A longstanding local event that draws more than 1,000 cyclists from around the country each year is undergoing a mountainous shift in 2017.
The 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge will still have three mountains, but the event is losing a state in its 30th year.
A scheduling conflict with the Dade County, Ga., Sheriff's Office left event officials little choice but to chop the iconic Burkhalter Gap portion of the May 6 ride organized by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club.
Riders completing the full 100.1-mile "century" course will still begin with a trip over Suck Creek Mountain and hit Sand Mountain in Northeast Alabama. But the Burkhalter Gap Climb will be replaced by a jaunt up Sequatchie Mountain Road this year.
"It presented a problem, but in and of itself, it wasn't," event director Dawn Salyer said. "Dade County has provided awesome support over a huge portion of the route for a long time."
Off-duty sheriff's deputies, paid by the event, have historically helped facilitate safety along the route by blocking off intersections and shutting down Burkhalter Gap as riders pedaled more than 20 miles through Dade County.
This year, officials in the county scheduled a sheriff's office fundraiser for the same day. The "Music Between the Mountains Festival" will require most of the county's small law enforcement team to be present, leaving the 3 State 3 Mountain without the protection it needs to receive a permit from Georgia to hold the ride.
Ride and sheriff's office leaders insisted this week that there is no animosity behind the conflict.
"It wasn't something intentional," Dade County Chief Deputy Tommy Bradford said. "We're a small department and most of our officers will be at the event."
Helping with the 3 State 3 Mountain did not cost the sheriff's office — or taxpayers — Bradford said.
"That's not an issue," he said. "It actually provided the officers a chance to make a little money on their off day."
Salyer said the new route may be even more challenging than the traditional route. Ride officials revealed the course change through social media Friday and extended the refund deadline to March 15.
"I was holding my breath, because I wasn't sure if the response might get ugly," Salyer said. "I've been encouraged. The optimistic crowd far outnumbers the disappointed crowd."
Only a few riders asked for refunds in the first 24 hours after the change was announced, she said.
Event officials did not seriously consider moving the event from its traditional slot on the first Saturday in May, because they did not want to interfere with other area cycling events.
"The cycling community is a respectful one," Salyer said. "You don't want to step on anyone's toes."
Salyer added that the future of the race will be evaluated after this year.
"We've weighed the idea of calling it at 30 years and coming back with something different," she said. "We're going to see how this one goes and then see what we have going forward."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.