The Jacksonville resident rode the Cheaha Challenge last year, and said that rough patch is bad, but not bad enough “to keep me from riding it. I ride in the middle. It’s kind of smooth in the middle.”
Taylor was one of 565 who took part in the 21st Cheaha Challenge, a 102-mile long ride — billed as “the toughest ride in the South” — with portions cutting through the hills of the Talladega National Forest.
Another 302 cyclists showed Sunday for the Foothills Classic road race, with men’s and women’s pro and amateur division races.
Cheaha’s challenges didn’t stop Taylor and hundreds like him from tackling the course, but Taylor noted that if the rough section were fixed, cyclists could ride a great deal faster.
The rough, 10-mile section of pavement begins when cyclists turn off of U.S. 78 and onto Alabama 281, and continues until the bottom of the hill, just past the first scenic lookout.
Race organizer Mike Poe said “We affectionately refer to that section as Cheaha Roubaix”, a play on the name of a cycling race in northern France, the Paris-Roubaix, famous for its rough cobblestone course.
Poe said the surface was repaved about six years ago with an experimental treatment for low-traffic roads. Workers put down tar over the existing pavement, and topped it with fine gravel, he said.
“What’s happened is that all of that gravel has just gradually let loose, and it’s created this ugly, rough pavement,” Poe said, adding that organizers regularly get emails from cyclists asking if repairs have been made.
For cars, the road is loud, Poe said, but for anything on two wheels, the experience is altogether worse.
“It can be pretty jarring, so we have struggled bringing attention to it because we don’t want to scare people off, but we also want it fixed,” Poe said.
North Georgia has become a paradise for cyclists, Poe explained, and the scenic road through the National Forest could be as well.
“I know funds are tight, but I hope someone will look at the big picture and see we’re losing out on a lot of tourism,” Poe said.
And tourism is important for a small town like Piedmont, explained Mayor Rick Freeman.
“A lot of people came in here and stayed last night,” Freeman said, standing outside the civic center Sunday awaiting the return of the cyclists. “We had a lot of people come to our restaurants last night. It’s just been great for us.”
Freeman said the city is working to create a recreational vehicle park to be located next to the Eubanks Welcome Center on the Chief Ladiga Trail.
“We’re hoping to have that ready for next year,” Freeman said, so more people can stay in town, maybe ride the trail and spend a few dollars.
Rough pavement or not, Lynn Winchester, 43, came with her eyes set on the finish line.
“This is my first race ever,” Winchester said, eating a bagel just before the start of the Foothills Classic. “... This is all strictly for my health.”
Winchester, from Corner, started cycling several years ago to lose weight, and said she quickly discovered how much she loved the sport.
“It’s just been a good experience for me,” Winchester said, adding that she’s ridden the Chief Ladiga Trail before, and chose the Foothill Classic as her first race because it’s close to home.
“All I want to do is finish. That’s all I want to do,” she said. “And if I happen to come in in a decent timeframe, even better.”
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.