Visitors typically flock to Chattanooga for the Memorial Day holiday, but add in a professional cycling national championship, and the city will likely be more animated than usual.
The Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships will bring some of the country’s top cyclists—likely including Tour de France competitors—to Chattanooga, as well as tens of thousands of visitors and countless tourism dollars.
“We are certainly excited the event is coming here,” Bob Doak, president and CEO at the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said of the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships. “It’s going to bring focus on Chattanooga and the many great things we have. There are going to be a large number of riders, fans and officials that will come to our city and will certainly be staying at hotels and spending money in our restaurants, at our attractions and in our retail stores.”
—USA Cycling has seen steady growth in cycling participation since 2002.
—The organization has more than 70,800 licensees, which include mechanics, race directors, coaches and competitive cyclists.
—In 2011, there were 70,829 licensees. That number represents a 66 percent increase over the number of licensees in 2002.
—The organization sanctions more than 3,000 events in the country every year.
Wednesday morning, several officials—such as leaders with Volkswagen of America, Outdoor Chattanooga, USA Cycling, Medalist Sports, American Bicycle Group, Erlanger Pharmacies and United Healthcare—gathered to announce the routes of the May race.
USA Cycling is the country's governing body for cycling events. Its leaders choose the national cycling champions and American Olympic teams.
Volkswagen of America is the event’s title sponsor, and Erlanger Pharmacy and Erlanger Health System will be the medical partner for the race.
Boost for the economy
The Chattanooga area has some of the best terrain for cycling and was home to parts of the Tour de Georgia before its cancellation.
Before leaders canceled that professional cycling event—a victim of the declining economy—it generated more than $26 million for the state of Georgia four years in a row.
When leaders announced last May that the Volkswagen USA national cycling championship would come to Chattanooga, they said that the championship routinely draws nearly 50,000 spectators and results in more than $4 million in publicity value.
Wednesday, leaders said they weren’t exactly sure how many people the May race will bring, but they think the event will keep hotels full.
“What they have found is that the occupancy drops off on Sunday night [during Memorial Day weekend],” Philip Grymes, executive director of Outdoor Chattanooga, said Wednesday. “The road race is Monday, so what we’re hoping is we are going to bring a whole new crowd in or keep the crowd that would [typically] leave on Sunday.”
There is also a more intangible value to the publicity that the city will get.
Chattanooga has received an increasing amount of national recognition in the past two years for everything from its high-speed Internet to its natural, outdoor resources.
And local leaders have said many times that the positive publicity has the potential to draw more visitors, residents and businesses to the area.
The May cycling championship will also be broadcast via the Web, so people all over the world can see the races and the city.
“Chattanooga has a great opportunity to be on a worldwide stage and showcase our city,” Grymes said Wednesday.
Chris Aronhalt, principal with sports management company Medalist Sports, said that officials are working to make sure that tourists and residents who don’t want to watch the race will still be able to get around town, but the race will mean road closures downtown and on Lookout Mountain.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, will work on detours and road closures.
“We want to host a lot of people here in Chattanooga, [and] this is a professional sporting event that is on public roads,” Aronhalt said. “A lot of work will go into the traffic management plans.”
Sgt. Austin Garrett, supervisor of the city’s events unit for the Chattanooga Police Department, said Wednesday that officials have a couple different strategies for managing the road closures and traffic.
Law enforcement will either have fixed barricades and detours or rolling road closures, in which roads are only closed as the race goes through a certain area, he said.
“We’ll be able to manage traffic,” said Garrett, who went to South Carolina, where the race was held the past seven years, to observe how officials managed the roads. “It’s no different than traffic being routed around Riverbend. There are plenty of alternative routes.”
Emergency vehicles will also have designated pathways to hospitals, he said.
The race, the courses
This year’s race brings the inaugural Women’s Professional Road Race and Time Trial National Championships to Chattanooga.
“This is the first time women will be on the same course as men,” Aronhalt said.
The time trial course will be near the Volkswagen factory. Participants will complete two out-and-back runs of 9.5 miles each for a total of 19 miles.
The road races will be downtown and will include a difficult climb up Lookout Mountain.
The men’s and women’s races will begin with a 5.1-mile start circuit—one circuit for the women and three for the men. The same circuit will be used for the finish of each race.
Then, riders will have a flat run out Broad Street before starting up Ochs Highway. That climb is about two miles long.
The race will use Sanders Road to cross Ochs Highway to Scenic Highway and return to downtown via Broad Street.
Riders will also cross Market Street and Veterans Bridge.
Spectators will have several opportunities to see the race from several areas.
“There aren’t too many opportunities [like in Chattanooga], where you have a fantastic downtown setting with an unbelievable mountain probably three or four miles away,” Aronhalt said. “Logistically, it will be very easy for spectators to plan their day.”