published Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Fast times in the Scenic City: Cycling race prompts cheers, occasional jeers (with video, slideshow)

USA Cycling Professional racers ride through Chattanooga
Thousands watched as the USA Cycling Professional Men's and Women's road racers traveled through Chattanooga on Monday. Jade Wilcoxson won the women's race, while veteran Freddie Rodriguez won the men's race. This was the first year for Chattanooga to host the race, which will return in 2014 and 2015.
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Thousands packed around the finish line on Market Street for the USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships on Monday.

As the pack of racers in the premier men's road race whizzed past, onlookers cheered, rang cowbells and whistled.

"It's amazing how fast they go," said Carolyn Miller, of Chattanooga.

Despite all the commotion along the course, the streets on either side were eerily silent. Only the muffled, bassoonlike sounds of the announcers echoed through empty side roads, a stark contrast to the beehive of activity, buzzing with chatter and excitement.

Spectators roamed the narrow walkways defined by metal barricades while others searched for something to eat or drink.

The Community Pie, less than half a block from the epicenter of the event, was well situated to accommodate the needs of any race-watchers who stumbled out of the heat and through its doors.

Manager Jacob Nausley said business was booming, especially compared to a typical Monday.

"It's been extremely steady," he said. "We've definitely been more busy than usual. It's been a lot of fun."

Chattanooga police estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the event.

  • photo
    Racers take off from the finish line in the Men's USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Carolyn Miller was watching the races with her husband, Ben.

The couple were celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary Monday and thought the race would be a great place to go.

"It's a beautiful day, and it's just a neat experience," Ben Miller said.

Miller, an amateur cyclist, said he enjoys watching races for the strategy bikers employ.

"It's fascinating. I love it," he said.

Fans waved at the helicopters hovering overhead. Between the downtown laps, they watched the racers on giant screens, sipping cold beverages as the cyclists toiled up the steep incline of Ochs Highway.

As the cyclists approached their final lap, Stephen Landrum began jumping up and down in a frenzy of excitement.

"This is insane. This is insane," he kept shouting as the racers strained toward the mark.

  • photo
    Brent Bookwalter, riding for BMC Racing Team, bottom center, speeds through an "s-turn" on McCallie Avenue during the USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Landrum, who has been biking for eight years, said he felt "beyond ballistic."

"There's a bigger energy here than I think anywhere I've ever been," he said. "When do you get a chance to go to a professional championship, especially in your hometown?"

But not all Chattanoogans were thrilled that the race seemed to have taken over their city. Cantus Griffith said she wished the traffic pattern had been better planned.

"I know we are bringing more people to the city and bringing in more revenue, but we need to think about the people who live in the city," she said.

Griffith said it took her hours to get from Hixson, where she lives, to Chattanooga's Westside.

"The only way I was able to get here was by getting back on the highway," she said. "Just about everything else was blocked."

Griffith asked multiple officers and parking attendants for alternate routes, but she said they were largely unhelpful.

"[They] just told me I couldn't get across Broad Street," she said. "I think next year maybe they should plan it out a little better."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@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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