published Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Chattanooga turns out for USA Cycling National Championships (video, slideshow)

  • photo
    Eric Marcotte presented by Smart Stop Pro Cycling, left, and his teammates slap hands with fans after their team members placed first and second in the USA Cycling Road Race National Championship on May 26, 2014. Eric Marcotte presented by Smart Stop Pro Cycling won the stars and stripes jersey.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Racer Alison Powers gets a hug from Rachel Heal, left, after Powers won the USA Cycling Women's Pro Road National Championships on Monday, May 26, 2014, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

The sun scorched the city and and a fan-favorite rider took a tumble, but nothing could stop Chattanooga from pulsating with life during Monday's USA Cycling National Championships.

From the steepest streets of the North Shore to the peak of Lookout Mountain, 16.1 miles of local roadway hosted the nation's best cyclists, drawing tens of thousands of spectators from near and far yearning to catch a glimpse of the action on a picturesque Memorial Day in the Scenic City.

Eric Marcotte took the title in the men's road race during the afternoon after Alison Powers completed a weekend sweep in the morning with her victory in the women's road race, adding to her win in Saturday's time trial.

And spectators, many of whom brought their own bikes to maneuver to different hot spots on the course, made their presence felt from the starting gun of the women's championship at 9 a.m. until the dramatic conclusion of the men's race just before 6.

"It was loud on the finish line, it was loud on the top of the mountain, it was loud over on Kent Street," USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson said on the championship podium before Marcotte was crowned. "The entire city turned out, it looked like."

Cycling star Taylor Phinney crashed while descending Lookout Mountain in the middle of the race and broke his leg. Word quickly spread to Frazier Avenue where fans watched the action live on a jumbo-sized screen near the end of the pedestrian bridge while waiting on another pack of cyclists to zoom back through the area.

Phinney's wreck briefly dampened the spirits of some who turned out with hopes of seeing the 23-year-old phenom follow up his Saturday time trial victory with a Monday win.

Restaurant employees along Frazier Avenue said business was booming all day.

At Good Dog restaurant, even the breakfast rush kept employees hustling as fans trickled into the area for the women's race.

Some fans packed their own food, though.

Just off Frazier Avenue, at the intersection of Hartman Street and Woodland Avenue Ben Pitts, his wife Jean and their 7-year-old daughter Almeda watched from underneath a tent with a group of friends in the parking lot of North Shore Fellowship Church. They parked a truck there Friday and dropped off coolers before roads in the area closed for the race.

Their viewing spot allowed them to see riders come off the Market Street Bridge and begin the climb up East Kent Street, the steepest part of the course and a new addition for Chattanooga's second year hosting the races.

The city is guaranteed to have the event again in 2015, but that will be the end of the initial three-year contract.

"I hope they do it longer than that," Ben Pitts said of the event. "It's right here in our backyard. It's hard not to invest a little bit in enjoying it."

At the top of Kent Street, with the Tennessee River in sight, Knoxville resident Paul Richkus mused at Chattanooga's evolution. As a former resident of the city in the 1980s, he said events like Monday's USA Cycling National Championships showcase the rejuvenation of the city.

"I'm actually kind of jealous," he said. "It would have been hard to imagine this happening when I was here."

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

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