Top-Ranked Cheaha Challenge to Begin, End on JSU Campus May 15


Riders await the beginning of the Cheaha Challenge at the Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Courtesy/Cheaha Challenge)

Jacksonville – The Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo Century & ULTRA bike ride was rated as one of the 2016 top ten rides to do in the United States by the Gran Fondo Guide.

The 24th annual ride takes place on Sunday, May 15 at 7:30 a.m. The start and finish of the event are staged at Pete Mathews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University, the third year for Jacksonville to host the gran fondo.

The century course, 100 miles with 9,719 feet of climbing, winds its way from JSU all the way up and over the top of Alabama, at Bunker Tower in Cheaha State Park. The ULTRA ride, 124 miles with 12,835 feet of climbing, encompasses major climbs in the area, including Bain’s Gap, Cottaquilla and Chimney Peak, and is designed for experienced riders only.

If not quite up to the challenge of the Challenge and ULTRA, cyclists can choose shorter options on the Challenge route – 24, 44, 62 or 84 miles, or they can choose to do the the Chief Ladiga Cruise, a kinder, gentler ride that starts at 8 a.m. The Cruise rides north up the Chief Ladiga Trail to the Eubanks Welcome Center and on to the state line, for distance options of 24 to 50 miles.

Brooke Nelson, Ride Director for the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association (NEABA) says the post-ride survey responses indicate participants love the City of Jacksonville and JSU hosting the events. “Our riders gave high rankings to Jacksonville and particularly to all the volunteers from the City and JSU. Both are the perfect ambassadors for the ride and for the community.” She says NEABA is thrilled to partner with both again, as well as other title sponsors, Highland Health Services and Wells Fargo Advisors.

Both ride courses have multiple rest stops stocked with food, drinks and volunteers. Safety personnel, course marshals, and local police and sheriff patrol the courses. Proceeds from both rides go to benefit the Chief Ladiga Trail, Coldwater Mountain Trails and local high school mountain bike teams.

Why is this ride beneficial for Jacksonville and Calhoun County?

Nelson says the partnership between the City of Jacksonville and JSU is a mutually beneficial one since the average age of ridership is 48, the desired demographic of parents with high school age children looking for a college to attend in the near future. JSU lays out a welcome mat full of southern hospitality, gracious manners and a gorgeous, sweeping campus that is inviting for parents and prospective students alike.

Calhoun County has seen an upsurge in cycling in the past few years, and local leaders are confident economic development is riding in on two wheels, bringing a profitable demographic with it. According to the 2014 Cheaha Challenge Economic Impact Study funded by NEABA, more than 60% of the riders had household incomes over $60K and 83% had a four year degree or higher. Participants had an estimated direct impact on the local economy of about $1,040 each.

Riders have expendable income, and they are willing to spend local, eating at the area’s establishments, as well as staying in hotels and visiting attractions. A positive experience at the Cheaha Challenge translates to a boost in tourism from these participants.

What can local residents expect? Cyclists on the roads!

Nelson says she knows the ride can be an inconvenience to automobile drivers, but she says safety is always the number one concern. “Please be courteous to our cycling guests,” said Nelson, also an avid cyclist. “Give them a wide berth, and thank them for coming to our community. We want them to come back and bring their cycling buddies.”

For safety reasons, the ride was strategically chosen to take place on a Sunday morning, when traffic is the lightest; however, the following areas will have delays.

Expect Delays...

7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- Park Street east side of Pete Mathews Coliseum - closed

7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. -- Hwy 204 north of Pete Mathews Coliseum - delays

7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. -- Hwy 21 from 204 south to Whites Gap Road SE and south on Hwy 9 - delays

8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- Traffic will be controlled at Hwy 21 and Mountain Street, as well as Church Street from Whites Gap Road SE to Mountain Street.

12 noon to 8 p.m. -- Chimney Peak Road – Traffic access will be available to residents only. All other traffic will be blocked.

Schedule of Events: Sunday, May 15, 2016

5:30 a.m. -- Final Registration

7:30 a.m. -- Start of the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo Century & ULTRA ride

8 a.m. -- Start of the Chief Ladiga Cruise

7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.  -- Event timeframe - start to estimated finish of last rider

How do I find out more? Where can I volunteer? Where can I register to ride?


Check out the event website:

Brooke Nelson, Ride Director or 256-239-9001