Thousands of people crammed on to Libby Hill on Sunday to watch the grand finale of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships: the elite men’s road circuit race. A field of about 200 riders faced a daunting 16-lap, 162-mile, seven-hour affair.
On this day, Libby Hill truly was, as organizers promised, the ultimate spectacle. With each pass up the cobbles, fans rose from their grassy repose to clang cowbells, snap photos and cheer on the racers. A late surge on the treacherous 23rd street climb catapulted 25-year-old Peter Sagan of Slovakia to the top spot on the podium.
Italy, by Way of the Bronx
George Ferrer of the Bronx, N.Y., trains with Cicli Biondi, a cycling club in Northern Italy. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
George Ferrer of the Bronx, N.Y., staked out territory at the foot of Libby Hill in the early stages of Sunday’s race, but planned to edge closer in hopes of claiming primo real estate along the barriers. “I’m trying to get my flag in front of the camera so my friends in Italy will see me,” the 55-year-old says. The flag is that of Cicli Biondi, a cycling club in Northern Italy that Ferrer, a sales management professional, trains with during annual trips to Europe. His travels have also taken him to many an international race, including the Tour De France. In its hosting of the Worlds, he says, Richmond has held its own, and organizers have plotted a technical and entertaining road circuit course.
Coming Out Party
Cathy Hayden, with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Anna, wore an "Ask Me About Church Hill" shirt. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
Cathy Hayden, a Church Hill resident of 12 years, spent three days volunteering on behalf of the neighborhood association in an effort to make its visitors - from Germany, from Australia, from the West End, she adds with a laugh - feel welcome. The races haven’t just been a coming out party for the city, but the neighborhood as well, she says, gesturing with a handout listing its various eateries, attractions and shops. “This is a totally different Richmond than what I grew up in, when we weren’t accepting of anyone," she says. "Now, we’ve welcomed the world.”
“The job Richmond has done, I can’t believe it,” says Jorge Zarate of Bogota, Colombia. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
Jorge Zarate, 47, a physician from Bogota, Colombia, smiles ear to ear with a brimming cup of beer as he rushes back toward the crowd to catch the riders’ final ascent of Libby Hill. This is his first time attending a world championships, and it has been “Amazing, bro!” he says. “The job Richmond has done, I can’t believe it.” He and his traveling companions stayed with family in Williamsburg and drove back and forth between the city to catch the races in the event’s waning days. Afterwards, they’ve enjoyed the city’s restaurants and nightlife, he says, and plan to indulge again before bidding Richmond goodbye.
Craig Dodson watched the final day of the UCI races with members of the Richmond Cycling Corps, a nonprofit he founded five years ago. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
Craig Dodson of Richmond took Sunday’s races in with members of the Richmond Cycling Corps, a nonprofit he founded five years ago that uses cycling to change the lives of children and teenagers in Richmond’s public housing communities. Regardless of the post-race number crunching – room nights, the spectator count, the tax revenue and economic impact - there’s no denying the energy surrounding the races was positive for the city, Dodson says. “This is it, man,” he says, surveying the crowd. “This is everything I’d want it to be, everything I’d want from an event in Richmond.” He adds: “Frankly, this is the shit.”