More than 1,100 people from 34 states and five countries officially rode in the first expansion ride of the Gran Fondo Hincapie series Saturday in Chattanooga, leaving event organizers hopeful about the future of the cycling event.
Event organizer Rich Hincapie and his brother George — one of the most decorated American cyclists in history — already have announced future expansion to Fort Worth, Texas, next year, in addition to continuing the event in Chattanooga and the brothers' hometown of Greenville, S.C. George Hincapie admitted he was a little nervous about how the day would go, but ultimately, he was happy with the city and the ride.
"It's always hard when you do something away from your hometown. We know everybody there, and we've done it six times already," George Hincapie said. "There was a little bit of doubt in my mind about how it would go here, but it ended up going really well. We had great partners here and enjoyed the way it went."
For the ride, Chattanooga offered an outdoor destination the brothers felt was in the right market with a route that left customers happy.
Cyclists wound 80, 50 or 15 miles through the region (depending on what length registrants chose). The route started near the Bessie Smith Cultural Center before winding through Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Marion County. The 80-mile ride featured nearly 6,000 feet of climbing up Raccoon and Sequatchie mountains.
"The great thing about this route is you have some climbs, but you also have some good descents. When you're in a group you can really fly," Bobby Julich, one of the only Americans ever to finish on the podium in the Tour de France, said after the ride. "The one in Greenville is super difficult. The climbs are longer and the descents are very technical. Here, the climbs aren't so long, but the descents are super fun because there are not many technical turns. That's what gets everyone into it, when they can go fast downhill without feeling like they're risking their life."
The ride featured an overwhelming number of cyclists from out of town.
Tim and Denise Hinrichsen were one of many couples making their first stop in the city.
"We loved it. We're staying down in the art district, and it's perfect," Tim Hinrichsen said. "We just love it."
Chattanooga was the first of what the Hincapies hope becomes a wealth of expansion cities. They may announce a fourth host city soon, Rich Hincapie said, and they want to take the event global eventually.
"I think this went great. The turnout was fantastic. The reports I got back from the people I placed out on the course were great. People were happy at the rest stops, and the weather held off," Rich Hincapie said. "We have a postmortem type of meeting where we all kind of download on how we can do things better. Quite honestly, I haven't seen much that I have to change."