published Monday, May 27th, 2013

Nolan Tankersley riding toward a future in pro cycling

Nolan Tankersley
Nolan Tankersley

If You Go

What: Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional National Championships

When: Race Schedule

Today

9 a.m. Women's road race national championship

12:30 p.m. Handcycling Criterium National Championship

1:15 p.m. Men's road race national championship

Nolan Tankersley, 18, hopes one day to ride in an event like the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships in Chattanooga.

"As a junior, I'm not allowed to, but one of my goals in the next four years is to one day race in nationals," he said from his home in Erwin, Tenn., near Johnson City.

He rides for the Village Volkswagen Elite Cycling Team here in Chattanooga, and his teammates think he has a chance to one day make the pro tour.

"We fully expect to see him race in the USA Pro Championships one day," said Jack Howland.

Howland handles the team's social media sites and publicity. He is also a member of the team, riding with the category 3 racers, which includes Tankersley's younger brother, Connor. At 29, Howland is nearing the magic age of 30, when most riders hit their peak.

He said both Tankersleys have a chance to be really good, but that Nolan is farther along.

"As an 18-year-old, he has a chance," he said. Howland said the brothers have an advantage thanks to "their upbringing. They have good parents, which helps, and not just financially. Nolan is in high school still, so they travel with him. That helps."

Part of that travel includes coming to Chattanooga to train.

"I'll be there this weekend," Nolan said.

Most of his riding alongside Connor near the family home in East Tennessee. Having a brother to train with is another bonus, both say.

"It makes the rides enjoyable," Connor said. "And, we are both competitive, so we push each other. He is stronger than me, so I'll get better."

Nolan said Connor has the better cyclist's tan.

"His is more distinctive," he said. "He looks like he is wearing shorts."

The two train seven days a week, with Mondays being the easy day when they might get in a 15-mile ride. On weekends they do between 75 and 90 miles a day.

Sometimes the rides are flat and on others they tackle the mountains.

"We live in the valley between Johnson City and Asheville (N.C.)," Nolan said.

Whether Nolan does make it on the pro circuit it or not, cycling has already paid off for him. He will attend Milligan College near his home on a scholarship as part of the cycling team. Connor is looking at riding at Milligan, as well.

Collegiate cycling is a varsity sport, and not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, which means the riders can still ride with teams such as the Village Volkswagen team and not harm their collegiate status, according to Howland.

Both brothers began riding about four years ago. They met Scenic City Velo president Steve Strain at a camp and he told them about the Village Volkswagen team. While there is a club team near Johnson City, Nolan said he wanted to ride for a competitive team to learn the nuances of riding with a team.

Racers can earn points by competing in races and the accumulated points help determine which of five categories they ride in. Categories 1 and 2 are considered the elite riders.

There are four members of the category 1 VW team and five cat 2 riders. Since most races don't have enough cat 1 riders, the two are often combined.

Nolan said all nine guys on the cat 2/1 team are good riders, but they have indivudual strenghts, as well. Some are better sprinters and some are better climbers, for example. They ride as a team with the goal of supporting one rider who might ultimately win the entire race. Determining who that will be depends on the type of race, who is riding well that week, and who feels the best.

The designated "winner" is picked before the race, but it can change mid-ride.

"Absolutely," Nolan said. "Sometimes, if I'm not feeling good, I will tell them I'm just not feelin' it. You might also have a crash or a flat, so it can easily change.

"We are a well-balanced team. We have two really good sprinters and then four who can climb really well. We keep an open mind, so to speak, going into the race."

Cycling is no different than some other sports in that travel is a big expense, but just getting started can be costly. The bicycles the Tankersley ride cost more than $5,500 apiece. Then there are helmets, shoes, shorts and jerseys to buy.

Sponsors, like East Ridge Bicycles and Hampton Trail Bicycle Shop in Johnson City, can help defray some of that expense, but Nolan said his parents made the brothers pay for most of their bikes.

"They figured we'd appreciate them more and take better care of them," he said. "It worked out well because it made us stay with it longer and that paid off with college."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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