Binford Middle School's band and orchestra students perform for passing cyclists (photo by Nicole Cohen).
It’s a beautiful day for cycling, with temperatures in the low 70s and a light breeze blowing. As cyclists pedal their way along Monument Avenue, they chat with one another, getting some leisurely practice time in along the course in preparation for this weekend’s main races. Even though today was a practice day, locals and visitors from abroad alike came out in droves to cheer on the pros, waving flags and banners just the same.
Richmond locals and friends Rosita Torres-Ambrogi and Eileen Lapington, who both live on West Franklin Street, came out to enjoy a day of cycling with Lapington’s three young children (Torres-Ambrogi is their godmother). “I think it’s just really important to bring different cultures into Richmond, because Richmond is such a cultural place whether it’s art or music or anything else,” says Torres-Ambrogi. A bike enthusiast, she enjoys cycling off-road, traversing the James River Park System and Pocahontas State Park trails. Torres-Ambrogi has been at the races every day and says she will be here all nine of them.
“It’s just really cool to see this on TV and then see it live and you go ‘Wow.’ ” Impressed with the cycling she has already witnessed, Torres-Ambrogi is looking forward to the upcoming Women’s Elite Road Circuit on Sept. 26. A native of Chile, she hasn’t spotted a racer from her former homeland, but she says she’s keeping her eyes open. Lapington says she wanted to bring her children out to get them interested in the sport. Mary, 2, and Justin, 4, even rode their own bikes out. “I want them to be active and I want them to enjoy bike riding,” she says.
Keeping Things Rolling
Paul Shelley is a volunteer who will be assisting with all nine days in a total of 11 shifts. “I’m retired and I wanted to come down here and see it, so I volunteered and they made me a course marshal,” he says. Shelley, a resident of Henrico County in the West End, mans a different location every day, but today he is stationed at Lombardy and Monument. His job is to make sure people cross the course safely at the designated crossing areas and also that people aren’t on the course when they shouldn’t be. He hasn’t had much trouble himself, but he has seen people crossing when they shouldn’t. In one instance, he noticed a woman crossing while talking on her cell phone and not paying any attention to her surroundings. “I had to go out to the street and move her off of it and a biker missed her by about a yard,” says Shelley. He also says that yesterday at First and Broad Streets, there was a suspicious package next to a trashcan on the ground. Another volunteer picked it up to put it in the trashcan and then realized it was heavy as well as sealed. Erring on the safe side, they flagged down one of the nearby officers who brought in the Bomb Squad. A simple X-ray of the box revealed it as trash. “[The authorities] were very responsive and the whole thing only took about 10 minutes,” says Shelley. He’s a cyclist himself and has been taking advantage of the new Virginia Capital Trail. “I’ve been on all the sections and I’m looking forward to going down there now that the whole thing is open.”
Binford Middle School’s band and orchestra students line the course’s edge on Lombardy near Main Street as they play tunes such as “Aztec Sunrise.” They’re here to greet cyclists from around the globe and offer some encouraging tunes as they pedal by. Many of the cyclists seem more excited than the students, giving hi-fives and shouts of praise as they make their way past. Several Richmond Public Schools have been involved with the races in one way or another. The architect behind the integration of cycling in the classroom is Stefanie Ramsey, the instructional specialist for health and physical education at RPS. When she found out that the UCI Road World Cycling Championships were coming to Richmond, she knew she had to find a way to integrate the world’s stage of cycling into the classroom. “One of the ways that I was able to do that, was I matched every school up with a country and a team and that would be the team and the country that they would research and implement in their classes and cheer on during the bike race,” she says. Binford’s team is Belgium. “We wanted to give our kids an opportunity to see what it’s like outside of Richmond, Virginia, because many of our students never leave their neighborhoods, and this is a great way to integrate them into the world and say, ‘Look what’s out there,’ ” says Ramsey. Khristie-Jo Adams, the instructional specialist for fine arts for Richmond Public Schools, was also on-hand with a few other Binford instructors. “[The students] have been so excited … they’ve been saying ‘We can scream and do all those fun things, why not play the music and the drums and get the energy going.’ ”
Bikes and Beer
While walking down Broad Street in Jackson Ward, I notice two gentleman, one wearing a Norway jersey. I ask them where they are from and they are indeed from Norway. Stig Ove Johansen and Terje Midtun are both in Richmond for the cycling championships and this is the fifth year in a row they have traveled abroad to attend the biggest event in cycling. So far they both have been enjoying Richmond. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful city,” says Johansen. I ask them what local sites they have visited, to which they both chuckle and say, “Mostly bars, we enjoy a good beer.” They are definitely lovers of beer, already visiting places such as Capital Ale House, and are looking forward to completing more bar hopping. “We are on our way right now,” says Johansen as the pair encourage me to join them for a drink, which I oblige. Midtun was looking for Max’s on Broad, which we were already walking in front of. He had stopped by yesterday and wanted to return with Johansen. Max’s had turned the street in front of the building into a makeshift patio and there was only one open table among the bustling hoard of people, which we quickly grabbed. A mesh of cultures and people, the outdoor dining scene had everyone from locals to cyclists still wearing their gear. As I chat and get to know my new Norwegian friends, they tell me about how the weather (still in the low 70s) was hot here. I ask how warm is it during the summer in Norway? Johansen says on the high side, it’s in the 20s (celsius) — I had my answer. Midtun asks, "Does it snow here?" and I tell him that it does and about how that usually shuts the city down. He laughs and says he’s seen that on the "tele" — people spinning around in circles, as he motions with his hand in circles. Midtun orders two pale ales; the first he found to have too much citrus flavor, but the second, a local brew, he enjoyed much more, noting that the beer in Norway is often watery. Lovers of the sport, the two try to take in cycling as often as they can, but they won’t be at next year’s championships in Qatar. “It’s too hot and too sandy,” says Midtun.