published Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Cycling fans geared up for the Volkswagen USA Pro Cycling National Championships in Chattanooga

  • photo
    Jeff Plunkett, John Newton, Jennifer Sheffield and Jenny Plunkett cheer on cyclists as they pass by.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

A group of cycling enthusiasts from Knoxville were jazzed when one of their members got a photo with Taylor Phinney's mother.

"Basically, you know how people go places because they want to see stars? We're here because we want to see Taylor Phinney. And we want to see [the competitors] race," said Stephanie Hall, wife of Gene Fitzugh, the man with the picture.

The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool at Enterprise South on Saturday for the time trials portion of the Volkswagen USA Pro Cycling National Championships.

"We all bike ourselves, and I keep up with pro racing, U.S. and international. I love racing," said Scott Hollenbeck, another member of the Knoxville group.

Hollenbeck said his biking buddies enjoy doing charity rides, such as the Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association, because it's a great, fun way to exercise while also raising money for a good cause.

This year marks the second year of a three-year contract that brings professionals and enthusiasts to the Scenic City for the national championships in three divisions: men's, women's and para-cycling, which is competitive cycling for physically disabled athletes.

Brenda and Larry Farina, of Nashville, weren't mere spectators -- they cheered on their daughter, Robin Farina, in the time trials.

The Farinas like cycling generally because it's a good sport that people can do at any age. But they're especially big supporters of women's cycling -- Robin Farina is president of the Women's Cycling Association.

"So, like, this is the USA Cycling Association, well, now there's a Women's Cycling Association that people can get involved in and help support women's cycling, because women don't make as much money out there as men do in cycling," said Brenda Farina.

But things are starting to change.

Last year was the first time that USA Cycling held the women's road race and time trials at the same time as the men's, and also the first year that women competitors were awarded the same amount of prize money as their male counterparts.

Scott Smith, a Chattanooga native and "very off-and-on" cyclist for 20-plus years, said he had watched the road race last year, but that this was the first time he had seen the time trials.

This year, Smith said, he plans on viewing the section of the race route in North Chattanooga that includes a short, tough climb up Kent Street between Woodland and Forest avenues before descending down Forest back onto Frazier. That portion of Kent has a grade of more than 22 percent.

Smith said he grew up on the corner of Woodland and Kent.

"When I was a kid, I rode up that about halfway, when I still had all the energy in the world, and I still had to push my bike all the way up to the top, and then we were out of breath," Smith said.

"And then we used to ride down those hills, so I can imagine riding a bike just straight up that, like some of these guys are going to do."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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