By most accounts, the USA Cycling Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships had a successful debut in Chattanooga last May, with thousands of spectators coming out to watch some of the best American cyclists compete over Memorial Day weekend.
The racing was exciting with riders careening through downtown and making several climbs up Lookout Mountain. Spectators seemed to enjoy the event and sponsors such as Volkswagen and Erlanger Health System said they were pleased how the event came off in its first run here.
That's good, but not good enough for race organizers. Now they want to make the event into a big party for everyone in Chattanooga to enjoy.
"Why not at the top of [Lookout Mountain] have a big party?" suggested Micah Rice, vice president of national events for USA Cycling. "Maybe thrown by Sierra Nevada beer with big screens for watching the race. Everyone could hang out there, watch the riders come through, then stay and watch the race on television until they come back through again.
"We want to create viewing parties at different places, like at the top of the mountain. Those are great ancillary events to bring more people in. If you're a cycling fan, you're going to be here. But let's take that next level of sports fan who watches football in a sports bar and bring them into the event."
USA Cycling officials were back in town this week to begin planning for the 2014 event that will be the second of a three-year commitment for Chattanooga to host the race after a seven year run in Greenville, S.C., and 20 years before that in Philadelphia. The event crowned men's and women's national champions in two cycling disciplines -- the individual time trial and the road race.
"From a core standpoint, I think that we are in pretty good shape," Rice said. "We may tweak the finishing circuits a little bit -- maybe adding a hill in the finishing circuits. We have to make a decision about going to the top of Lookout Mountain or cutting through at the halfway point or maybe even a third option.
"So we're looking at tweaks to make it a better bike race, even though it was a fantastic bike race this year and looked great on television."
Rice was in town with USA Cycling chief marketing officer Rob Borland and Medalist Sports managing partner Chris Aronhalt to meet with local organizers along with current and prospective sponsors to discuss ways to make the race better and get more Chattanooga residents excited about the event.
"If we could pick one thing that we really want to do more of is really integrate this even more into the community," Rice said. "Let's find other partners that want to be a part of this event, and add more ancillary events. We want to figure out what we can do here in the Chattanooga community to bring out more people and create more interest."
In addition to viewing parties and better viewing options, organizers discussed working with Erlanger to build the Children's Hospital Cycle for Miracles charity ride into a bigger event and adding more sponsors to cover the costs of putting on a world-class competition, which is broadcast live online as well as on the Universal Sports television channel.
While no specific figure was released, Rice and Borland said that USA Cycling lost "a lot" of money putting on the race in it's first year in Chattanooga.
"However, this wasn't a surprise, and we budgeted for that," Borland said. "We went into it knowing we were making an investment, because that's part of putting on the event. ... We were well funded, our sponsors provided great resources and value and the local organizing committee was a great help as well.
"We went into it providing an Olympic level of quality, and an Olympic level of quality does have a corresponding cost associated with it, and we knew that going in."
While talks are ongoing to add sponsors to next year's event to offset costs, Borland said existing sponsors such as Erlanger, Litespeed Bicycles and Volks-wagen remain happy with their participation in the race and are excited about doing even more next year to make the race and the experience for spectators even better.
"For a company like VW, cycling is really working for them," he said. "Their consumers are engaged about it and they get it. There's a real strong connection between USA Cycling and VW.
"They look at cycling, and this event specifically, as a great way for them to own something and strengthen their ties to the community."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. email.
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 ...