Saturday, September 26, 2015

UCI Road World Championships - Day 6 and 7

Day 6 

2 races by Top Riders, 1 ride, mostly by has-beens…..

Today was a very long day for the workers in Richmond as the first race went off at 9:00 am as the Junior Women took off for their Road Course Championship and the last “ride” ended at 9:00 pm for all of the cycling aficionados willing to pony up a chunk of cash to ride the course. (Me included!)

The Junior Women’s race was a fairly short 4 lap, or 64 km affair with about 100 or so riders. I was acting as a Course Marshal on Main street at 5th, in the middle of a descent where it levels off. As a result, my partner and I had to alert the police working the intersection below us that riders were coming and to stop traffic.

The races are beginning to gain more spectators as people were coming out of their buildings/offices/jobs for a few minutes at a time to watch the riders fly past. There was much cowbell ringing, clapping and woohooing by the spectators. I saw riders grin several times when they went past and heard something that tickled them.

In the end, Chloe Dygert (USA) and Emma White (USA) finished 1-2 the same as they did in the individual time trial. Third place was scored by Agnieszka Skainiak (Poland) who was immediately awarded a pronounceable nickname (Anne) at the ceremony.

The second race was the U23 Men’s Road Race and the riders charged around for 10 laps or 100.8 miles on the same course. (The same course is used for all of the Road races with the exception of the elite men who will start at the University of Richmond and ride into town before doing 16 laps of the course.)

There was a larger field for this group with about 150 riders taking part. It was quite a rush when that group came charging down the hill where I was standing. The chase cars were working hard to hang with them and a couple nearly got airborne at my post.

In the end, Kevin Ledanois (FRA) just eked out a win over Simone Consonnini (Italy – like you couldn’t tell) when he held him off in the final sprint by a bike length. They were so close, they each were credited with the same time of 3:45:54.

The second half of the race was run in the rain causing some difficult conditions, especially in the cobbled climbs. One rider was unable to navigate the 23rd street climb in an early lap but the cajoling of spectators really got him to bear down the rest of the way. Crashes, however, occurred on the wet painted lines of the course which took out riders on two separate occasions.

Conquer the Cobbles – choose your method

When the announcement was made that anyone would have the chance to ride the championship course by paying a fee (which raised funds for the Sports Backers, a local sports support group) I was on the website in seconds.

Look, I’m an old guy and I ride purely for fun and exercise. Every once in a while, I enjoy a ride where I’m able to perform as if I were an athlete (I was when I was a kid). I’ve never gotten to anything even remotely like a World Championship (National Junior Frisbee Champion is the best I can give you) and since this is the second time they’ve been held in the US I figured I’d be dead before the next one happens. So, I better strike while the iron is hot!

Last night, about 1,400 of us like minded folks arrived at Sports Backers Stadium ready to take on the course in a ride called, Conquer the Cobbles. My buddy, Greg, and I met in the starting corral with the other 15-17 mph riders. We would leave from there, ride down Hermitage road about a mile and join the course on Monument Avenue for as many laps as we could manage before they closed the course at the same spot at 8:30.

I figured we could make 2 laps but I was willing to go a third if time allowed. (If the gate hadn’t been closed by the time I got there, I’m guessing I’d have waited until they closed it.)

While waiting for the start, I met several people from out of town who had come for the ride. One guy was from SLC, another from St. Louis, and a third from Alpharetta GA, just outside of Atlanta. Evidently, this is a big deal.

At 7:00 sharp, they played the National Anthem; most riders remembered to doff their helmets. And then, they rolled out the 20+ mph group. Five minutes later, the 18-20 mph group left. Finally, about 7:10 our group was released to follow our own police escort down the road to the course.

And so we ride!

The weather was iffy and had been spitting rain as we waited to leave. As soon as we got on the road, it began to rain in earnest; steady but not a downpour. The ride to the course was uneventful thanks to the police escort. Every cross street was blocked off and it was very cool to have people sitting in traffic get out of their cars and applaud us as we went past.

I’m more used to people waving at me without using all of their fingers.
After about a mile, we came through the barriers onto the course at Monument Avenue and began pedaling. In front of me, all I could see were blinking red lights (lights were required fore and aft for all riders) and in my rear view mirror all I saw were white lights, either blinking or constant. The rain had caused sunset to be a little premature on this night so things were darker than normal.

After a short ride, we were making a U-turn at an intersection and powering up the other side of Monument. As we rode, families had turned out and were standing at the barriers, screaming, applauding, ringing cowbells, and just having a really good time. Even in the rain! It was one of the coolest bike experiences I’ve ever had.

Cobbles Ahoy!

The course wound through the city, down along the river, into Shockoe Bottom, parallel to the new Cap2Cap trail before turning back and heading up to the hills. We rolled up an incline near Shiplock park and then I saw Poe’s Pub, a famous Richmond watering hole. The course turned to the right just before Poe’s and switched back up Libby Hill, the first of the cobbles. It wasn’t all that difficult a hill to ride but the wet cobbles were incredibly slick. Two riders in front of me suddenly stopped about halfway up and when I tried to go around, my back tire lost traction and I had to stop to avoid a fall. I walked the rest of the way to the top, a little upset with myself for not pre-riding this in preparation.

I remounted and started down the hill after the climb, turning back and forth. I made a right turn and there it was; 23rd street loomed in my vision. From where I was, it looked like a brown wall with a large group of blinking red lights going up it. The early riders were scaling it, either on the bike or pushing it. I had a feeling I knew what my method was going to be.

Never the less, I charged up the hill and shifted down to my lower gears in preparation of the hill. (It’s an 18% grade.) I got about 20 yards up it before someone had stopped in front of me and I dismounted and began pushing. If riding wet cobbles is hard, walking them in cleated shoes while pushing your bike is worse. I almost fell several times but managed to keep my feet under me all the way to the top. (Conquered? More like survived.)

I remounted again and headed down the next hill which was a tricky descent back to the Bottom. Once there, it was a straight shot up Main Street and then a left on Governor’s street. This is also a rather steep climb of about 350 meters. I managed to stay on my bike and charge up it to make the right on Broad Street and head to the finish line.

At that point, I tried to shift back up to the big ring on my bike and discovered it wouldn’t do so. I was forced to ride in the small ring the rest of the way which reduced my speed (like that was a factor, dude) but it did leave me able to climb. (Sidebar – I tried to fix it this morning and ended up having to take it to the shop. One of the shifters needs to be replaced, just 4 months past warranty. Yep.)

Second Lap

As we headed up Broad, through the finish line on the course, we were treated to multiple waves of celebration by the spectators again. It was just so amazing that people would stand in the rain and do this for us! It really made it worthwhile.

Another few minutes and we’d completed our first lap. I looked at my watch and knew there was no way we were going to complete a second in time for a third. When I pointed this out to Greg, he mentioned that it wouldn’t break his heart if we only rode two. Me either.

The second lap went about like the first one for me. I was unable to complete either of the cobbled climbs (although Greg did both of them the second time around!) but the ride was still wonderful. Plenty of people still out, still cheering. And when I came upon people who were standing there and not cheering, I’d let out a whoop and they’d answer back. It was great fun.

One funny thing I heard as I was grinding up Governor’s hill the second time. I was laboring up the right side next to the barriers. A guy was exhorting all of us to keep going and when he heard me wheezing past he yelled out, “Keep going! Pain is just weakness leaving the body!” Clearly, a former high school football coach, there.

The Return

We turned off the course where we’d entered and headed back through town. People that were out cheered us as we rode past. I couldn’t believe all of these people appearing to give a shit for cyclists. It was really amazing.

To the victors, go the spoils!
We turned back into the Stadium parking lot. I got into line and grabbed a drink, a banana, and my medal for the ride. I was soaked to the skin and, while I wasn’t cold, I knew I needed to get a shower and into some dry clothing. I rode Fast Eddy back to where I’d parked my car and loaded him onto the bike rack, climbed inside, and headed for home with a big grin on my face.

Hey Richmond! You were great! Thanks!

Day 7

Two more Races!

Today I was a marshal at a great corner of the course, Main and Belvidere. Here the riders came down a gentle hill, made a sharp left turn and accelerated up to Broad Street. I could also see them come from Broad and turn right onto Grace Street before they go to my post. It was a prime viewing spot for spectators as many would walk back and forth between the two corners and get two for one spectator value.

Despite intermittent rain, nothing of any consequence happened at my corner. I truly expected to see someone go down there as the speeds they were carrying down the hill coupled with the wet white lines looked like a recipe for crashing.


In the Junior Men’s race in the morning, Felix Gall (Austria) just nicked Clement Betouigt-Suire (France – ya think?) at the line for the win. Rasmus Pedersen (Denmark) finished third, another second back.

In the afternoon, the Elite Women’s Road Race took place with Elizabeth Armitstead (Great Britain) won by a wheel over Anna Van Der Breggen (Netherlands – duh) and Megan Guarnier (USA)


I’ve now spoken with people from the following countries who came to Richmond to watch the races: France, Germany, Belgium, Ecuador, Colombia, South Africa, Morocco, Canada (eh?) Spain, England, Ireland, and Italy. How cool is that?

I’ve also met and spoken with people from all over the US who have come to Richmond to do the same thing. This is also very cool!

If we can finish off the races tomorrow with no problems, I’ll be truly able to say, “This week, Richmond was a world class city!”

I’ve never expected to say that. Ever.

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