Oakley sunglasses obscure the bags under Tim Miller’s eyes. Sleep, like time, is a waning commodity for the man steering Richmond’s run-up to the 2015 Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships. Conference calls at 6 a.m. to Switzerland and 10 p.m. talks with partners in Australia sometimes stretch his workdays from eyes open to close. The long hours take their toll, but next September is only getting closer, and, oh, yeah, the world is coming.
Behind the wheel of his family SUV on a sweltering July afternoon, Miller departs Venture Richmond at the corner of Third and Canal streets for a scouting trip of next September’s elite road-race course, which will be navigated by the world’s top cyclists riding under their countries’ flags. A former competitive cyclist himself, the chief operating officer of Richmond 2015 drives the circuit periodically for planning purposes — to identify where streets will be barricaded, roads that need repaving and ideal spots for TV camera placement.
In the backseat, Richmond 2015’s spokesperson, Paul Shanks, plucks a blue pen from behind his ear and jots Miller’s observances as the tires pass from new pavement to old, to cobblestones, and over potholes and patch-jobs that jostle the cab and, no doubt, impair his note-taking.
The elite road-race course starts and finishes at Fifth and Broad streets, and all 12 of the world championship races will finish at the intersection, adjacent to the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which will serve as a hub for the event’s organizers. The 10.3-mile lap winds through some of the city’s historic neighborhoods, stretching from Monument Avenue in the Fan to Rocketts Landing. It also incorporates the steep, winding cobblestone climb of Libby Hill Park, which organizers spotlight as a signature feature of the course.
Richmond 2015 and regional officials expect as many as 450,000 spectators, many from Europe, to attend the races from Sept. 19 to 27, 2015, lining the elite road course and three others plotted out in the region. Henrico and Hanover counties will each host the remote start of a course.
The UCI Road World Championships is to cycling what the FIFA World Cup is to soccer. In Europe, it’s one of the biggest international sporting events. Unlike the professional Tour de France, where cyclists ride for sponsored, trade-name teams, the UCI Worlds features the top men and women racing under their countries’ flags. The influx of spectators, media and athletes will dwarf the 2014 USA Cycling collegiate races held in Richmond. (Photo by Graham Watson)
Remember that three-day national collegiate biking event in May? Next September’s races are expected to draw 45 times as many people, some for as long as two weeks. This sea of fans, media, staff and competitors from across the nation and world are expected to fill the region’s 18,000 hotel rooms months in advance. Some have already booked rooms. Overflow visitors will spill into Williamsburg, Petersburg, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, road-tripping to Richmond by day to watch what is, essentially, the Super Bowl of cycling or, as Shanks calls it, “the biggest global sporting event that people in the States have never heard of.”
He blurts out the joke, then laughs. Miller chuckles at the characterization.
“It’s going to dominate the airwaves here,” he says.
A year away from the event, there’s no shortage of optimism among its organizers. The courses are set. Richmond 2015 is more than halfway to its $21 million fundraising goal. The USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships, which organizers treated as a test event for next September’s races, were heralded as a success. Bring on the Worlds.
Milestones notwithstanding, there’s a feeling among people involved in the planning that next September’s races will be a turning point for the city. “I equate the 2015 races to our Olympics,” says Richmond Police Capt. Will Smith. “It is the biggest event the city will have seen or will probably ever see in the next 100 years.”
“This could have a very beneficial impact on the collective psyche of our community,” says Peter Chapman, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning. “It will become evident that Richmond can do big things.”
“From the very beginning, we’ve said this was more than a bike race,” notes Lee Kallman, Richmond 2015’s vice president of marketing and development.
What organizers expect the race to do for the city is well-documented: An opportunity for regional partnership with a short-term (and projected long-term) economic payout. A boon for an already-burgeoning cycling community. A catalyst for change in a city working to build a new reputation. Mayor Dwight Jones’ ticket into the tier-one city club. The biggest event in Richmond history. Redemption on two wheels.
But how it got to this point is a story in itself.
Inside Track: Winning the Bid
Richmond’s road to the 2015 UCI Road World Championships began far from the finish line at Fifth and Broad streets.
Exactly when and where is unclear, but at some point in 2008 or 2009, at a major UCI event in either Italy or Switzerland, a dinner conversation among some of cycling’s heavyweights set the wheels in motion for the first American-hosted Worlds since Colorado Springs in 1986.
“[Pat McQuaid, then UCI president,] broached the question, ‘Why hasn’t America put in a bid for the Worlds?’ ” recalls David Kalman (no relation to Lee), co-owner of Shadetree Sports, a cycling marketing agency with offices in Richmond and Dublin, Ireland.
The McQuaids are competitive cycling’s equivalent to the Kennedys in American politics. An Irish family of former racers turned businessmen, managers, promoters and administrators, their fingerprints are all over the sport. Pat’s eight-year stint as the UCI president spanned some of cycling’s biggest scandals regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (or doping); his last term ended in September 2013, when he was voted out of the office by the UCI Congress amid accusations of corruption relating to a Lance Armstrong doping cover-up. He’s challenged the accusations and others against the UCI in a number of multimillion-dollar lawsuits.
“When I heard the willingness of the UCI to support a U.S. bid, it really got my brain going,’” says Darach McQuaid, Pat’s younger brother and David Kalman’s business partner at Shadetree Sports. The two chatted about the older McQuaid’s comment, for which Darach was present, and Kalman soon began poring over potential host sites in the United States.
That Richmond became the host is not to be dismissed, organizers say. The city’s history of hosting major cycling races, such as the Tour de Trump, Tour DuPont and CapTech Classic shows there’s community support, a “cycling heritage,” as some put it. Richmond is small enough that the Worlds won’t get lost in the mix like they might in New York City or San Francisco. Combined with financial assurances from local corporations and governments tallying $11 million, organizers say Richmond was the clear choice ahead of the UCI Management Committee’s September 2011 vote. Behind the scenes, the push was underway long before that.
In October 2009, Shadetree’s Kalman approached Mayor Dwight Jones about a Richmond-hosted Worlds and sought to convince him that the international event could advance his vision of making Richmond a tier-one city. “The proposal was basically saying, ‘Do you want Richmond to play in this league?’ ” Kalman recalls.
Interested but skeptical, Jones told Kalman to gauge whether local stakeholders would back a potential bid. With letters of support from Venture Richmond, the city and state chambers of commerce and tourism agencies in hand, Kalman met with the mayor a second time at the end of 2009 and gained his support. “[Jones] brought us on board to make sure [Richmond] didn’t lose the bid, quite honestly,” Kalman says.
With the mayor’s support, Kalman says he began enlisting help to assemble a formal bid for the city in early 2010. Kalman tapped Miller that spring to work with Shadetree. The pair knew each other from Miller’s cycling days, when Kalman’s marketing company, secured a sponsorship for the team Miller raced on in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Miller has clout in the cycling world. He headed the CapTech Classic race in Richmond from 2003 to 2006. Three years in the ’90s with Medalist Sports, which specialized in staging cycling races, put Miller close to the action during the Tour DuPont’s run in Richmond.
Medalist was launched in Richmond by Mike Plant, an old colleague and friend of Miller’s. Plant, a sports politics veteran, serves on the 15-member UCI Management Committee, the body that decides where championships will be held. Miller approached him in 2010 about a Richmond bid for the Worlds. Plant says he had his doubts whether a U.S. city could win approval to host an event regularly held in Europe, but the two agreed to make the push.
“I understood how the process works and the strategy that goes into it, so I was very confident — I told Tim, ‘You can count on me to get the votes,’ ” Plant says, adding that he recused himself from the final vote with Richmond up for the bid.
UCI’s approval wouldn’t come without the backing of the American cycling federation, USA Cycling. Its president and CEO, Steve Johnson, says he and Miller had multiple conversations in 2010 about the “viability” of a Richmond-hosted Worlds. Other U.S. cities were mulling a run at the 2015 Worlds, Johnson says, but “it was really clear that Richmond had a leg up on everybody in terms of preparations.”
Kalman, McQuaid and Miller worked together ahead of Jones’ announcement of Richmond’s bid in December 2010.
On behalf of the city, Venture Richmond contracted Shadetree Sports in April 2011 to assemble the city’s bid proposal that would be submitted to UCI and to lobby the governing body, says the nonprofit’s executive director, Jack Berry. Venture Richmond paid Shadetree $151,000 for its work and would have paid more had it met performance-based incentives to sell sponsorships for the event, Berry says.
“[Shadetree] had connections to the world professional cycling community,” Berry says, to sell Richmond as the best city for the event.
Competition had already emerged. Quebec City announced its intention to bid on the Worlds a month ahead of Richmond, but dropped out in early 2011. Soon after, the Middle Eastern country of Oman joined the race.
In May 2011, Jones and Peter Chapman flew with Shadetree Sports to the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, to visit with Pat McQuaid and other UCI officials. The five-day trip gave Jones, Chapman and Shadetree valuable feedback from the people they were working to impress, Chapman says.
UCI officials visited Richmond that same month and rode in a stretch limo with a police escort through initial courses organizers planned to submit with the bid, Lee Kallman says.
Richmond and Oman each submitted bids to UCI in August 2011. Richmond’s 48-page proposal touted the city’s geographic location, climate and terrain, cycling community, an initial marketing strategy, preliminary course maps and opportunities for “legacy projects” to foster cycling culture. A delegation of representatives from the city, USA Cycling, Richmond 2015 and Shadetree flew to the UCI Worlds in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September 2011 to hear the verdict. Oman withdrew its bid the morning of the formal vote, leaving Richmond as the committee’s lone choice.
“Richmond would have won anyway if both cities would have stayed in,” Kalman says. “It was the best choice.”
“I’m sure that Mike [Plant] and Pat [McQuaid] would have made sure the [Richmond] bid would win,” Darach McQuaid says. “They believed in the American bid.”
Shortly after UCI awarded Richmond the race, some cycling news outlets and bloggers cried nepotism, citing Shadetree’s link to the UCI president. Both Darach and Pat McQuaid publicly denied that their relationship tipped the scales in Richmond’s favor. “That was a concern that was voiced, but I don’t think it was a valid concern,” Shadetree’s Kalman says. “[Darach and Pat] didn’t speak at all during the process.”
Miller says the McQuaid connection “was a concern for a lot of people” leading up to the vote.
“When it became more realistic and it looked like Richmond would win [the bid], that was when people decided that I shouldn’t be involved,” Darach McQuaid says. “People on the U.S. side thought it was a disadvantage.”
Richmond 2015 did not retain Shadetree Sports to help organize the Richmond races, but organizers say it was a business decision that had nothing to do with the McQuaid link. “At the end of the day, sports is a small world,” USA Cycling’s Johnson says. “You can never eliminate conflicts of interest, but you have to work around them.”
In the ‘Sweet Spot’
With a year to go to race time, can Richmond 2015 pull this off?
The six-person local committee working in concert with two dozen vendors, government agencies and community groups, there is a daunting to-do list for the next 12 months: Raise about $9 million to cover the $21 million budget. Finalize a major network TV deal. Ensure the completion of a list of public works projects that include installing wayfinding signage and repaving a slew of streets downtown. Complete a traffic management plan. Improve bike infrastructure. Then promote the hell out of the event.
“We’re right where we need to be, right in that sweet spot,” Shanks says.
The organization has solicited more than 300 national and international companies and corporations about sponsoring the event, many of which are still sorting out budgets for 2015, Kallman says. Local backing accounts for the bulk of private funds raised thus far, he adds. Though fundraising is Richmond 2015’s responsibility, USA Cycling is working with the local organizing committee to court some national and international companies with dual sponsorships for the Richmond Worlds and other races the federation holds, Johnson says. “Would we have liked to secure more sponsorships sooner? Absolutely. But we’re on track to secure them,” Miller says.
Locally, the city is spending $1.6 million to resurface more than 26 miles of roads in 2014 and 2015; another $880,000 will go toward sidewalk, curb, gutter and wheelchair ramp improvements along the courses, according to the city’s Public Works spokeswoman Sharon North. The city has committed $5.5 million in cash and in-kind services to the event, by far the most of any locality involved. The state has pledged $2 million.
Henrico is prepared to spend up to $1.4 million on the event, including a $300,000 cash contribution to Richmond 2015. Up to $1.1 million will go to infrastructure projects and overtime costs for police working the event, says County Manager John Vithoulkas. “If revenue forecasts are remotely close, many of those costs will likely be recouped,” he says.
Hanover will pay $100,000 to Richmond 2015 next year and provide services up to $65,000 for administrative costs and public safety assistance, according to county spokesman Tom Harris. Then there’s Chesterfield, which is reluctant to use taxpayer dollars to cover the $200,000 fee Richmond 2015 requires to start a race in the county. “At this point, we’ve not been able to come to an agreement that satisfies all parties,” says David Pritchard, special project manager in county administration.
The county is prepared to spend $30,000 on public safety costs if a race did start in Chesterfield, and it is still in communication with Richmond 2015 about getting involved, Pritchard says. Additionally, Chesterfield waived its portion of the Greater Richmond Convention Center fees that Richmond 2015 will pay to rent the facility for two weeks next September. That amounts to $71,500, Pritchard says.
“It takes money to produce this thing,” Miller says. “Hosting a race in Chesterfield just like in Henrico and Hanover would be an additional cost to us, and we have to cover our costs. It’s not that we’re trying to be greedy, we’re just trying to be good business people.”
The Richmond Police Department is already working on the traffic management plan to help the influx of on-site spectators (and Richmonders trying to get to work) navigate the city during the event, Capt. Will Smith says. The college race in May served as a test run of the department’s planning, but Smith says the larger scale of next year’s races makes this event an entirely different beast.
Organizers are attempting to schedule races between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to avoid worsening the rush-hour traffic. A shuttle system will be in place to help locals get to and from downtown and spectators from designated remote parking locations, like the Richmond International Raceway, to the courses, Smith says. A bike valet service is also in the works, Kallman says.
Also underway is a push to better the region’s bike infrastructure ahead of the expected horde of cycling-happy international visitors before next September.
“The Worlds is sort of a short-term goal for us to put some stuff on the ground, but our advocacy won’t stop there,” says Max Hepp-Buchanan, Sports Backers’ Bike Walk RVA director. “The region has a lot to do to make roads more friendly for cyclists.”
For the thousands of hours of manpower and millions of dollars the region is investing to prepare for the Worlds, organizers project a hefty return. Visitors staying in hotels, patronizing restaurants and shopping for souvenirs are projected to pump $129.2 million into the region’s economy, plus an additional $3.8 million in tax revenue for local governments, according to a Chmura Economics and Analytics study commissioned by Richmond 2015.
“Initially, there was some discussion and a great amount of trepidation about the economic forecast,” Henrico’s Vithoulkas says. “I think there’s still a good amount of concern about the full impact that could come to the region from this race.”
Organizers’ projected economic impact assumes that Richmond’s proximity to other major cities, a population of 115 million people within 500 miles of the city, will push the total attendance to 450,000.
From the city’s standpoint, the races could still be a “watershed moment” for the region, even if the projections are inaccurate, Chapman says. The international exposure could lure corporations and tourists years after the race, he adds. “I think folks are thinking that we are going to see all the benefits by September or October of 2016. That’s unrealistic,” Chapman says. “It could take five to 10 years for the whole impact to manifest itself.”
For Miller, the success of the event doesn’t come down to dollars and cents, but making the most of what is likely the first and last time the city will have a chance to host something of this magnitude. Asked about what would constitute a failure, he laughs. “I don’t think that’s something we need to entertain.” He pauses, then amends: “This is one of the biggest opportunities this region has ever had. Part of our charge and challenge is to make sure people understand that opportunity and embrace it. If they don’t, I’d see that as a failure.”