Cheaha Challenge reveals strong entry for the UCI Gran Fondo World Series Qualifier

Riders from 22 states across America have registered

The Cheaha Challenge century ride is America’s qualifying race for the UCI’s Gran Fondo World Series.

Over 500 riders have already registered with up to 1,000 riders expected. Riders from all over the world are planning to take part in the century ride, the UCI qualifying distance, in Alabama this May 21st 2017.

International riders are coming from as far afield as the UK, Canada, China, Iran, and Mexico and all over Europe.

Riders finishing in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place or in the top 25% of their age group in the Century Ride, will qualify for the 2017 UCU Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi, France in late August, and a shot at one of the World Champion Rainbow Jerseys.

In recent years the growth in numbers has come from the growing popularity of newest ULTRA distance, a tougher 124 mile challenge with over 12,835 feet. The epic final climb, Chimney Peak, includes a 22% grade, forcing many cyclists to dismount.

But this year’s ride has naturally seen an increase in entries for the century ride, as riders gear up in a bid to qualify for the UCI World Championships.

UCI Qualifying Course Preview

So here’s what an the increasing number of Gran Fondo riders expect on the day, as we preview the century ride course giving riders a detailed view of the course, the climbs.

Riders will roll out of Jacksonville State University heading south for what will be an unforgettable days’ riding of 100 miles and around 10,000 feet or 3,050 meters of climbing, the course suiting good climbers and endurance riders.

Riders have 4.5 miles to warm up before they hit the first climb of the day, White’s Gap, which contains around 500 feet of climbing at an average of 2-3%. It tops out at 1,160 feet. Being so early into the ride, we doubt you would see any splits in the Peloton, but riders will need to be attentive and we would expect a surge on the lower slopes in an attempt for the stronger riders to be at the front of the Peloton.

After a gentle descent for the next few miles the course is relatively flat and undulating for the next 10 miles. It would be here that we would recommend riders start to think about refueling in the first hour of riding.

After passing through White Plains and turning sharp left after 2 miles the next significant climb starts onto Skyway Mountain Way - Heflin Mountain. The gradient increases to 6%, flattens off before rising up to 9-10%. The climb is around 2 miles long. 

There is a short descent and the road undulates, but there won’t be much time to recover as the next climb of Horseblock kicks in after 30 miles. This is a half a mile climb with gradients reaching 10% in places, topping out at 1,375 feet.

There’s no let up as the aptly named climb of Not Again - rears its ugly head almost straight away.

Straight afterwards the aptly named climb of On Shift! arrives.

You may laugh but this is no joke! These three successive climbs will have riders in and out of their comfort zones and will no doubt result in another selection of riders at the very front of the race.

It is key at this point to be really focusing on fueling and recovery, before the main climb of the day arrives, the 3+ mile climb of Mount Cheaha.

Mount Cheaha climb is exactly as billed, 3+ miles with around 1,300 feet of climbing. At this stage in the ride we recommend you remain within your threshold and not instinctively follow wheels. The start of the climb reaches gradients of 13% before returning to around 5% with a slight kick at the very top at 2,400 feet.

However, and this is a big however, the 3 mile climb of Mount Cheaha is also the KOM/QOM competition, so you may decide to throw all advice out of the window and burn more of your matches going for the KOM/QOM gold!

It’s pretty much downhill for 6 miles and this is where recovery and refueling are important as the top of the next climb of Adam’s Gap signifies the halfway mark and the turn for home. Adam’s Gap is around 1 mile with gradients of up to 8%.

At this stage, those remaining in the lead group can start to think about raising their game and laying some cards out on the table, as the reverse climb of Mount Cheaha awaits.

This will probably be another key part of the selection process for those remaining at the front of the race, after nearly 60 miles. The reverse trio of Oh Shift!, Not Again and Horseblock will further test riders ability to handle successive onslaughts of shorter sharper climbs - so endurance will be key.

The small climb of Helfin Mountain signifies the start of the final run into the finish. Those remaining at the very front of the race can start to think about tactics, go early and hope to crest White’s Gap ahead, or wait patiently for the final sprint at JSU!

Remember to qualify it’s a podium step in your age category or 25% overall, so smarter riders don’t necessarily need to finish first, but in the top 25% of the field, which will make for some interesting dynamics of being right at the front of the race or riding at your own predetermined pace.

Whatever the result, anyone finishing the century ride will deserve a medal!

This is a tough course, with some short sharp shocks, tough, longer climbs and amazing scenery. A day you’ll never forget, riding some of the best climbs in America with riders from all over world.

Cheaha Challenge Century Ride - UCI Qualifying Course Profile

Cheaha Challenge Century Ride - UCI Qualifying Course Profile


The ULTRA Course

For riders wanting the ultimate challenge, the ULTRA course rides the same course of the Century ride with the additional demented twists.

After 87 miles on the way back to JSU, riders turn left and tackle the arduous climb of Bain’s Gap with its 15% slopes twice, before proceeding onto additional climbs on Chinch Creek Loop and Cotaquilla, finally arriving back in Jacksonville after 118 miles.

But the challenge isn’t over, the final onslaught is the fearsome and legendary climb of Chimney Peak, which includes gradients of 22%, forcing many cyclists to dismount.

With over 12,835 feet or 3,912 meters of climbing it’s one of the toughest one day bike rides in North America and rivals some of the toughest Gran Fondo’s in Europe like the Gran Fondo Stelvio in the Italian Alps or the Gran Fondo Marmotte in the French Alps.

Chapeau to anyone completing the ULTRA ride!

Don’t worry! For mere mortals there’s the 24, 44, 62 and 84 mile routes to suit all abilities of cyclists so everyone can enjoy some of the best cycling in Alabama.

The Cheaha Challenge ULTRA Course Profile


Prizes and Cash Awards

For riders entering any of the distances of 100 and 124 miles there are prizes on offer. A listing of all the awards offered are on the Cheaha Challenge website

New for 2017 for the ULTRA is KOM/QOM to the ULTRA course. The second competition starts at the base of Chimney Peak, goes 1.6 miles to the top where it finishes at Rest Stop #7, the final stop on the course. Winners get cash awards and KOM/QOM custom jerseys!

Friends and Family Welcome!

New for 2017 is transport to the TOP OF ALABAMA! Organizers offer transport to Rest Stop #4 inside Cheaha State Park for family/friends of the riders to spectate and cheers riders on!

The transport leaves Jacksonville State University shortly after the start of the ride. The organizers discourage any independent traffic on the courses, so this is a way to allow cheerleaders to be a part of the ride and encourage their cyclists as they complete the first KOM/QOM – 3+ Mile Climb, which finishes at Rest Stop #4.

Buffets, Brews and Bands

Gran Fondos are known for having great food and beer, and the Cheaha Challenge will impress. They have a fantastic pre-ride pasta dinner buffet, catered by Classic on Noble, beer supplied by Mellow Mushroom and the crazy-popular band, South of Heaven.

On the ride morning, they offer a delicious and nutritious breakfast buffet. The post-ride buffet will feature local southern favorite, barbeque from Cooter’s Barbeque, beer from Cheaha Brewery, and two awesome bands – Robby & Marc and Cornbread Killers. (Note: All buffets will include vegetarian options.)

Riders, family and friends will be able to relax, enjoy and celebrate a tremendous day out.

Training Sessions and Ride the Course

The Cheaha Challenge holds training rides on the actual Cheaha Challenge course throughout spring.

Training Ride Coordinator, Darin Sims, will lead coordinated training events, the remaining training sessions are on April 15th and May 6th.

For More Information

For full details of the challenges, the prizes and what’s on offer, please head over to

Adam´s Gap on the UCI Qualifier Course after 50 miles of racing at the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo

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