Sunday, September 27, 2015

Two Wheels Fast: UCI Road World Cycling Championships, Richmond, Virginia--September 26/27, 2015

It was time to saddle up the Corvette again for another epic trip.  For only the second time in its history the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the cycling sports world governing body, was to hold the World Road Championships in the United States and Richmond, Virginia had won the rights, in spite of some doubts by residents about the cost and inconvenience.  Essentially, the capital city of the state would have a week of significant road closures in the downtown area but, on the other hand, the whole world would be coming to watch.  Including some of us from Canada (where the UCI Worlds have been held twice as well).

It was a longish drive from Ottawa to where we would be staying with friends in Richmond, a drive of 1100 kms but no problem with the long-legged Kentucky supercar.  As part of a larger trip, we would be in Richmond for the Elite Women's race on Saturday, September 26 and then the Elite Men's race the next day.  I would have liked to see some of the time trialling (as someone who has done this kind of racing at a very amateur level) but it would have meant too much time away since those races were very early in the week.  But Greig Leach, the Official Artist of the event, was there and captured some of the action very nicely in his watercolours:

Greig Leach: "An Inspired Ride"
I have reviewed Greig's books at and we had the chance to chat with him in the Convention Center, which had been set up as Race HQ.  In addition to Greig, who works "live" on his paintings while the event takes place, there were vendors, press people and special events in the building.  Here is my review of Greig's book covering the Richmond races.

Vendors who were set up including the mega-manufacturers Trek and Specialized, along with a surprising appearance by Austro-Daimler, a name from the distant past revived.

Of particular interest to me was the Trek stand's special display of the track pursuit bike used by Jens Voigt to set a new Hour Record on September 18, 2017 at the track in Grenchen, Switzerland.  The UCI had finally tried to bring some order into the Hour Record, which after successful attacks on it using aero bikes the UCI  divided it into two categories, one for standard bikes and the other (lesser) version for aero bikes.  This meant that going after the record set by Eddy Merckx in 1972 would require using more or less the same bike as he did.  Chris Boardman was successful at this in 2000 and that record was beaten by Ondrej Sosenka in 2005 but the feeling was that the Hour Record, once considered the greatest feat in cycling, was not attracting much talent anymore.  The rules were modified in 2014 to allow the use of  a current UCI-approved track pursuit bike and Jens Voigt, on the verge of retirement, took at crack at being the first to set the "new record," which he did with 51.110 kms; neither Boardman nor Sosenka had broken 50 kms on their attempts.  Since then, the record has since been broken four times and currently stands at a remarkable 54.526 kms, set by Bradley Wiggins in June 2015.

Jens Voigt's Hour Record Bike

Definitely not Jens Voigt

Much of downtown Richmond was blocked off and we were able to find good positions to watch the women's race.  The forecast for the weekend had been for rain rain rain but we were delighted that it never happened.  The skies were overcast but there was no precipitation.  There was plenty of great racing, however.

The crowds were not overwhelming although, not unexpectedly, it was hard to get close to the finish line.  We did see the final big sprint, which ended with the UK's Lizzie Armistead taking the iconic rainbow jersey as the winner.

Sunday had a very different feeling as the Men's Elite race is one of the highlights of the racing season.  The crowds were very dense on this day and everyone was rewarded with a terrific race.  Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who had ridden a very strategic race, launched himself on one of the final climbs--I did not realize that a) Richmond has some very brutal short hills, and b) they are cobbled--and rode in at the head of the field in glorious splendour.  He not only threw his gloves and helmet into the enthusiastic crowd but waited at the finish line for other riders coming in.  It really was Party Central in Richmond, Virginia that weekend.

 In second position: the 2005 World Champion, Tom Boonen of Belgium

Andre Greipel of Germany, his work  in support of his team captain finished for the day, soft pedals to the finish.  Note the leg muscles it takes to be one of the best sprinters in the world!

 Fans from around the world were present.  Here are the Flemish ones from cycling-mad Belgium

Peter Sagan surges for the win...
In spite of the doubts, the Richmond Worlds were a success, certainly from a sporting standpoint as Peter Sagan's surging win was declared the most spectacular moment of the 2015 racing season. During the 10 days of the event, some 645,000 fans were present.  The organizers spent $23.5 million to hold the event, which would have been raised from sponsors; tt cost the City of Richmond itself around $5 million, not including street improvements and other expenses.  The overall economic impact to Richmond and the surrounding communities was estimated at $161 million.  Nice.

The southernmost part of our September trip completed, we took our leave of our friends and headed to our next stop: Mechanicsville, Virginia, where Corvette accessories were a-waiting! 

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