published Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Chattanooga praised for continued growth in pro cycling event’s second year

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    Alison Powers presented by United Healthcare Pro Cycling crosses the finish line with one lap to go during the USA Cycling Road Race National Championship on May 26, 2014. Alison Powers presented by United Healthcare Pro Cycling won the stars and stripes jersey.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Taylor Phinney presented by BMC Racing is called up to the start line during the USA Cycling Road Race National Championship on May 26, 2014. Phinney crashed and sustained serious injuries while descending Lookout Mountain.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Breanne Nalder isn't a well-known bicycle racer.

The Salt Lake City resident and dietitian is a Category 1 amateur rider who spent about $2,500 out of her own pocket to make the trip to Chattanooga for a chance to compete against the best American women racers last weekend at the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships.

She lived as frugally as she could while in town, staying with three DNA Cycling teammates in the private home of a friend's relative and doing her best to live on a budget as she tried to prove herself against the better-funded pro teams.

She had a good weekend on the bike, finishing 15th Monday in the women's road race as the top amateur finisher and 29th in the women's time trial Saturday, but she never threatened to make the podium against the pros.

But on Kent Street in North Chattanooga, Breanne Nalder is a superstar.

In Monday's road race, Nalder became a fan favorite after an incident on the 20 percent climb that was an addition to the course for 2014.

"The second time up Kent, I hadn't been hydrating well enough and I hit that hill so hard," she said Tuesday while traveling back home. "I had a cramp like I'd never had before, and right at the top of that kicker I put my foot down and my leg just crumpled."

The fans lining Kent Street did their best to encourage her to keep racing and help her get back in the chase, and her determination won over the crowd.

"The crowd was so great and were helping me up to get back on, but my leg was just like a noodle so I looked like a goofball," she said, laughing. "But I got up and over, and the next time around I was fine.

"I hit Kent with the idea that I had to redeem myself from the last time, and everyone was so great. They were cheering me on, and I could here people say, 'Oh, that's the girl that fell last time. You can do it! You can do it!'

"I just powered over the top and did a huge fist pump, and everyone was just cheering and cheering. From then on, whenever I came around the fans would say, 'Here she comes again.'"

While Kent Street could have been Nalder's downfall, the vocal and supportive fans -- many of whom are now following Nalder on Twitter -- made the brutal climb the highlight of her race experience.

"The crowd was so awesome," she said. "It was my favorite part of the course, and I'd get excited to hit the hill each time because of the crowd. It was really fun."

USA Cycling president and CEO Steve Johnson echoed Nalder's sentiment when asked about Chattanooga's second year hosting pro cycling's national championships.

"I thought it was better than year one," he said. "I think we continue to raise the bar. The fields were very competitive, and there was a lot of great racing.

"The weather was wonderful, and the riders enjoy the courses. It's not unusual in year two. Once you've had an event, people become educated and you get a little more sophistication in the peloton for managing their group."

Johnson said the Kent Street climb and more viewing options and fan amenities throughout the course took the event to a new level in Chattanooga.

"I think the Kent Street hill was a nice addition," he said. "It made that little section of town the place to be. It gave people several corners to stand on and several places to watch the race so you could position yourself to watch the riders go by twice in quick succession.

"I think it added a lot to the race."

Next year will be the final guaranteed year for the event to stay in Chattanooga, and USA Cycling will be working with event sponsors such as Volkswagen and others to determine the future for the event.

Johnson said USA Cycling vice president for national events Micah Rice will be gauging interest for keeping the race in Chattanooga beyond 2015 in the coming months by requesting proposals from communities interested in hosting the event.

"From our perspective, we like to build equity in a city -- that's wonderful -- but we also see value in moving the event around," Johnson said.

"We'll evaluate anyone who responds. I think Chattanooga will obviously have a leg up. It's a known quantity, the courses we think are great and you tend to build support from a local community over time."

Johnson said he could see a change in the bicycling culture between his first and second year visiting town -- a change he said is common for communities that host USA Cycling's major events.

"One thing I noticed from the bike riding I was able to do over the five days I was there was that is seems there were more people out on bikes," he said. "On our group ride Sunday, there were lots of different groups, and clubs and small training groups out riding around.

"I didn't see that as much the first year I was here."

Regardless of what happens beyond 2015, Chattanooga is assured of at least one more opportunity to host America's best cyclists for at least one more Memorial Day weekend. Like most of the competitors, Nalder found the course to be a tough but fair test to determine national champions, and she is planning to be back to race again in 2015.

"That course was incredible," she said. "It was so dynamic. I've never ridden a course where we did inner and outer loops, and it just made for such dynamic racing. It made it really hard, that's for sure ... but I loved the course."

One thing's for sure: The fans on Kent Street will be waiting for their favorite rider to climb that hill again.

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.

about Jim Tanner...

Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...

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