Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cheaha Cometh

This Sunday, May 21st, Jacksonville, AL will host an estimated 800 cyclists from 9 countries and 26 states for the 25th annual Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo Century & Ultra, as well as the 3rd annual Chief Ladiga Cruise. To get insight on what this ride is like from the cyclist's point of view, we spoke with Steve Vinyard, a seasoned cyclist who has participated in the Cheaha Challenge several times.

When did you first hear about/start riding the Cheaha Challenge?

I first heard about the ride in 1993, when the Cheaha Challenge first started. I was not able to ride that year due to a neck injury, but started that next year in 1994.
Since starting in 1994, I have participated in the Cheaha Challenge about 14 or 15 times.

Tell me about the Ultra. What made you want to go to that next level?

The Ultra began in 2005 when Brooke Nelson became director. She wanted to add a level of difficulty to the Cheaha Challenge. I had ridden the 100 + mile course before and wanted to challenge myself. I wasn’t able to ride the Ultra last year, but I will be returning in 2017.

What do you do to prepare for the ride every year?

I make sure I have the right equipment. I make sure to check the weather forecast, just in case I need specific gear or need to adjust your tire pressure. I train and ride the hills beforehand. I like to pay attention to my diet and health, maybe dropping a little bit of weight, if needed.

When riding, what is going through your head?

It is a long time to be on your bike so you have some time to reflect. It is very important to remind yourself to eat and drink during the ride, as your body will need the calories. Keep your cadence while riding and save your muscle strength for the end. Be sure to ride the course properly and to stay as cautious as possible. This is especially crucial when riding in a pack. One wrong move can send you into a collision with another cyclist.

How do you stay motivated during the ride, especially during the extra challenging parts?

It’s a big event. You spend a lot of time and energy preparing. Sometimes things happen that prevent you from finishing the ride, but there is a natural motivation that keeps you going. Also, knowing that Brooke Nelson will burn your finisher shift if you don’t complete the ride will keep you motivated!

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in riding the Cheaha Challenge for the first time?

Know your course ahead of time and ride the hardest parts so that you know what to expect.

What is the best part of the Cheaha Challenge, in your opinion?

It is the most organized ride. The support from the community is felt throughout the entire ride. You feel safe on the road knowing how well everything is put together. I have participated in several rides, and this is one of the best.

To kick off this exciting weekend, on May 20th, Jacksonville State University is welcoming the cyclists and their families to the area by holding the first Jacksonville Arts & Music (JAM) Fest on campus. This family friendly event will showcase what Calhoun County has to offer with music and drama performances, several food vendors, and local artists.

Blog Interview by: Mackenzie Harris Corbin

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