Saturday will mark the 25th anniversary of the 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge, and the epic cycling event appears to be getting better as it gets older.
The area's signature cycling event, which is sponsored by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club, will roll out of First Tennessee Pavilion on Saturday morning with more than 2,000 riders expected to ride their choices of four routes of varying distances.
Dawn Sayler has been ride director for 3-State, 3-Mountain for six years, and she said preparing for the event is almost another full-time job for her.
"It's been a nine-month job," she said. "Nine months out of the year I work pretty hard at this.
"Everything is rolling along smoothly. We have our sponsors in place ... and there are new features for riders."
Among the new wrinkles for this year's ride is the addition of a 90-mile option to go with the 25-, 62- and 100-mile routes that have been offered for years. The new route will take riders over Suck Creek and Sand mountains but will bypass the daunting climb up Lookout Mountain on Burkhalter Gap Road, which forces many riders off their bikes to walk up the steep grade.
"A lot of people want to do more than just the 62-mile route, and they can do more," Sayler said. "It's a good route, and there were no extra manpower needed on our part to have it."
Also new in 2012 is the addition of electronic timing to give each rider an accurate finishing time, even though 3-State, 3-Mountain isn't technically a race.
"If you look at the big rides around us, they're all doing [electronic timing]," Sayler said. "It's kind of become what people expect."
The main attraction of the ride always has been the challenge of the 100-mile route, which has riders climbing over Suck Creek, Sand and Lookout mountains on scenic roads in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, but Sayler and others involved with the ride give much of the credit for the event's success to the volunteers who make it run so smoothly.
After a sometimes tense relationship with officials in Dade County, Ga., Saylor said she feels those problems are in the past. Changes have been made to improve automobile traffic up and down Burkhalter Gap.
"It think this is going to increase Dade County's confidence as far as the safety factor," she said. "Everyone feels good about it now."
After participation dropped to 1,600 riders in 2011 following the April tornadoes, Saylor said she expects to see more interest this weekend. She expects to have at least 2,000 riders from around the nation.
"We don't want this event to fall out of popularity," Sayler said of all the new features in the 2012 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge. "So we're doing a big push to bring it back and take some extra steps to keep growing."
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...