published Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Knocked it out of the park: Chattanooga draws praise for hosting bicycle championship

Freddie Rodriguez, riding for Jelly Belly Cycling presented by Kenda, fourth from right, rides with the men's peloton as they cross the Market Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga during the 2013 Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Men's Road Race National Championships on May 25, 2013. Rodriguez won his fourth National Championship Monday which will allow him to wear the "Stars and Stripes" jersey once again for 2013.
Freddie Rodriguez, riding for Jelly Belly Cycling presented by Kenda, fourth from right, rides with the men's peloton as they cross the Market Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga during the 2013 Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Men's Road Race National Championships on May 25, 2013. Rodriguez won his fourth National Championship Monday which will allow him to wear the "Stars and Stripes" jersey once again for 2013.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • 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.

Athena Hortis is coming back to Chattanooga, and she won't be alone next time.

Hortis was sitting on her bicycle Monday morning and watching the women's road race at the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships.

She spent the weekend watching the competition, exploring the city and riding her bike up Lookout Mountain.

Her perspective of Chattanooga's debut as the host city is unique, because Hortis is from Greenville, S.C., which hosted the pro cycling's national championships for seven years before the event moved to Chattanooga this year as part of a three-year commitment.

She said she and her friends back home enjoyed the event when it was there, but they weren't sure it was worth traveling to Tennessee on a holiday weekend.

"I was kind of a Guinea pig," she said. "A bunch of people sent me up here to see what it was like."

Despite some trouble finding her way to the charity bike ride Saturday at the Volkswagen plant, Hortis was impressed by the show put on in Chattanooga.

"I called my brother last night when I was out at the restaurants and said, 'You've got to come up here next time,'" she said.

If Hortis is representative of the view of most visitors in town for the bike racing, then the city could see bigger crowds next year than the 25,000 to 30,000 that Chattanooga police estimated lined the streets Monday for the men's and women's road race championships. Freddie Rodriguez and Jade Wilcoxson, respectively, won those races.

USA Cycling President and CEO Steve Johnson also said the event was a success.

"My impression is that Chattanooga knocked it out of the park," he said Tuesday while traveling home to Colorado Springs, Colo. "The support from the community and the sponsors was outstanding, particularly for the first year hosting the event.

"I get the sense that Chattanooga has a stronger cycling tradition than Greenville did, and I think that this past weekend went better than the first year in Greenville. I think it's only going to grow and get bigger next year."

Volkswagen of America, Outdoor Chattanooga and USA Cycling worked together to put on the race, which is the national championships for men and women.

Johnson said his organization, as well as local organizers, will review this year's event, as they do every year, to see if there were unforeseen missteps and to look for ways to make it better next Memorial Day weekend.

"There always are changes and tweaks we make each year to improve the event and make it better for the next year," he said.

Hortis noted that the road race course in Chattanooga was more spectator-friendly than that in Greenville, making the event more pleasant for fans and casual spectators.

Joe Jacobi is an Olympic gold medalist in whitewater paddling and former resident of Polk County near the Ocoee River. As the CEO of USA Canoe/Kayak -- his sport's counterpart to USA Cycling -- he knows the challenges of putting on national championship events and how important they are to these sports.

"Chattanooga has done a phenomenal job in getting this event organized in year one and laying out a first-class vision for the sport," Jacobi said Monday while watching the men's road race near the start/finish line at Miller Plaza.

Contact staff writer Jim Tanner at 423-757-6478 or jtanner@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JFTanner.

about Jim Tanner...

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 ...

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