It’s a sweltering hot evening in Richmond, Virginia. The sun slides slowly behind the glass buildings on the skyline, casting long shadows on the old brick buildings that line the streets of downtown Richmond. At the corner of North 3rd and East Marshall Streets, the waning light glints off the windows of the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Save for a few parked cars and a small gathering of friends on the porch of a nearby apartment building, the streets are relatively bare. In just under two weeks, however, the quiet streets around the Convention Center will serve as the home for festivals, concerts, hordes of reporters, news teams, photographers, journalists, an estimated 450,000 spectators and roughly 1,000 of the world’s most talented cyclists when the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships converge on the city of Richmond.
Excitement leading up to the event began on December 21st, 2010 when Richmond entered the bidding for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, and grew seven months later when it was announced that Richmond would host the races. After several years of logistical planning by the Union Cycliste Internationale and growing anticipation for the event, the courses for the various races were finalized, and the 75 participating countries had selected their top cyclists. The annual Road World Championships, which occur annually in a different international city, feature not one race in stages, such as the Tour de France, but rather a series of individual championship races. These races, which will take place from September 19-27, include Junior and Elite races for men’s and women’s team and individual time trials, as well as the traditional road race in which athletes vie for both team and individual honors. With all races ending at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, the start of the race varies depending on the event. While the road races start and end at the Convention Center, many of the time trials begin at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, save for the Elite Men race, which starts 20 miles north of Richmond at Kings Dominion. As the race approaches, several favorites have emerged, and the cycling world has turned their attention to two Germans, Tony Martin and Lisa Brennauer, who may take the Men’s and Women’s Elite Time Trial races, respectively. In the road race, Slovakian Peter Sagan is considered a potential candidate for the victory, along with Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Because the course cuts through densely populated areas and and will draw both local spectators and avid fans of cycling from all over the world, logistical measures had to be taken, and the roads
that the course runs along will be shut down. After a brief debate, the Hanover county public school system voted to institute a holiday during the event to avoid the challenges of transporting children to school with major roads closed. These drawbacks have done little to sully Richmonders’ excitement for the race, especially those within the Richmond community of cycling fans and competitors who wait with high hopes for the event itself, and its impact on the city. Jay DeBellonia, co-founder of Richmond-M.O.R.E., a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the state of mountain biking trails in the Richmond area, looks forward to the message he hopes Worlds will bring to those not knowledgeable about cycling. “I’m hoping that it has a more positive influence on the way cycling is viewed in and around Richmond after the race. That bikes aren’t just toys for people, that there’s a whole world that revolves around bicycles outside of having one as a kid and then getting a car and forgetting about it”. Others, such as Graham Snyder, an amateur competitive cyclist and bike mechanic at 3 Sports, a sporting goods store in Richmond, look forward to the benefits of having Worlds in his hometown. “What I’m looking forward to is the event itself, I mean, being able to spectate pro-level road racers without having to go anywhere”. Pondering how the event will change Richmond, Snyder elaborated, saying, “Beyond that, the impact it will have on city planners. [The race] will be a lasting impression on their minds, and they will actually think about the bike. Yeah…hopefully it will just open people’s eyes to making the city more cycling friendly.”
Cover photo credit: Eli Christman via Wikimedia Commons