Mike Lane and his daughter Mary Alice pitched their tent at the corner of S. Forrest Avenue and Scenic Highway atop Lookout Mountain around 10 a.m. Monday. A victim of cystic fibrosis, Mary Alice hoped to raise a few dollars to help find a cure.
But Mike also wanted to watch the United States' best male cyclists fight the brutal 1,150-foot, 2.75-mile climb four times in less than three hours.
"Just the challenge of racing up this mountain not once, not twice, but four times," he said of the USA Cycling National Championship. "What athletes. We were here last year and there are probably three times or more people here this year. This is really becoming a great event for our community."
By race time the enterprising Mary Alice had raised close to $150 for a very good cause. But on Lookout Mountain and beyond, the communal cause to show how much we can appreciate and support a cycling national championship appeared to be a much bigger winner.
From the North Shore to Lookout to a jam-packed finish-line area along Market Street, this felt so much bigger than a year ago, maybe three times bigger in some areas. Maybe even bigger than that on Lookout, where a beer garden, world-class hamburgers from the big hill's Talus restaurant and some mighty fine pickin' and grinnin' from Fade to Plaid made the whole affair feel more like Cinco de Mayo than Cycle da Mountain.
"This was fantastic," said Christopher Robinson, who arrived around noon for a race that didn't hit the mountain for the first time until after 2. "I don't think we had more than 100 or so people here a year ago. There might be 500 or so here this year. This kind of event could put Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga on the national map."
Ben King apparently didn't need much more than a map to navigate Lookout's climb, claiming the King of the Mountain jersey that goes to the fastest rider on those four laps up the mountain despite not arriving in town until Saturday night.
"I came to Chattanooga once before with a church group when I was younger," said the 25-year-old native of Charlottesville, Va. "We helped clean up some vacant lots and some old folks' yards and homes. It was a lot of work but it did a lot of good."
Monday, King intended to clean out the competition for both his Garmin Sharp teammates and himself by conquering the mountain, hopeful a strategy of making the race "as hard as possible" for the field would lead someone in his sponsor's distinctive red, white and blue unis to victory by the end of the day.
But despite winning the big climb, Garmin Sharp watched SmartStop Pro Cycling's Eric Marcotte and Travis McCabe finish 1-2 in the overall race, King's teammate Alex Howes finishing third and King 16th.
"I just completely shut down [after the mountain]," King said. "I couldn't pedal anymore."
Saturday's time trial winner Taylor Phinney won't be pedaling anymore for months, courtesy of a badly broken leg suffered in a fall going down Lookout. A top-five finish in the race was supposed to cement him a spot in next month's Tour de France. Now he'll likely be lost for months, possibly longer.
Yet even Phinney unwittingly provided Oliver Courdin with a big moment. The racer's dropped water bottle became a souvenir for the rising third-grader at Fairyland Elementary, whose father, Trey, works for bicycle manufacturer Litespeed.
"They go so fast," said young Courdin, who claimed his second favorite part of the day was the pulled pork sandwiches from Talus.
But the riders finally pulled themselves from Lookout's jaws in time to face one last hurdle: the North Shore's cruel Kent Street.
"Kent Street was more intense," the spaghetti-legged King said afterward.
Added McCabe: "Kent Street was an incredibly tough climb."
It was an incredibly tough race. Sixty percent of the field dropped out. Only 21 riders finished within five seconds of the winner.
But from the kids who wrote the messages of encouragement in chalk on Lookout's roads, to the crowds lining Kent Street, to those jamming the finish line on Market, the riders were more than a little impressed with the support.
"Anything that makes the spectators happy makes us happy," Howes said.
And this quote from a USA Cycling official had to make anyone happy who's tired of the continual talk of drug testing where the sport is concerned.
With one of the top finishers mildly concerned with what a sip of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale atop the victory stand might mean for him in a random drug test, the official smiled and said, "They won't test for Sierra Nevada. They're a sponsor."
A somewhat smiling King planned to gather up his father, uncle and younger brother Jacob -- who was one of the 82 who started the race -- and head to a certain North Shore attraction that's yet to make any banned-substance list except maybe for someone worried about his or her weight.
"I'm going to try to get by Clumpies Ice Cream," he said. "That's one thing I'll never forget about the first time I was here."
Apparently some things in Chattanooga already are on the national map.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.