Nine days ago, I didn't consider myself a cycling fan. Sure, I knew about it and had seen it before, but I didn't follow it as much as I did several other sports. Perhaps I fell into the stereotype that we've heard in the weeks and months leading up to the World Championships' arrival: cycling is a sport not popular in the United States. Some questioned why this event was even being held here.
Richmond answered the call with flying colors. For nine days, we were the center of the cycling universe. The River City became a global melting pot of athletes and fans, as we hosted the best cyclists in the world. Organizers and personnel, along with hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement officers and local businesses helped make Richmond feel like a cycling town.
Let's start with the riders. Personally, it didn't take me long to feel the excitment. We saw the cyclists from different nations riding around the streets of our communities. Supporters of countries began popping up around town as everybody got familiar with the lay of the land. Once the races started, I was hooked. I got caught up in the excitement of watching the clock and the athletes in the hot seat waiting to see if their times would hold up.
How about the road races? 100-200 riders on the course at a time, making turns within inches of their fellow cycists on every side of them, is a must-see. We've seen it on TV at the Tour de France, etc, but to see that calibur of racing in person was pretty incredible, at least I thought so. The energy around the sport was contagious.
But what struck me the most were the fans. We saw onlookers from all over the globe, proudly flying their nations' flags and wearing their colors. We heard the crowd scream and bang on the railings as the athletes flew down Broad Street. We saw fans of numerous countries pack onto the grass at Libby Hill, an image that will likely be stamped in the minds of many cyclists and spectators alike, long after this week. Even the global media, which consisted of about 500 people from about 45 countries, were impressed, at least from the accounts I heard.
If you went to any of the events, how many people did you meet, and where were they all from? Standing along the course, I asked the person on either side of me where home was. The answers: Norway, Italy, Spain, Denmark, France...the list goes on. Do you know what spoke volumes to me? Not one person had one bad thing to say about Richmond. They raved about the city and the hospitality of its citizens. Several of them commented about how it felt like cycling belonged here.
Residents of the city and surrounding communities: great job! You showed up. Maybe you did it just to see what it was like, maybe you went for part of a race and went home, but you showed up. The streets were lined with people at every turn. You created an environment that these athletes said rivaled places in Europe, and that's a huge compliment.
This was huge for Richmond. Did you see how it looked during the television coverage? It was great. The aerial shots from the helicopter, the close-ups of the cyclists competing, the shots coming back from commercials...it looked like a place where an international sporting event belonged, and it did so with the world watching.
Many of us took a peek not knowing what to expect, then left with a favorite rider and a new appreciation for the sport, how it can envelop a town and the hard work and countless hours, months and years to put on an event like this. Elite athletes, positive cheers, a bigtime environment, handshakes, hospitality and well wishes...that's what I've taken from the World Cycling Championships.
Nine days ago, I didn't consider myself a cycling fan. I certainly do now.