Gayle Chambers and Barb Burridge sat in the shade on East 12th Street Saturday afternoon watching the criterium races at the River Gorge Omnium, cheering on their husbands and taking in the Scenic City.
The two Louisville, Ky., residents were among hundreds who flocked downtown for the cycling event, one of Chattanooga's biggest races of the year.
"There's a lot of stuff to do here while [our husbands] get ready," Burridge said.
When not at the omnium — the word refers to an event with multiple races and formats — the two explored Chattanooga. They went to Alleia, the Italian restaurant on East Main Street, and Burridge went to Yoga Landing in Warehouse Row for a yoga class before getting a massage at The Chattanoogan.
When it was time for racing, the two found a shaded place between Broad and Market streets to take in the criterium races.
Crits, as they're called, are the most viewer-friendly of bicycle races. Patrons can sit in one spot as racers complete laps around a closed circuit.
For racing families, weekends spent traveling the country to watch loved ones race their bikes are common, but for Chambers and Burridge, the days of 45-50 races a year are over.
If You Go
What: River Gorge Omnium road race
Start: Covenant Transport at 400 Birmingham Highway
Finish: TVA’s East Overlook, Raccoon Mountain
Start Times: Women Category 1/2, 10 a.m.
Women Cat. 3-5, 10:05
Men Cat. 3, 10:25
Men Cat. 4, 10:35
Masters 35+/45+ Cat. 1-4, 10:45
Men Cat. 5, 10:55
Men Cat. Pro/1/2, 11:15
Masters 40+ Cat. 3-5, 11:35
Masters 50+/60+ Cat.1-5, 11:35
Their husbands, Category 3 riders, are getting older and limiting the number of races they ride a year. However, the two make sure they visit Chattanooga. It's the fourth time at the race for Burridge and second for Chambers.
"We don't go to all the races," Burridge said. "We pick the best ones."
Chambers agreed, and said why she thinks Chattanooga is one of the top races of the year.
"Your location, your restaurants and your uptick in your city," she said. "You guys have done a lot of renovations since we first started coming down. It's really nice. It's a good draw."
Race weekends offer quality family time for many, and Chambers said she enjoys them because they offer a full day with her husband, a rarity in a busy schedule. For Bill Briggs of Dalton, Ga., it's a similar story.
Briggs is familiar with the city and says it's a great place for family time. He is a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga alumnus, and came back to Chattanooga to watch his son compete in Saturday's road race.
"We just went to a race he was in in Tellico Plains, and then we came here. He lives up in Nashville," Briggs said. "We really like Chattanooga."
The races are broken into categories. Juniors race with their age group in either the 9-to-14-year-old heat or the 15-to-18-year-old race. Adult racers are categorized from 5 up to 1, the highest level before turning professional. There's also a masters category for older riders.
All racers must start at Category 5 and move up by competing in races. For instance, Category 5 riders are often stronger than some Category 4 racers but don't have the road cycling experience to advance through the rankings.
13-year-old victorious at River Gorge OmniumRead more
That was the case for Soddy-Daisy resident Scott Brannon. Brannon is primarily a mountain biker. This was his only road race of the year. He won.
"It's awesome. I love winning in Chattanooga, and it was nice to redeem myself from last year," Brannon said.
Last year, Brannon raced to the front early but went too hard, too fast and fell to the rear. This year, he didn't make the same mistake. He stayed in the leading group, and a late-race crash left him and one other rider off the front to compete for the victory. Brannon sprinted forward and crossed the line first.
While Brannon and his fellow Team Bubba racers are locals, many of the racers come from all over the country.
"We had close to 600 racers, the majority of which are coming from out of state," race director and fellow Team Bubba rider Scott Morris said. "That's a pretty good sign to show that Chattanooga is a destination. You see a lot of teams coming out.
"For me the high point of the weekend is just that, getting to see the broad range of folks who come into town from all sorts of random places out there. They happen to know of a good race in Chattanooga and take their weekend to come visit."
The omnium continues today with the road race, a miles-long race starting at Covenant Transport in Lookout Valley and finishing at TVA's East Overlook on Raccoon Mountain. The race is 45.5, 56.5 or 69.6 miles depending on category. Start times range from 10 a.m. to 11:25 a.m.