Some of the best American professional cyclists are going to hit a wall in North Chattanooga this Memorial Day. And they're going to hit it more than once.
For the second year, the USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships will be held in Chattanooga, and USA Cycling and local officials were at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual business expo Wednesday to announce changes to the route for this year's racing to crown the men's and women's national champions in road race and time trial cycling disciplines.
The key change to the racing for 2014 will be the addition of a very steep section of Kent Street in North Chattanooga to the men's and women's road race on Memorial Day, May 26. The one-block section of Kent Street has a gradient in excess of 20 percent, steep enough to challenge even the best cyclists in the world.
The steep pitch of the climb up Kent Street combined with tight turns on the North Shore should create chaos among the competitors. The men will climb Kent Street seven times over their 102.8-mile race, and the women will make five trips up Kent Street in the women's 64.7-mile road race.
"It's going to split the peloton up a little bit, which I think is interesting," said Rob Borland, chief marketing officer for USA Cycling. "Because both the men and women are going to hit that hill on both the short laps and the longer circuits, it will particularly start to show at the end of the race when people get tired.
"It's going to break the pack up a little bit and that's going to be fun. It's going to sort the race out and spice things up a bit."
The new section will take riders off Frazier Avenue to a left turn onto Woodland Avenue before turning right onto Kent for the climb. The race will then turn right onto Forest Avenue before returning to Frazier Avenue.
The rest of the road race course will remain the same as last year, with racers making multiple circuits through downtown, in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and several long climbs up Lookout Mountain. The men's and women's time trial competition on May 24 will again start and finish at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant using the same course as last year on Hickory Valley Road.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke welcomed the return of USA Cycling to the Scenic City and said that the US Pro Championships help tell the world about the city's growing role in outdoor activities.
"Last year there were over 25,000 people lining downtown, watching these incredible athletes race," he said. "This is a world-class event, and in my opinion it's in a world-class town.
Borland said that he hopes that even more spectators come out to see the competition this year.
"We're so excited. The first year of the event was a tremendous success," he said. "This year the word's getting out. We've had so much interest from sponsors and media, and there's a lot of excitement building."
With the addition of the Kent Street climb on the North Shore, organizers are looking to make that part of town more attractive to spectators. A large video screen will be placed on Frazier Avenue so fans can follow the racing from there as well as at the start-finish area at the intersection of Market Street and M.L. King Boulevard.
"The big thing we're trying to do is engage the community more," said Phillip Grimes of Outdoor Chattanooga. "The technical part is done and the courses are set, so now we're focusing on ways to create viewing parties and make it a fun festival."
As an added incentive for the cyclists, the men's and women's road race champions in 2014 will receive a one-year loan of a 2015 Volkswagen GTI, courtesy of Volkswagen of America.
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.