Jacksonville set to host Cheaha Challenge
by Laura Gaddy
Jan 06, 2014 | 6474 views |  0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Cheaha Challenge participant takes a break at a scenic overlook on Mt. Cheaha during the NEABA annual event in April 2013. Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/File
A Cheaha Challenge participant takes a break at a scenic overlook on Mt. Cheaha during the NEABA annual event in April 2013. Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/File
The Cheaha Challenge bicycle ride will have a new home base in 2014.

This year, it will begin and end at Jacksonville State University, marking the first time the ride hasn't been based in Piedmont since it was first held in 1993.

"It was a really difficult decision for us," said Mike Poe, a long-time organizer for the 102-mile ride. "Piedmont has been a gracious host for a lot of years."

The Cheaha Challenge, the Sunny King Criterium and the Foothills Classic Road Race are held during the same weekend each spring, bringing hundreds of cyclists to Calhoun County. The Cheaha Challenge was established by the Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association in Piedmont, where it began and finished at the city's civic center.

Mark Jones, president of the Jacksonville City Council and director of recreational sports at JSU, said officials at the city and the university are pleased to play a part in hosting the event in 2014.

"We're just serving as the host," Jone said. "I think it will be great for both the university and the city."

The challenge attracts more than 500 cyclists annually from across the region who ride en masse to Mount Cheaha and back on local roads.

Organizers haven't finalized this year’s route, but Poe shared the tentative directions for the ride.

The event will begin at Pete Mathews Coliseum, then riders will head Pelham Road to turn south, then take Whites Gap Road to Alabama 9. Cyclists will connect to Scenic Drive from U.S. 78 and climb Mount Cheaha to Adam’s Gap (7 miles past the front gate of Cheaha State Park).

Poe said the return route will take most of the same roads until riders reach Jacksonville, where they will connect to the Chief Ladiga Trail and take it back to the coliseum.

Members of the association decided to move the event to Jacksonville as part of a long-term plan to attract more cyclists to the ride, Poe said. Its members considered the move for three years before approving the change in the spring, he added.

"It wasn't a new idea," Poe said. "It was something we had been toying with."

The Piedmont Civic Center isn't large enough to accommodate the number of people organizers would like to attract to the event, Poe said. He added that by moving the event to JSU, cyclists will have more access to the accommodations they need — parking, showers and a space to wind down after the ride is over. That, organizers say, will help the challenge grow.

Poe said JSU's Pete Mathews Coliseum will most likely be the new base for the event. The association will make the final decision about the new location with help from the Southern Bicycle League, a Georgia-based organization that promotes cycling. The association selected the league in the spring to help plan the 2014 Cheaha Challenge.

Until this year the association planned the event on its own. Poe said the association selected the league, in part, because of that group’s size.

"They have the resources to reach a broader market," Poe said. "We're really excited about bringing them in."

Poe said changing the location for the challenge may also give another cycling event — the Foothills Classic Road Race — room to grow.

The race is held each year at the same time as the challenge, and has also been based at the Piedmont Civic Center. Because the challenge is moving to Jacksonville, Poe said, cyclists who participate in the race, which last year attracted roughly 300 riders, will have more room at the Piedmont facility.

Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker said some residents are disappointed the challenge will move this year. He added the city will lose sales tax revenue because there will be no visitors in town for the event.

"We'll feel the loss," said Baker, adding that he is happy that the Foothills race will stay in Piedmont.

Jacksonville city officials didn't recruit the challenge, said Mayor Johnny Smith. Organizers of the event asked city officials in the spring whether they'd be interested in hosting the event in 2014.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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