Thursday, September 24, 2015

UCI World Road Championships - 2015 Richmond VA

Day 5

No races but a Legend appears

Today was a training day, meaning that no races were scheduled but the Road Course was set up (from 10:00 to Noon) for the riders to get some time on their bikes and check out the course. It also gave fans a chance to see all of the riders in very laid back atmosphere; smiles, autographs, conversations and positive mojo was all over the place.

Reports that I read seemed to indicate that crowds were plentiful with thousands of people lining up around the course. Not surprising. It was an absolutely beautiful day with bright sun and temperatures around 75. There was a light breeze, too.

I had signed up to volunteer as a Fan Fest Ambassador. I learned upon showing up at the appointed time that my role was to invite fans into the Fan Fest from outside or walk around and answer questions. Evidently, a number of people hadn’t been able to find the Fan Fest despite a lot of signage outside around the building.

I spent time walking around the floor before it opened to get an understanding of where all the vendors were located, along with food, bathroom locations, and water stations. By the time I’d walked the complete floor, the doors had opened  and people were streaming in.

The initial rush was pretty strong and I was engaged with answering questions and directing people for about the first hour. By then it was noon so I trotted outside to see what was going on out there. The practice session had ended on the course and people were beginning to move away from the fencing. A good many were heading to the entrance to the building so headed by inside; there were plenty of other volunteers directing people to the entrances so I figured that was covered.

Another hour or so went by. A woman from New Jersey began asking me some questions and then made mention of “it was great that Merckx was making an appearance.” I did a double take and asked her to repeat what she’d just said. When she did, I was beside myself! Eddy Merckx* is my one cycling hero and he was here!

I thanked her for the information and started walking around trying to figure out where he might be.

UCI 2016 – Doha, Qatar

In the middle of Fan Fest is a gorgeous booth, the biggest one in the show, devoted to next year’s World’s. This booth is a celebration of the city Doha, Qatar. For the first time, the UCI will take its World Championships to the Middle East.

The organizers have done a wonderful job with this booth, showing all the wonders of the area, the luxury of the country (Incredible wealth) and the beauty of its

people. Each corner of the booth has some kind of display inviting people to make the journey next year. In the middle are small meeting tables and a couple of sofas and easy chairs.

Qatar Delegation with GOAT
When I walked up this afternoon, there were extremely well-dressed servants handing out hor’s d’oeuvres to the many people crowding the booth. I grabbed a date (it was delicious!) from one of the trays and eased my way into the crowd, working my way towards the furniture in the middle.

Sitting in the middle of one sofa, in very animated conversation who I took to be officials from Doha, was Eddy Merckx. There was laughter and smiles, hand shaking, all being carried out in French.

After about 15 minutes, all of the people on the furniture stood up and there was a great deal of jostling as people took photos. Phones were being handed back and forth for people to take pictures of the group; I took a few myself. At one point, Merckx handed his phone to me and asked me to take a picture of the group. I took a few quick ones and handed it back to him.

Meeting the Legend

A few minutes passed and I waited until they broke up. Finally, Eddy came walking out of the crowd and I stepped in front of him and asked if the pictures turned out
The Cannibal and
giddy Fan!
okay. He smiled and said thanks for taking them. I asked if he’d let me take a selfie and he said, “Sure!”

AS I pulled my phone up to take the shot, I mentioned that I couldn’t believe I was standing next to the greatest cyclist of all time. He touched my arm and said, “Is that what you think?” I told him that I knew it to be true. As I was snapping the picture, he said, “I’ve got a bridge in Belgium to sell you.” And I laughed at his joke and that’s what made this shot look so stupid.

Just the same, I got to meet him, chat for a moment and shake his hand. He was very gracious.

Fan Fest

This is a great show for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. There are some great cycling gear booths (Trek, Specialized, and a bunch of smaller builders and accessory makers) and booths for tourism, health care, food, wine, beer, cookies, decorations, and of course, UCI and Richmond 2015 cycling and casual outfits.

After each race ends, the podium ceremony takes place in the Fan Fest on a really big, glitzy stage. It’s a great celebration space. If you’re in Richmond any of the next 3 days, I recommend a visit to the races and Fan Fest. You won’t be sorry!

*Eddy Merckx was a professional cyclist from Belgium who won his first race in 1961 (at the age of 16) and his last in 1978 – a total of 525 races (out of 1800 entered) including eleven Grand Tours, four Grand Tour doubles (he won 2 in the same year, four times!) and in 1974 won the Giro, the Tour de France and the World Road Championships; cycling’s first triple crown. He was nicknamed The Cannibal by a fellow rider who told his spouse that, “Merckx only leaves the bones for all of us; he’s a cannibal.”
His record speaks for itself and he has no peers – not then and not now. He was the Greatest of All Time.

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