The 2018 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge was canceled after much back and forth within the Chattanooga Bicycling Club.
For several years, the club discussed the possibility of ending the ride or substantially changing it, but year after year, members elected to keep holding it. As late as last week, club leadership told members and the public the event would go on, but things took a turn during its board meeting Monday.
"The short-term position of the board, at least right now, is to not move forward with the event," said board member Philip Pugliese.
The club's weekly newsletter and board agenda alluded to event planning for months, letting members know the event would be held. The agenda for Monday's meeting included discussion about registration fees, apparel costs, rest stop volunteers and other ride details.
Last week, club president Martin Penny told the Times Free Press the event would be held, as it always is, the first Saturday in May.
"We were frustrated with [the falling attendance] and talked about not doing it, but decided to keep doing it," Penny said at the time. "... We never decided not to [hold the ride.] We've had that discussion the past three or four years, and we still end up doing it. We vote to keep doing it. It's been an ongoing discussion for several years, but I don't know, we just keep throwing ourselves in it."
However, board members wanted to put the decision to a vote at Monday night's meeting and elected to officially suspend next year's event. The club has not decided if the event will ever be brought back or if they'll go in a new direction.
The decision to cancel the event was contentious.
"It was not a unanimous decision. Some of us feel like this is the loss of the most unique bicycle event of this area," the club wrote in its newsletter Wednesday afternoon. "It covers the essence of Chattanooga, nestled between the mountains. However the majority felt this was the correct decision."
After a lengthy discussion about the event and the club's leadership, event director David Ward officially had no comment.
This year's ride was going to feature Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, as it historically has, after a scheduling conflict last year with the Dade County Sheriff's Office left the event with only two states. Participation in the event and the club has been falling for several years, Penny said, but it's not a problem unique to the local event. Penny went to the Hilly Hundred in Indiana, as he has for more than 30 years, where participation was a fraction of what it once was.
Penny puts part of the blame on young riders. He said he regularly sees them on bikes, out exercising and enjoying the outdoors but the club and others have struggled to get younger riders to sign up and participate in organized events.
"Millennials, to me, seem to be not going to anything except social media," he said. "If they're a member of anything, it's Facebook."
He's not sure if it was a marketing issue or where the problem lay, but he is frustrated that one of the area's premier rides hasn't gotten more support.
One of the key factors in the decision to suspend the race was George and Rich Hincapie bringing their event to Chattanooga. The brothers are a hallmark of American cycling. George Hincapie is one of the most decorated U.S. cyclists in history, and his brother runs Hincapie Sportswear.
The club told Rich Hincapie months ago it was not going to have the event but then it reversed course after the brothers already had scheduled their event, Rich Hincapie said.
"From what I understood, 3 State 3 Mountain was no longer going to happen, so we moved forward with our event" said Rich Hincapie. "They had not made an official announcement whether they were going to do it or not. We want to partner with them. We had heard they were not going to do it, so we moved forward with our event.
"Their club actually called me and said they weren't going to do it, so that's why we decided to go ahead and do it. If they decide to move forward, then that's their choice, certainly."
The Hincapie event, Gran Fondo Hincapie, is scheduled for the first Saturday in May, the same day 3 State 3 Mountain has held its event for 30 years.
This will be the first time Gran Fondo Hincapie will be held outside Greenville, S.C., where the brothers reside. It has built a base of 2,000 annual riders. Organizers are looking to expand the ride, taking it to cities across the globe. They chose Chattanooga for its proximity, reputation for holding outdoor events and similarity to Greenville.
This story was updated Oct. 18 at 11:59 p.m. with more information and again Oct. 19 at noon with a grammatical correction.