Elite cycling races move to Chattanooga

Elite cycling races move to Chattanooga

May 5th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Bicyclists race through the streets of Greenville, S.C., in the 2011 cycling championship.

Bicyclists race through the streets of Greenville, S.C.,...

Photo by Photo by Casey B. Gibson

Chattanooga has Volkswagen and its new brand partnership with USA Cycling to thank for the organization's decision, announced Thursday, to bring the nation's most elite competitive bicycling events here for three years beginning next year. The nationally recognized events will feature USA Cycling's Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships for men, and its inaugural championships in those categories for premier professional women cyclists.

The city hasn't seen an event similar to this since the now-defunct Tour de Georgia made its last appearance here five years ago, and that was nowhere close to being as large, competitive and widely followed as USA Cycling's professional championships. The latter are tracked by members of more than 2,500 USA Cycling clubs around the country and draw far more intensive media coverage.

The men's races for these titles, staged in Greenville, S.C., the past six years and in Philadelphia the first 22 years, typically draw around 50,000 spectators and approximately 100 elite riders, many of whom compete at the international level, including the Tour de France. The inaugural women's events may nearly double the number of riders next year. Both groups will bring their support teams and arrive up to a week before the races to train on the routes.

The road race, a USA Cycling spokeswoman said, will be from 100-to-150 kilometers. Though the precise route hasn't been determined, it will begin on the Riverfront, cross Lookout Mountain, wind around other scenic roads, and traverse a circuit of downtown streets before finishing back at the Riverfront. The time trials will be centered around the Volkswagen plant.

USA Cycling's decision to stage the races here marks a grand opportunity to showcase the city to a national audience, and it will create a significant economic impact. It also confirms the city's widening renaissance and the growing appeal of our outdoor environment and diverse natural resources, which provide both recreational enjoyment and an increasing range of major competitive events that draw participants regionally and nationally. These include the Head of the Hooch rowing regatta, Rock Creek's 50-kilometer Stump Judge trail race, and an array of other sports tournaments.

Volkswagen's sponsorship of USA Cycling usefully promotes environmental sustainability and efficient transportation, and the benefits and fun of bicycling. It's an apt fit for both partners. USA Cycling, headquartered in Colorado Springs, sanctions more than 3,000 competitive events in nearly a dozen different categories of cycling, including para-cycling for physically impaired riders.

The events here should further promote residents' growing interest in bicycling both for recreation and personal health benefits, and for practical pursuit of sustainable, environmentally friendly transportation. They present the opportunity, as well, to make drivers of vehicles more aware of local bicyclists and more cognizant of the need to observe the three-foot safety zone required by law when passing bicyclists. That's become even more important with the city's new Bike Chattanooga program, which features 300 time-share bicycle and multiple docking stations.

USA Cycling's competitive races next year are bound to create new interest in bicycling, and more attention to the city. But more to the point, they will showcase the skill, endurance and toughness of world-class athletes competing here for national championships. It doesn't get better than that.