UCI 2015 Bicycle Race in Richmond

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This race is huge. Huge. World-Wide. Organizers said to expect 400,000 people. We were confused by that, but it turned out to be the total number of people attending all of the races. (Not the number of visitors to Richmond looking for hotel rooms.) And apparently, we blew that estimate away.

Opening Ceremonies on Brown’s Island. A little marching around with flags. A little music. Some speeches. A pleasant summer evening.

The week of racing ended with Elite Women on Saturday and Elite Men on Sunday. Oh. My. Goodness.

On Friday the Brompton folks sponsored a race where you had to dress for work (coat, tie) run to your Brompton. Unfold it. And then race the circuit.

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Some of the time trials and various age groups involve a number of different routes. The elite races were on the primary “Road Circuit”: a 10-mile loop through town. 

For the elite men, the final race on Sunday was 16 laps. Over 160 miles at an average speed of over 20 mph. Insanity. And don’t forget the cobblestones.

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Of course, the streets are closed. There are barricades everywhere.

Some streets (Main, Broad, and Monument) are being used in both directions. This means barricades along the sides and an extra barricade down the middle to separate the two halves of the track from each other.

A proper international crowd has assembled. There must be racers from 100 countries. We’ve seen serious bike racing fans from Norway, Ecuador, Colombia, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Sweden, England, and Denmark. I’m sure there were more.

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Fans are draped in national colors. Or sometimes just wearing a team T-shirt. Or a team bike hat. There are “trade” teams as well as national teams. A bunch of fans are rooting for “Sky”. We had to ask. It’s a British TV network.

The televised coverage on the weekend was fun.

I’ve watched my share of Tour de France coverage on the TV (back when I had a TV.) It’s very scenic, but it’s some place in France I couldn’t even find on a map without the ESPN narration and commentary.

Glance at the Jumbotron TV in the fan zone, and we knew exactly where they were. Out Broad. Left on Belvidere.  Right to head west on Monument. A very long scenic run down the flat divided road. This is the place to attack before the insane U-turn at Davis Ave. Then back part-way on the other side of Monument. 

If you didn’t get your attack in, you’re stuck for a few blocks. The course goes right on Lombardy to shoot down to Main, then a hard left onto Belvidere to go back up to Broad. After only eight blocks on the wide, flat Broad there's a hard right to shoot down 2nd street to take a left onto Main.

They come flying east down the long hill of Main from 2nd street to Canal street, right past the front door to our building. I watched the first few laps of the men’s race from here. They have twelve blocks (almost 2km) downhill ending in a hard right onto Canal. This is a place to attach, knowing there’s that right turn where everyone will bunch up. There are just three blocks on Canal before the hard left onto Dock street. 

Dock street is as flat as Monument. Wide open, along the old canal, under the railroad tracks. If you’re going to attack, that’s another opening. At Rockett’s Landing, there’s a U-turn on Nicholson back up to Main. 

And then the pain begins.

The first cobblestone hill is the switchback path up Libby Hill. We watched the peloton charge up the hill. The noise of the fans is outrageous. They had bands. Food trucks. Big TV. Announcer. Celebrities like former Olympic Gold Medalist

They come roaring out of the park on 29th, left on Franklin, left on 25th to Main.

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They only get two blocks on Main before the next challenge. The cobblestones of 23rd street. For the elite races, there another immense crowd here cheering the riders up the cobbles. 

CA took a picture of a junior race where the grass is open with only a few people watching.

After the right on Broad, the attacks can begin again. There’s a five-block downhill followed by a wide left onto 18th; three blocks later it’s a wide right onto Main. Then a long downhill to Shockoe Bottom where Main starts going back up.

The final big hill is “Governor’s Hill” which we think of as 13th. The street actually goes diagonally from 13th to 12th. It’s a hard right off main, and a place to cut off the competition who were trying to attack on the last run down main.

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The top of the climb is a gentle left turn onto Broad where it’s maybe a kilometer to the finish line at 5th street. 

They had a fan zone at the top of this turn. I watched the entire women’s race from here. The TV was positioned so you could watch them until they got the the hill, then you could see the racers go flying by, and then back to the TV for the next lap.

We watched the end of the men’s race from the bar at Seven Hills Brewing. This is at the turn from Canal to Dock, so we could see the breakaway leaders and the Peleton fly past, then check the TV for status. 

Preliminary estimates put the fans at something like 645,000 people. We watched three races, so there’s some duplication in that count. But the roar of the crowds at the cobblestones hinted at a huge gathering of fans.

This is a coveted sporting event, so we’re unlikely to see it again in Richmond any time soon. Perhaps other US cities will bid for this. Perhaps Richmond will get some other races and position itself as a cycling destination.

  © Steven Lott 2016