published Friday, May 4th, 2012

A top bicycle race to be in Chattanooga for 3 years

Bicyclists race through the streets of Greenville, S.C., in the 2011 cycling championship.
Bicyclists race through the streets of Greenville, S.C., in the 2011 cycling championship.
Photo by Casey B. Gibson
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After a seven-year run in Greenville, S.C., one of the top bicycle races in the nation will be on the move to the Scenic City, and local officials predict that the impact to the city could be significant.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield along with Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger gathered at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant on Thursday with officials from USA Cycling and executives from Volkswagen of America to announce a three-year contract to bring the USA Pro Cycling Championships to Chattanooga beginning in 2013.

"This definitely is a bright red-letter day in Chattanooga," Littlefield said. "I can't help but be proud that we're inheriting this competition from Greenville, which is a great city. We're modeling many of the things we're doing now on Greenville. ... We have large shoes to fill, but we will. We'll step up."

Steve Johnson, president and CEO of USA Cycling, praised Chattanooga and Volkswagen for the work they have done to bring the race here.

"It's a great honor for USA Cycling to be here in Chattanooga and especially in this amazing facility, ... which is such an important part of this community," Johnson said. "And it's going to be an important part of the events that will be coming to Chattanooga."

"It's an exciting event. You're going to see over 150 competitors from dozens of the top professional teams. Many riders that will compete in the Tour de France ... will be here to [compete] for the title of national professional champion."

According a story on the website of the Greenville News, leaders in that city chose not to rebid for the USA Pro Cycling Championships this year after being selected as the host city for the 2014 world paracycling championships.

The relocation of this major sporting event was part of a four-year partnership between USA Cycling and Volkswagen, making VW the official car of USA Cycling and including participation in 17 national championship events run by USA Cycling throughout the United States. USA Cycling is based in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with other major U.S. sports teams at the Olympics Training Center.

Brian Thomas, general manager of brand marketing for Volkswagen of America, said that the partnership with USA Cycling represents VW's commitment to sustainability and community growth.

"Volkswagen began to lay the groundwork here and elsewhere for sustained growth in the United States over the past couple of years," Thomas said. "We're very pleased with the progress we made and the car that we are producing is selling in big volume and people love it.

"As a brand, Volkswagen has a storied history in cycling. We're very excited to increase our commitment to the sport ... with this landmark partnership, and along with USA Cycling we're committed to helping further that history while contributing to the growth of the sport by providing unique experiences for those who have a passion for getting on a bike," Thomas said.

The USA Pro Cycling Championships were first held in 1985 in Philadelphia, where the event remained for 21 years before moving to Greenville in 2006. The event is said to attract the most spectators of any other USA cycling event, with thousands of fans visiting Greenville to see the competition in recent years.

"The direct economic impact will approach $1 million just with the teams, who will show up before the event and be riding and spending money in hotels and restaurants," said Johnson of USA Cycling. "The name of the event will resonate through a very active and passionate cycling population, especially when you look at the number of people who live within 50 to 100 miles of Chattanooga. ... We expect that the impact will be very significant with this event."

The USA Pro Cycling Championships feature competition in two cycling disciplines: an individual time trial, which is set to be held at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant; and a road race that will wind throughout the area and over Lookout Mountain before finishing on the downtown riverfront.

In addition, the 2013 USA Pro Cycling Championships will feature the first-ever women's professional road and time trial national championships.

"For years, women's professional [cycling] was viewed as distinct from the men," Johnson said. "We think that's not the best way to look at it, and we're happy ... to combine men's and women's professional components.

"The next step in 2013, will be to move the women's professional road race and time trial to coincide with the men's professional race at the same venue," he said.

Outdoor Chattanooga will serve as the local organizing committee for the USA Pro Cycling Championships, assisting with planning the routes for the racing, coordinating with law enforcement on traffic and safety issues, and organizing events and activities for visitors and spectators.

"This has been an exciting time, and I'm really happy that today has finally got here," said Outdoor Chattanooga executive director Philip Grimes. "There's been a tremendous amount of work just to get here today, and we're looking forward to next year to put on what I think will be the best USA Cycling road and time trial championships ever."

Littlefield said that bringing an elite cycling event to Chattanooga is the culmination of decades of work to revitalize the city and its residents.

"We've been a bicycle community for many years. ... And here we are, a transformed city with a world-class event by USA Cycling, a world-class company in Volkswagen and the community of Chattanooga and Hamilton County," he said. "You really can't get any more world class than that."

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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