Changes have been made to make one of Chattanooga's premier cycling events safer and more enjoyable for riders and residents of Lookout Mountain.
The Chattanooga Bicycle Club's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge has for years included a final descent down Lookout Mountain on Ochs Highway into St. Elmo in the final 10 miles of the 100-mile route. But following discussions with city leaders and the death of a Florida rider in last year's ride, this year's ride on May 3 will bypass Ochs.
Antonio Jose Desousa Ribeiro of Jacksonville, Fla., died after colliding with a car near the bottom of Ochs Highway about three miles from the ride's finish at Finley Stadium.
Chattanooga police said that Ribeiro lost control coming around a turn and went into the path of an oncoming car.
3-State, 3-Mountain ride director Dawn Sayler said that incident, as well as previous concerns, prompted a route change she feels will make the ride safer and easier on tired cyclists at the end of a long day.
"It was an accident, but for a couple of years the city of Chattanooga has really wrestled with us coming down Ochs Highway because of the congestion that St. Elmo now has," she said. "This year we are coming down Nickajack into Flintstone [Ga.]"
The new route will bring riders down Nickajack Road on Georgia Highway 341. The route will connect the top of the Burkhalter climb with Nickajack via Mt. Olive Road and Hinkle Road.
Once off the mountain, riders will travel south on 193 for a couple of miles before turning north on Old Chattanooga Valley Road for a ride up Chattanooga Valley Road into Tennessee and through St. Elmo on Tennessee Ave. before connecting to Market Street via 40th Street and into the Southside for the finish at Finley Stadium.
"The riders are going to appreciate [that] instead of more hills and more hills almost to the end, they're going to get an almost flat final nine miles of the ride," Salyer said. "Once they get over [the final climb up] Burkhalter Gap, now they can really enjoy those last few miles."
The 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge takes riders over Raccoon, Sand and Lookout mountains and on roads in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. There are also shorter routes of 32, 62 and 85 miles.
Former pro cyclist George Hincapie will be back again this year to lead riders out from the start at Finley Stadium, and he will greet fans at a reception during the rider expo on May 2 at Finley. Other additions to this year's event include a King of the Mountain Challenge for 100-mile riders and the addition of the Lookout Mountain climb up Burhalter Gap to the metric century (62-mile) ride for the first time ever.
To honor Ribeiro's life, the Chattanooga Bicycle Club has invited members of his cycling team in Florida to come and take part in the ride this year. A charitable donation will be made to youth cycling development in Ribeiro's memory.
"I've got probably a dozen of them who are coming so far," Sayler said.
The 2013 ride was plagued by rainfall heavy enough that several riders abandoned the ride early. Wet roads may have played a role in the accident that claimed Ribeiro's life.
Salyer said the bad weather last year -- as well as a more-severe winter this year -- has slowed the pace of sign-ups for this year's ride, although the recent springlike weather has helped spur interest as the CBC aims to get close to 2,000 riders registered for the event.
"You know, we're so weather-driven," she said. "With the horrific weather [recently] and the people who come from out of state, so many of them come Missouri, or Indiana or Wisconsin more so than from Florida, and they've all had horrendous weather as well.
"Many of these folks follow us on Facebook, and we've been dangling a carrot [of recent good weather] ... and I think it's picking up a little bit. We've seen a good little surge in the past three weeks."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.