Evelyn Stevens-who is a two-time USA Cycling Time Trial National Champion and 2012 Olympian-wants other women to experience the joy of riding. 

“For a lot of women, the bike is just a great venue for health fitness,” she said Friday afternoon in a press conference to kick off the USA Cycling Professional Championships, which will be in the Scenic City this weekend. “We get to represent it from a professional point, but I hope we can inspire other women to get on a bike, to feel what it feels like. When I’m on a bike, I don’t not smile.” 

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This weekend’s competition, which will be in Chattanooga for the next two years, is the first time in the event’s 29-year history that women will compete for professional national titles. 

The women will compete on the same days, on the same courses and for the same prizes as their male counterparts. 

At Friday’s press conference, sitting with men on both sides of them, Stevens and defending USA Cycling Road Race National Champion Megan Guarnier talked about the significance of the decision to have women’s races with the men’s. 

Guarnier said it was an “incredible opportunity” to be here with the men. 

“In the past, we’ve been so separated,” she said. “There’s just a real professional feeling about it all. I’m thrilled and honored and proud to be sitting here.” 

Forty-five women were scheduled to compete Saturday in the individual time trials, and 77 women were set to participate in Monday’s road race downtown, according to the USA Cycling website

Stevens said that women’s cycling is a growing sport in the U.S.

Women are buying bikes, she said. 

And on the professional level, they put in the same time and effort as the men.

“Women’s cyclists train just as hard,” she said. “We put in the time.” 

President and CEO of USA Cycling Steve Johnson said that the jersey both the men and women will be competing for is coveted. 

They get to wear it for the entire year as a signal that they are the champions. 

And the United States is emerging as a cycling powerhouse for both men and women. 

“The women’s field is one of the largest ever assembled,” he said. “There are more women in the time trial than men.”  

Two-time National Time Trial Champion Brent Bookwalter also said women are a bright spot in the sport because the men’s sport has been somewhat tainted by doping scandals. 

“One thing that’s hopeful for the future are the women,” he said when the athletes were asked about doping. “There’s been a lot of bad stories about men’s cycling. We’re here to start over, and [the women] are exciting, fresh faces. It’s going to prove to you guys we are worthy of your belief and your respect.” 

Updated @ 8:54 p.m. on 5/25/13 to correct a factual error: The event will be in Chattanooga for the next two years after 2013, not for the next three years, as originally reported.

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