The USA Cycling Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships began Saturday morning with a group of inspiring athletes competing on the roads around the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.
Almost 100 paracyclists and handcyclists competed in several categories on the same route later used by the men's and women's professional cyclists.
Many of the athletes are disabled military veterans, and others suffer from other injuries or illnesses that make physical activity difficult. Yet they were on the roads competing for not only pride but the chance to represent the United States in international competitions.
"It was great for us to have 80-plus athletes on this world-class course," said Paralympic Cycling High Performance director Ian Lawless. "It's a great for us to showcase the ability of the paracyclists and how good they are, but also create some awareness about paracycling."
Lawless said Saturday's time trial was the largest domestic paracyling and handcycling competition in the nation except for the national championships. He added that the results would be used to determine the U.S. team for the paracycling world championships later this year in Greenville, S.C.
Five-time Paralympic champion Jennifer Schuble struggled Saturday after a flare-up of her multiple sclerosis, but she still was happy to be in Chattanooga to compete.
"This is a great course," she said. "I love it and I love Chattanooga. I'm from Birmingham, so I come and race Chattanooga with my club team as an able-bodied. And I raced last year with a Tennessee team.
"I raced the pro road race last year and I finished it, which is a huge accomplishment as a paracyclist. I'm so happy Volkswagen sponsors this event."
The Chattanooga-based Taco Mamacita women's cycling team will be hosting a community ride this morning at 10.
The ride is free for all, and team member Cathi Swanson said she and her teammates hope many women come out to enjoy the ride on the 5.6-mile in-town circuit where the USA Cycling road race championships will be held Monday.
"We want women of all riding abilities to come out and ride with us," she said. "We're going to take a loop of the circuit course."
The ride will go by the new addition to the national championship course, the extremely steep climb up Kent Street in North Chattanooga.
"We're going to take a look at Kent Street," Swanson said. "If anybody would like to try it, we'll be happy to let them. We may wind up just going straight on Frazier [Avenue], but I think everyone should go take a look at Kent Street because it is impressive, and when you see those [pro] women doing it on Monday, wow."
Support for women
The USA Cycling Development Foundation announced Friday a program to provide financial assistance to the growing women's pro cycling movement.
Kristin Armstrong, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in cycling, said the program was designed to identify up-and-coming female cyclists and help them get money so they could focus on their sport.
"There's always been a little bit of a lack of funding for women's cycling," Armstrong said. "Our salaries don't come close to what the men are making."
USA Cycling committed $25,000 to benefit 10 athletes, requiring each cyclist to raise at least $2,500 in matching funds from friends, families and sponsors to qualify for each $2,500 grant from USA Cycling.
The first 10 riders to be chosen are Megan Guarnier, Abby Mickey, Ruth Winder, Missy Erickson, Tela Crane, Allie Dragoo, Lauren DeCrescenzo, Kaitlin Antonneau, Maura Kinsella and Heather Fisher. Seven of the 10 were in Chattanooga on Friday to be presented with a check for the $25,000 pledged by USA Cycling.
Armstrong said the program has generated excitement among donors as a way to see how their money is being spent to directly benefit female athletes as they work to reach the top levels of pro cycling.
"There are donors that just want to give to this campaign now, because they feel really good about matching versus 'Here, I don't know where this is going to go,'" Amrstrong said. "Now they have these 10 riders, and to know that if you're a sponsor you can keep an eye on these 10 girls and know personally that you helped them."
"It's really exciting, and it's just another step to raise the bar for women's cycling."