination for cycling, and obviously that’s confirmed by having these races here,” said Rynas. “But there is also a lot of talent that’s based right here.”

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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