The Cheaha Challenge directors are watching the weather for Sunday, as it might affect this year’s potential for a record-breaking registration.
As of Monday, 664 riders from 29 states and 11 countries had registered for the 26th annual cycling event. That’s up by approximately 40 riders from this same point last year, said Brooke Nelson, ride director of the challenge.
Last year, 841 total riders registered for the Cheaha Challenge, a 100-mile bike ride to the top of Mount Cheaha and back again. The riders begin and end their trek Sunday at Pete Mathews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University; a small army of some 500 volunteers will help the operation move smoothly.
Besides the qualifying length, the challenge includes 24, 44, 62, 84 and 124-mile courses.
According to Gary Goggins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the forecast currently shows a 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms Sunday afternoon.
Nelson said the directors of the challenge are prepared for any inclement weather that may arise this week.
“Safety is a main concern,” Nelson said.
Nelson and Darren Sims, safety director for the challenge, both said rain or wind will not affect the event.
“If it rains, we ride. If it’s windy, we ride,” Sims said.
“We don’t panic even though it is an outdoor event,” Nelson said.
Lightning is the current concern, Sims said. If there is lightning anywhere along the 100-mile course, they will have to work around it. That might mean delaying the challenge, Sims said, rerouting where possible or holding riders on the course. These plans will only be implemented if the weather on Sunday calls for it.
Event organizers work closely with Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency.
“They are really in touch with weather and forecasting,” Sims said. “They help predict what is going to happen.”
Ham radio operators are also located all along the course. Sims said this helps in getting quick responses.
Even with the different procedures in place, Nelson said the event is “very weather-dependent.”
“In this area, the weather changes hour by hour,” Nelson said.
Nelson said many locals will wait to register for the challenge until closer to Sunday.
According to Nelson, more experienced riders will be more comfortable with different weather conditions than riders with less experience.
A lot of people hold off until the last minute to register, Sims said, and if the weather’s bad, they skip the event.
The Cheaha Challenge is a qualifying event for the Union Cycliste Internationale Gran Fondo World Championship, Sims said. The World Championship will take place in Varese, Italy, this year.
Bad weather will not keep riders hoping to qualify from coming to the Cheaha Challenge, Sims said.
“If people are coming to qualify, they’re going to come no matter what,” he said.