The upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo aren’t for another year, but many of the cyclists hoping to compete in them will be competing for medals in Knoxville this weekend.
The eyes of the professional cycling world will be on East Tennessee between Thursday and Sunday as the city of Knoxville hosts the 2019 USA Cycling Professional Road, Individual Time Trial and Criterium National Championships.
The event will mark the third time that Knoxville has hosted the U.S. Pro Road and Individual Time Trial Championships, the second time that its hosted the U.S. Pro Criterium title and the first year that its hosted the Para-Cycling National Championships.
On Friday, members of USA Cycling as well as some of the top athletes participating in the events spoke with the media at the Knoxville Visitors Center about the host city, the upcoming races and what they hope to achieve this weekend.
What makes Knoxville so appealing for USA Cycling? According to President and CEO Rob DeMartini, it’s the relationship the organization has with the city, along with its challenging terrain that makes for high-level competition.
Because of that, DeMartini announced to the media on Friday that USA Cycling would continue hosting in Knoxville until 2021.
“I want to thank (Knoxville) for hosting us and putting on what is going to be a great event, our third year total,” DeMartini said. “I am also excited to announce that we will extend our relationship with Knoxville for two more years.”
Not only do the national championships give Knoxville exposure, they also benefit the community economically. That’s what Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs is pleased to continue it.
“This is our first year hosting the para-cycling national championships,” Jacobs said. “We’re really excited about that. This event does provide an economic impact for our region of over $6 million, as well as showcasing our area as a dynamic destination for sports.”
Over 50 men and women cyclists are slated to participate in all three levels of the event, with many either competing for titles or defending them. In total, six participants are looking to defend their previous titles.
One of those defending his title is University of Tennessee alum Will Groulx.
Groulx, a Portland, Ore. native, is a Paralympic gold medalist, winning a 2016 road race. He also won the World Championship in para-cycling in 2018, as well as a national championship.
On Thursday, Groulx won another gold medal in the para-cycling race in Oak Ridge and he will be competing in Knoxville for the upcoming World Championships in the Netherlands in September.
“This race is really important to not only me, but this entire program,” Groulx said. “We’re using this race for us, as a selection event for our World Championships. That race will be a key opportunity for our country and the athletes.
“This (USA Cycling National Championships) will be a really important event for all of us here. It’s just exciting to see how much the community is embracing and supporting it.”
Two-time Paralympic bronze medalist Samantha Bosco from Spring Hill, Fla. will also be on hand this weekend, looking to defend her 2018 U.S. Women’s Para-Cycling title.
Before taking on the Knoxville course on Friday afternoon, Bosco competed in the time trials in Oak Ridge on Thursday.
“I love the venue and I love Tennessee,” Bosco said. “We’ve been here a few times. The venus in Oak Ridge was harder than I expected it to be. It was challenging in the right aspects, and safe. It was very fun to be out there and ride some bikes yesterday.”
Competing in the Women’s U.S. Pro Criterium on Friday will be Leigh Ann Ganzar from Austin, Texas.
Ganzar won the 2018 U.S. Women’s Pro Criterium in Knoxville last season, and is looking to do it again.
“(Winning the championship) was really life-changing for me,” Ganzar said. “I came in as an ametur last year and was pretty unknown. I came in with the mindset that credentials don’t matter between the start and the finish line.
“It was a really big opportunity for me, to make sure I did the jersey proud. I feel like I’ve become smarter and it helped me get my first pro contract. I’m glad to be back.”
Race & Special Events Schedule
With the Oak Ridge leg of the event behind them, things will kickoff in downtown Knoxville late Friday afternoon. Here’s a look at the full Friday-Sunday schedule of events
Saturday - Gay Street/Riverside Drive, Knoxville
8-11 a.m. U.S. Para-cycling road races and awards-Men’s & Women’s Trikes and Handcycles
10:30-12 p.m. Olympic Day Celebration and Photo Op
10:30-12:15 p.m. U.S. Para-cycling road race and awards-Bicycles
12-2 p.m. U.S. Para-cycling road races and awards-Men’s & Women’s Tandem, MC4-5
Sunday - Gay Street, Knoxville
9-1 p.m. U.S. Pro Road Race Women (9 laps) and awards
1:15-6 p.m. U.S. Pro Road Race Men (15 laps) and awards