Over the past few days, some of the best American men and women cyclists have been converging on Chattanooga, and starting tomorrow they will battle for the right to wear the Stars and Stripes jersey as the time trial or road race champion of the USA Cycling Professional National Championships.
"To wear the national championship jersey as a pro in Europe or anywhere here in this country is an honor," said recently retired pro cyclist George Hincapie during a visit to the city this month. "The pros take it quite seriously, so they're all very excited about coming here to win that jersey."
This weekend Chattanooga will begin a three-year run as the host for the event, which began in 1985 in Philadelphia and is coming off a seven-year run in Greenville, S.C.
Hincapie, a three-time U.S. road race champion who lives in Greenville, said recently he thinks that moving the event from his hometown to Chattanooga will boost cycling locally and beyond.
"I loved that it was in Greenville," he said. "It was great for promoting the sport there, but it's also good to bring it to a new city and have other people exposed to that type of event. At the end of the day, it's good for cycling.
"We will miss it in Greenville, but I think Chattanooga will do a great job with it."
The racing will begin Saturday at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant with the men's and women's individual time trial competition - essentially a race against the clock with individual riders leaving the start at intervals.
On Monday, the racing comes downtown for the road race competition with the women racing in the morning and the men racing in the afternoon. Riders racing together will make several laps on a circuit that will take the field through downtown, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the North Shore and up and down Lookout Mountain.
"The course is super awesome how it not only has the mountain ... but also how it comes into downtown and goes by [UTC]," said 2008 time trial champion Alison Powers after a recent trip to scout the course. "I think it really shows off all of the city."
In addition to the men's and women's cycling, this weekend will also feature the Handcycling Criterium National Championships, a charity ride for all riders to benefit Erlanger hospital and other events to make the weekend exciting for athletes and spectators.
Bringing the men and women national championships together at the same venue is new to the event this year, with equal prize money awarded to both men and women.
"They work just as hard as we do, and there's no reason their event shouldn't coincide with the men," Hincapie said. "It's great to see that they're having their nationals on the same day as the men."
Chattanooga city leaders, with the help of Volkswagen of America, worked hard to bring the USA pro cycling championships to Chattanooga and show off the city's focus on active outdoor living.
The racing promises to be exciting and will allow spectators an up-close view of the best men and women in American cycling as they race for the right to wear the Stars and Stripes.