You know how it feels when you finish a good book? You’ve gotten to know the characters and for a brief period of time they became a part of your life. Over the course of the chapters you have become acquainted and have gone on an emotional journey with them. And then there is that last page. The finality of that last period is crushing. You don’t want it to end. You still have so many questions, so many ‘what ifs’, so many open endings.
That’s how I felt yesterday. With an event hangover from too much excitement, too little sleep and too much time spent in the aircon of the press center, I got on my bike and rode through Richmond one last time.
The barricades and grandstands were still standing but where hundreds of thousands of people had stood the day before, now the streets were eerily quiet. The rare hand flag, flyer or rubbish lay discarded in the gutter but the streets were already surprisingly clean, devoid of any proof that cycling’s biggest event had taken over Richmond for the past nine days.
But as the last athletes, journos and officials were trickling out of the Virginian capitol and returning it to the locals, the airport was filled with the Who’s Who of cycling. UCI President Brian Cookson scrolled through something on his phone as he patiently waited to board; Linda Villumsen –still smiling after finally winning the time trial world title –made small talk as she held a ticket to Rio in her hand, already taking the first steps toward her new goal of Olympic gold; and newly-crowned world road racing champion Peter Sagan posed good-naturedly for photos with the few brave enough to ask.
The road season had come to an end, and the post-event-blues are strong.
But what a tremendously exciting season it had been, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I got to experience the culmination of it all in Richmond for nine days.
Here are some of the highlights of Richmond 2015:
– Rainbow fever in the USA
This was the first time the US had hosted a world championship in 29 years –and only the second time ever — and they knocked it out of the park. The state capital of 217,000 inhabitants quadrupled in size for the week, welcoming an estimated 645,000 spectators for the races. The gracious host put forward around 3000 volunteers and hundreds of police officers to make the event–which they simply called “THE bike race” –run smoothly. Roads were repaved, accommodations built and events planned. For the nine days in Richmond there were festivals, bicycle-themed museum exhibitions, movies, bike rides and entertainment for visitors of all ages. Richmond, you done good.
– Street art
One of my personal favourite things about Richmond was all the graffiti art around town. A local told me that while graffiti wasn’t uncommon before the lead-up to “the bike race,” the city welcomed artists from Washington D.C. and other nearby cities to use the city as their canvas. The art was a way to actually discourage tagging and other vandalism behaviour.
– New rainbow winner and podium finishers
In the last 10 years, Marianne Vos has been on the Worlds podium no less than eight times; Georgia Bronzini, Nicole Cook and Emma Johannson each three times.
Women’s cycling has grown significantly this past decade and it showed going into this race. There must have been at least a dozen pre-race favourites and even for the ‘experts’ it was a tough race to predict. The racing would be hard, and we knew we’d likely see a new winner. And we did. This wasn’t just Lizzie Armitstead’s first win, this was her first time on the worlds podium. Same goes for Anna van der Breggen and Megan Guarnier. For the sport as a whole, it’s really good to see new faces and a depth of talent.
– Evelyn Stevens being reunited with her bike
— Evelyn Stevens (@evelyn_stevens) September 19, 2015
For American rider Evelyn Stevens, her time in Richmond started poorly when her racing bike was stolen. Thanks to social media and the press announcement regarding the missing bike, the Richmond Police Department quickly recovered Stevens’ bike, just in time for the races. Well done, Richmond.
Unfortunately, Boels-Dolman teammate Megan Guarnier’ wasn’t so lucky, however. Her bike and custom helmet went missing the week prior and have yet to be recovered.
Riding racing a world championship course
Sports Backers put on a really fun event the evening before the elite road races would take place. Titled Conquer the Cobbles, the event gave registrants a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride the closed-off world championship race course while spectators cheering from the Libby Hill beer garden gave it a race-like feel. Many took this event as a chance to snag up some Strava segments before the pros got to it. Despite the fact that this event was marketed as a ride for all ages and abilities and it was held at night, in the dark and in the rain, men showed up in skinsuits and full-on race bikes anyway, ready to race. George Hincapie himself led us out, and I –on my cyclocross bike with limited gearing –held on for dear life. We were ripping through the course and it was getting awfully slippery as the rain picked up. Sure enough, we weren’t even 10 kilometres into the course before the first wipe outs started to happen. Before we even reached Libby Hill, three crashes had taken out a good amount of participants. One lap at fast speeds was plenty for me, as I like my bike and body to be in one piece, but I will say that it was a blast to ride a world championship race course in that setting and then watching the pros do it the next day.
“It was one of the most edgy and thrilling events I have seen in my time in Richmond,” – Max Hepp-Buchanan, a Sports Backers employee.
And it seems to have paid off, at least 1400 riders were willing to pay $150USD a pop for the opportunity to ride the Worlds course in a closed-off environment.
– Libby Hill and all the fans
Libby Hill was THE place to be during the races. Walls of fans cheered no matter what kit you were wearing. In fact, those popped off the back received the biggest cheers of all the racers. A deafening cacophony of cheers, cowbells, vuvuzelas and clapping fueled riders to the top of the cobbles.
Libby Hill was incredible. This is the best world’s I have ever done. The crowd was so loud – Joëlle Numainville of Canada
– Save racing
When multiple teams crashed out of the team time trial training event and rain loomed in the forecast, first-responders and mechanics braced themselves. Luckily, the racing was relatively safe and but a few unlucky riders ended up with a visit to the hospital. “All I could think about was how bad road rash would look with my wedding dress,” commented Evelyn Stevens after a damp road race. She celebrated her bachelorette party after the road race on Saturday.
– A bike throw in a nail-biting TT
How thrilling was that TT finish? Five-time podium finisher Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) finally got her rainbow jersey after winning by just two-and-a-half seconds. Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen, the second to last person to start, came dangerously close. Pushing the last bit of energy out of her body with a bike throw at the line, she came just 2.54 seconds short. Defending champion Lisa Brennauer (Germany) gained a tremendous amount of time in the last bit of the race and came barrelling down the finishing straight. When she finished just 5.26 seconds short, relief and a giant smile came across Villumsen’s face. She had done it. It took 10 years but she finally did it.
– The riding
Riding through the Civil War battlefields just outside of Richmond, Va. A photo posted by Rapha North America (@rapha_n_america) on
The riding in and around Richmond proved to be very lovely. Whether you joined Rapha, one of the local bike shops or clubs, there were plenty of rides being organised every day of the championship week, each highlighting some of the best riding around. From the scenic Riverside Drive to singletrack on Belle Island, if you ever find yourself in Richmond, be sure you bring or rent a bike.