published Monday, May 27th, 2013

USA Cycling Professional Road Championships today in Chattanooga

Roxanne King of Dexter, Mich., writes "it's all down hill from here" as she and other cycling enthusiasts write messages of encouragement in chalk Sunday on the surface of Ochs Highway near the top of Lookout Mountain for participants in the U. S. Cycling Professional Road Championship in Chattanooga on Monday.
Roxanne King of Dexter, Mich., writes "it's all down hill from here" as she and other cycling enthusiasts write messages of encouragement in chalk Sunday on the surface of Ochs Highway near the top of Lookout Mountain for participants in the U. S. Cycling Professional Road Championship in Chattanooga on Monday.
Photo by John Rawlston.

EVENT SCHEDULE

9 a.m.: Road Race Female Pro

12:30 p.m.: Handcycling Criterium National Championship

1:15 p.m.: Road Race Male Pro

Start/finish line for the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road Championships will be on Market Street between M.L. King Boulevard and 12th Street.

The multiple-lap course will travel through downtown and the UTC campus, cross the Tennessee River and back, head down Broad Street toward Lookout Mountain, ascend the mountain via Ochs Highway, use the Ochs extension to reach Scenic Highway, descend the mountain on Scenic Highway and return to the start/finish line via Broad Street.

Spectators may wander into the Chattanooga Market-sponsored vendor area of food and crafts, check out two Volkswagen-sponsored 18-wheelers with interactive exhibits, or browse a business expo.

The site for the national championships also will offer the VW 18-wheelers, the business expo and a Sierra Nevada-hosted beer garden.

Cycling fans are a different breed of enthusiast than other sporting nuts.

While other sports often are characterized by bitter rivalries, professional cycling lovers are just one big happy family. Many travel the world together, following their heroes.

"We've been to France to see the Tour de France; we've been to California to see the Tour of California; we've been to Colorado to see the USA Pro Cycling Challenge," said Anita Franklin, of Maryville, Tenn.

And now Franklin and her cycling buddies, many of whom she met through Twitter, are in Chattanooga for the USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships.

Franklin, whose husband, Vic, is an amateur cyclist, said her and her friends' enthusiasm has taken them to great lengths. Franklin talked animatedly about the group's exploits as her husband, in full biking attire, cycled up the very road the champions will traverse today.

"We are actually such fans that we have actually been to the Tour de France and slept on the side of a mountain to see the race," she said.

On Sunday, more than 20 hardcore fans swarmed across a quarter-mile section of Ochs Highway on Lookout Mountain to "chalk the mountain," a tradition taken from the Tour de France, where fans write the names of their favorites and encouraging messages on the roads the cyclists ride.

"A lot of these guys are used to seeing this in Europe, so this is a great way for us to give them a taste," Franklin said. "The cyclists love it. We tweet them the pictures and the encouragement that we write on the road, and we'll tweet it to the teams and to the riders, and often they'll retweet it or they'll thank us, and it's really kind of cool."

The group stationed sentinels at either end of the section to watch for oncoming traffic, helping to safeguard the fans playing chicken on the road.

They hopped in and out of the highway as cars crept by, sometimes only able to put in a few strokes of color in between dodging drivers.

Julie Timms, a peppy woman with short red hair, was busy chalking popular biking catch phrases such as "shut up legs" on a sunny stretch of highway just above Fleetwood Road.

Timms has been a cycling fan since the 2005 Tour de France. Hailing from Knoxville, Timms traveled to the city to meet up with the group, irresistibly drawn by how human the sport is.

"There's human drama," Timms said. "They're suffering, they're crashing. They've got team issues, rider issues."

Anna Doorenbos, of Washington, D.C., was doodling on the same section as Timms. Doorenbos, an amateur cyclist who maintains a pro cycling podcast, said watching the riders labor across grueling courses brings their struggle to life.

"It really makes you connect with them more," she said.

After following riders through trial and fire, Doorenbos and Timms said it's a powerful experience to see the riders in person and stand on the course they soon would be riding.

"Seeing them in real flesh and blood, seeing them sweat ... it's incredible," Doorenbos said.

Because the sport largely is untelevised, Doorenbos and other fans have to watch many races online. And since their fellow enthusiasts are spread out across the country, it can sometimes be lonely. To stay connected, fans tweet back and forth, post to blogs or record podcasts about the races.

"I like the community," Doorenbos said. "Especially the online community. It's so great to talk with other people about it."

So when the opportunity arises for them to gather at an event, they seize it with gusto.

"This is actually our fifth year, all of us together for the pro cycling championships," she said.

Farther down Ochs Highway, Nolan Tankersley, of Erwin, Tenn., was busy drawing a rather terrifying rendition of a wolverine in blue and pink chalk at the request of cyclist Lucas Euser.

For Tankersley, 18, the day's activities held more than the promise of a fun race day. He hopes one day to have fans scrawling his name on mountains. He's been cycling for four years. He graduated from high school last week and will be heading to Milligan College in the fall to join its cycling team.

"At first I didn't like [cycling]," Tankersley said, who tried everything from basketball to cross country before settling on biking. "But then slowly I started to realize that I did. The environment is different, and you have the opportunity to go more places and see more people. It's pretty awesome."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkhodler@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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