published Friday, May 24th, 2013

Female riders racing on equal field for first time in Chattanooga

For the first time in history the top brass of U.S. female cyclists will share the road with the best male road racers.

And the big change is launching in Chattanooga, the new location of the USA Cycling Professional National Championships.

As many as 70 women will speed through the city. Some will be full-time racers, professionals. Others might be mothers with full-time jobs who find time to train, organizers said.

As in most professional sports, competitions for professional female cyclists historically were held apart from men’s races. The courses were shorter. No prize money was offered to women.

But recent triumphs of female cyclists have changed that. This year, while the races for men and women will remain separate, the National Championships will be held on the same weekend, on the same course.

“Finally, they realize that women can race their bikes and race just as good as men,” said Alison Powers, who will travel from Pinecliffe, Colo., to Chattanooga to race with her team in May. “We deserve prize money at our national championship, and there is no reason we can’t be there either.”

Michah Rice, vice president of national events for USA Cycling, said reformatting the national championship races has been in development for several years.

Men were once considered the only truly professional racers. Much of that definition was determined by the International Cycling Union. Very few women were on UCI-registered teams, Rice said.

Still, the world is taking notice of U.S. female athletes. The nation’s only gold medal won in cycling at the London Olympics was by Kristin Armstrong.

“It says something about the level of women’s racing in the U.S.,” Rice said.

Armstrong is coming to Chattanooga for the National Championship to be a commentator for NBC Sports.

Powers, who started racing 9 years ago and is a full-time cyclist and coach, said she and her team came to Chattanooga a few weeks ago to test the course and she feels ready. The most difficult part will be climbing Lookout Mountain. The routes through town are technical.

It’s a mental game, especially when racing with a team.

“It isn’t the strongest person who wins,” the 33-year-old said. “It will be an all-around rider who wins.”

Last year, she finished fourth among U.S. elite women road racers. She believes she is one of five who could win this May.

But this time she is racing for more than bragging rights. The winner will get $2,500.

“Anything can happen,” she said.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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