A last minute decision found me in Chattanooga, TN for the US Professional Road Race Championships! On Sunday, I had every intention of spending Memorial Day weekend indulging in an Arrested Development marathon. By Tuesday I had bought tickets to fly to Chattanooga!
I didn’t get in until Saturday evening, so I missed the TT. But with no racing scheduled on Sunday, I got to spend the day exploring the city with my Twitter friends Becky (@cat_nurse) and Roxanne (@cyclingrox). Chattanooga has a great bike share system and it was such a wonderful way to be able to explore the city- I got to see a lot more than I would’ve on foot! However, we soon realized Sunday in the south meant either everything was closed or didn’t open until the afternoon- which was an unforeseen problem when we decided to find a place to eat while we were biking!
Then Sunday evening I joined the “Divas” for some chalking on Lookout Mountain! In Europe, it is common practice to paint riders’ names and encouragement on the road for support. As we’re not allowed to put paint on the roads here, we settle for covering it in sidewalk chalk. So, along with Roxanne, Julie (@julesmpg), and Jen, we chalked the upper half of the climb to death! It was such a fantastic time, even though I was sweating buckets! While we were chalking, a reporter from the local newspaper come up to see what we were doing. And that turned into this article.
But the best part was when Chris Butler’s dad drove up the road, saw us chalking, and pulled over to chalk his son’s name on the road with us.
After chalking, we gathered at a the Moccasin Bend Brewery for some great local beer and a kitchen with an unusual kitchen set up…
On race day, Roxanne and I got up early and took out some bike share bikes to pre-ride the course before the race started! We didn’t do the WHOLE thing, but it was fun to see and explore the whole course.
It stayed blessedly cloudy for the women’s race.
But by the time the men started to line up, the clouds had blown away and the sun was beating down. I got a spot right by the start line, which meant I was right by the guys during call ups. I’ve never been to a pro race before (unless you count CX Worlds!), so it was cool to see some guys in World Tour jerseys line up who are really racers, not just local Freds!
At about the half way point of the men’s race, I started to get grumpy. It was hot and humid, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place to watch the race. The laps were so long – it felt like an age between each lap! I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to watch the Jumbotrons that were broadcasting the race and just spent a lot of time wandering around so my feet were killing me by the end of the day. I was definitely ready for the racing to be over after spending 8 hours on my feet!
I was really happy for Jelly Belly that Freddie Rodriguez won (as this means they’ll get invited to lots of races with the US champ on their team), but I do wish it had been won by someone on a Pro team, so it would be seen in Europe.
Monday after the race, most people left right away, but Roxanne, Steph (a Twitter friend who also lives in DC, @StephBDC) and I had dinner at Urban Stack, where they have AMAZING burgers. (And speaking of amazing eateries, be sure to check out Fork and Pie, a great place downtown right off the race course that serves only sweet and savory pies! I swear their Chicken Pot Pie has crack in it, it’s so good. Not to mention their mac and cheese.)
My flight didn’t leave until later Tuesday, so I spent Tuesday morning wondering around Chattanooga. It seems to be a city that is recovering into something new. One block would have lots of boutiques, fun, local restaurants and the like, and the next block would be all deserted storefronts. I think Chattanooga has a lot of potential!
It was a great city to host the US Pro Championships and while I’m definitely going back next year, I will be doing a couple of things differently. First, I will find a little chair to bring along so I always have somewhere to sit. Second, I think I will spend the race up on Lookout Mountain. I contemplated spending the race up there this year, but there were too many unknowns up there (such as, would we be able to leave or would we be stuck all day? Where would we use the bathroom? etc) and I wanted to experience the thrill of the finish line. But Lookout Mountain is quite a climb, so it’ll be awesome to see it from that vantage point!
I’ve realized that there are different enjoyments to take from watching a race life and watching the race on TV/the computer. Watch a race live, you are part of the action- it’s so exciting to get caught up in the crowds cheering, the speed of the racers, the party atmosphere. You cheer like crazy for every rider that comes by, first and last. And it generally doesn’t matter who actually wins- you’ll ring that cowbell as loud as you can and shout yourself hoarse. But you generally have no idea what’s going on in the race outside of what you see when they pass by.When you watch on a TV/computer, you miss out on the great crowd atmosphere, but you get to watch the whole race develop- you get to see the tactics and strategies, as well as follow specific riders to see how they crack or hold on.
This was a new type of race experience for me- I’ve gone to crit races (fast circuits on a downtown course, often a mile long) and cross races (fast circuits on an “obstacle course”), but never been to a proper road style race, with short laps on a downtown circuit and long laps that generally include a climb. This meant there was a long lag time between when we saw the riders. In addition, the commentators didn’t narrate the whole race, so it was hard to know what was going on. I feel like I’m working my way up the race ladder and next up will be domestic stage races (Colorado, California, etc), then European classics, then Grand Tours! Europe, watch out- I’m comin’ for ya ;)
It was a fabulous weekend of great racing, GREAT friends, and fun times!