After three decades away, world cycling championships return to US

The nine-day Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Cycling Championships are being held in Richmond, Va., the first time in nearly 30 years that the event has been on US soil. 

Lisa Suhay
Fans line the finish, pounding on the barriers in support of teams finishing the first day of the 2015 Cycling Road World Championships in Richmond, Va. on Sunday.
Lisa Suhay
Caption: A cycling mural in Richmond, Virginia where the 2015 Cycling Road World Championships are being hosted this week.

After a 30-year absence, the UCI Road World Cycling Championships has returned to the United States for a nine-day event, bringing with it a turning point for American competitive road cycling and its fans.

Signs placed at major bends in the Richmond, Va., course grandly state, “The world turns here.” So, too, may the future of American road cycling which, if all goes well in Richmond, may see more cities reaching for the opportunity to host world-class events such as this one. The last time the event was held in the United States was in 1986 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Richmond outbid Quebec City and the Arabian country of Oman to host the $20 million event, which runs from Sept. 19 to 27. The city has hosted major cycling events such as the Tour de Trump (later renamed the Tour DuPont) and the CapTech Classic.

According to the the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), Richmond 2015 is expected to generate $158.1 million, from both event staging and visitor spending with an expected state tax revenue of $5 million.

“Americans are starved for top-level racing." says former pro cyclist Todd Gogulski, who broadcasts for Universal Sports Network and who covered the event the last time it was in the US, in an interview. "Whenever racing comes to America, America turns out to see it.”

“It’s awesome to have the 'worlds' back in the US after so long,” Mr. Gogulski says. “I think there’s just a lot of anticipation in the US market. We’ve seen a lot of pent-up interest in world championships than there was before. The fan base has just completely changed, evolved.”

According to Gogulski, the 1984 Olympics brought cycling to the attention of the American public, and the 1986 World Championships held in Colorado Springs culminated in Tour de France victories of Greg LeMond and the now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

The World Championships is made up of 12 races, men’s and women’s, each race crowning a new world champion.

The world’s top cyclists from 75 countries will compete, for an expected total of about 450,000 fans, according to a UCI Economic Impact Study.

Sunday saw the Team Time Trial, men’s and women’s. BMC Racing and Velocio won the first gold medals of the championships.

Sporting a USA Cycling cap, 7-year-old Maisy Wiseman, watched the teams pass her and her father at between 55-60 miles per hour on the descent down Main Street on Sunday.

“I thought they were going like a bajillion miles an hour,” she said after several teams had sped by. “I’ve seen [a] bike race before, but not as big as this.”

Asked if she was glad the race was in America, Maisy answered, “You bet!”

Afterward, American cyclist Danny Pate of Team Sky said in an interview, “I like the course. It’s great to have it back at home. It’ll be interesting to see how many people come out for the road race. Hopefully we’ll get a big turnout for that.”

The time trials continue through mid-week. A free app is available for both iPhone and Android with race schedules and other useful information for those wishing to attend not just the races, but also the festivals and concerts.

Two fans sure to be in attendance are Jeffry and Tiffany Silverberg of Florida, parents of the youngest rider in the series, Jake Silverberg, age 19.

“We never thought we’d see him in America. Never in America,” says Mr. Silverberg. “We almost made it to see him in Spain, but then it didn’t happen. So this is the first time we’re seeing him in a world event. This is a great city. Friendly people. Beautiful location and the weather is perfect. I hope we see many more world-class events in the United States.”

Janet Inwood, a nurse with VCU Health, and her wife are local course marshals and hospitality volunteers for the Richmond 2015 organization. Ms. Inwood says in an interview that the couple “took the entire week off from work just to insure that events run smoothly in hopes of furthering American cycling.”

“I attended the Tour de France last year and I’m so glad this event is in my city today. I’m happy for everyone who wants to see cycling grow in America,” Inwood adds.

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