George Hincapie, a three-time United States road race champion who has competed in top races internationally, including several Tour de France appearances, is coming out of retirement this month to race in the Scenic City. But instead of riding in Chattanooga's first-ever hosting of the USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships, Hincapie will be a special guest at the annual 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge on May 4.
When professional athletes retire, some never revisit the sport. But Hincapie has a special interest in staying involved in the world of cycling, embracing and encouraging local efforts, all in the name of growing the sport. "Some of the amateur races are some of the coolest. It allows people who have never ridden in their life, to ride," Hincapie says.
"For me, it's totally different, I mean, you're still competing but it doesn't matter. You're going into it for fun. There's nothing on the line and far less pressure."
At 39 years of age, Hincapie's appearance at 3 State, 3 Mountain is part of his retirement plan. The 3 State, 3 Mountain event has been a supporter of his family company, Hincapie Sportswear, since 2008, and this year Hincapie sees the opportunity to give back to the race and the fast-growing local cycling community by helping kick off the 26th annual event. "I love the area, and think that it's made a big investment in cycling, so really it's a no-brainer to participate," Hincapie says.
"I've been in the area before... I've done the Tour de Georgia and I've seen the mountains before. It reminds me of my hometown, Greenville (South Carolina)."
For the past several years, the USA Cycling National Championships have also called Greenville home, but this Memorial Day weekend Chattanooga will be onstage for the international event that draws the world's top riders, an expected crowd of more than 25,000 cycling enthusiasts and a global media presence that generally swarms the Southeast in the springtime for events like the Kentucky Derby or the Masters.
May 4 marks the beginning of a month of cycling events with the classic 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge, sponsored by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club.
The event features multiple courses beginning and ending at Finley Stadium on Chattanooga's Southside.
Cyclists from all over the United States will compete in the 100- mile route, taking riders across Raccoon, Sand and Lookout mountains, traveling through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama to a maximum height of 1,935 feet. Other courses spanning 83, 62 and 26 miles are also available for riders of all calibers.
For more information visit chattbike.com
Cyclist Timmy Duggan is also hoping that Chattanooga is a lot like Greenville, as the 30-year-old looks to defend his title from last year's USA Pro Cycling National Championships.
"Chattanooga is a cool town, and there is a lot of support for cycling there," Duggan says, noting the importance of a community effort when hosting a professional national race.
"I've seen the course and the event format-it's excellent. It looks like it's going to produce a very challenging race and I am looking forward to it."
Duggan will be defending his 2012 title after sustaining injuries in January's Tour Down Under. In the season kick-off race, he crashed and broke his collarbone and tibia, but he's been back on the racing circuit in recent months and doesn't expect any lingering effects by late May. "Luckily for me, the first thing you can do after injuring yourself is ride a bike," Duggan says. "I'll definitely be there defending my title."
Leading up to the Chattanooga race, Duggan leaves his home in Colorado for Tuscany, Italy, participating in some quick trials and checking out the Road World Championship course he will see again in September. Then he's off to Turkey, where he competes in the Tour de Turkey in late April.
As Duggan and the rest of the cycling world turn their attention to Chattanooga May 25-27, the sport itself will takeoff on a new course as this year's event is the first ever to introduce the women's national championship race as a part of USA Cycling's Pro Road Race. "Any time you can give the spotlight to another part of cycling and really showcase their talent, I say it's a good thing," Duggan says. "You give the spectator something more... and there's more to the party."
On Saturday, May 18, Chattanooga will once again host the Tour de Cure, a cycling event held all over the United States that benefits the American Diabetes Association.
The ride features a 100-, 62-, 40-, 25-mile course plus a 10-mile Family Ride for all cyclists to participate. The event raises money for the American Diabetes Association and funds research and advocacy.
According to the ADA, every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes, and the disease is the leading cause of limb amputation. As many as 79 million people are prediabetic and 26 million people suffer from diabetes.
For more information visit tour.diabetes.org
For Mara Abbott, 2010 National Road Race champion, the inclusion has been a long time coming. Abbott started riding in college, and her natural talent for cycling and the constant competitive streak has earned her many medals and distinctions throughout her young career, but never on the elite level.
"I never understood it, and it was frustrating," Abbott says. "People never could explain it to me. But I'm glad to be able to compete on this level now."
At 27 years old, Abbott has competed all over the world and United States, but has never seen the Chattanooga area. "But I hear it's pretty hilly and I'm excited to get into it," Abbott says.
Most of all, Abbott is excited to compete in a community that supports cycling. She hails from Boulder, Colorado, another strong cycling community.
"Races in communities that get involved and get excited to host are definitely fun to attend as a cyclist competing," Abbott explains. "For people to come out, or to recognize us in stores and be excited-that's exciting for us."
That's important, Duggan agrees. The more people who attend cycling races, the more who try it, the more the love of the sport grows. "The cool thing about cycling is that it's so much of a social sport, and it's a lifestyle," Duggan says.
"Everyone can do it. Everyone can leave their driveway and get into an event.
No matter where you are, it's a great vehicle to get out and enjoy your city."
From elite pros like Duggan and Abbott to former national champions like Hincapie to dedicated amateurs who love the sport or simply want to support a cause like stopping diabetes or making miracles happen for sick children, events throughout the month of May truly make Chattanooga a hub for cycling.
A charitable component of the USA Pro Cycling weekend, the Cycle for Miracles on May 25 encourages cyclists of all ages and abilities to get on their bike and make miracles happen at Children's Hospital.
Cyclists will ride 15-, 30-, or 60-mile distances beginning at Volkswagen Drive. Consider riding with a team, as an individual, making a donation or just attending the event to support the Cycle for Miracles Ride out at Enterprise South.
Following the ride, stick around to see the USA Cycling National Championship Time Trial Race.
Chattanooga will host the USA Cycling Road Race Championship for the first time May 25-27. As America's top professional cycling event, 200 professional cyclists will compete in both time trials and a road race event. For the first time, the women's professional cycling championship will be held on the same weekend and with the same prize money in a newly created professional team structure.
The USA Cycling Handcycling Criterium National Championship will also compete on the same racecourse. The Memorial Day weekend event is sure to bring thousands of cycling enthusiasts and spectators to the Scenic City.
For more information visit usacycling.org
Saturday, May 25
10 a.m. Professional Warmup
8:30 a.m. ITT Handcycling
11:00 a.m. ITT Female Pro, 31 km
2:00 p.m. ITT Male Pro, 31 km
Saturday's Time Trial races take place adjacent to VW Chattanooga facility, and spectators will have many chances to see riders during their 19-mile ride.
Monday, May 27
9:00 a.m. Road Race Female Pro, 102 km
12:30 p.m. Handcycling Criterium National Championship
1:15 p.m. Road Race Male Pro, 165 km
Monday's Road Race not only takes the competition through the heart of downtown Chattanooga, but it will also showcase nearby Lookout Mountain. Men and women will complete multiple circuits, and spectators have an opportunity to see riders cross the finish line multiple times throughout the race.