UCI bike races
Richmond claims big win by the numbers
Thomas Kidd | 10/2/2015, 9:18 p.m. | Updated on 10/2/2015, 9:18 p.m.
In the afterglow of the UCI Road World Championships, Richmond’s success-failure rating reads like a tale of two cities.
It was the best of times
The Richmond government proved to the world that it could handle the logistical complexities associated with hosting a 10-day, international sporting event.
Richmond 2015, the organizing group, proclaimed victory just hours after men’s elite cyclist Peter Sagan of Slovakia crossed the finish line Sunday at 5th and Broad streets in Downtown to cheers and the clang of cowbells to become the men’s world cycling champion.
Before the steel barricades, media trucks and colorful banners could come down and the 1,000 athletes could leave town, the group noted that in addition to capturing hundreds of millions of viewers in 150 countries, the bicycle races drew about 645,000 spectators to Metro Richmond between the Sept. 18 opening ceremony at Brown’s Island and Mr. Sagan’s 162-mile championship win during Sunday’s grand finale.
“A truly remarkable series of championship races was topped only by the excitement and enthusiasm shared by hundreds of thousands of spectators who saw the very best of what Richmond has to offer,” Mayor Dwight C. Jones said in a statement issued by organizers.
More than 40 television partners, including 17 networks broadcasting live from Richmond, produced more than 800 hours of programming, organizers said.
“This is exciting for us,” said Keira Johnson, a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Services employee, who set up folding chairs just a block from the finish line to take in the race with her 12-year-old son, Macari.
“I thought it was going to be a madhouse, but it was really easy to get right Downtown and into the parking deck. No big deal.”
Macari nodded in agreement between bites of his hotdog.
Adding to the excitement, the city fulfilled its commitment to provide auxiliary entertainment. There were food trucks and souvenir vendors, along with the UCI FanFest at the Greater Richmond Convention Center that became a haven for fans seeking to escape the mist and rain during the latter days of the races.
FanFest featured virtual bike races, a children’s play area and an adult play area, complete with wine tastings and a fully stocked bar. All of the indoor activities were in close proximity to the broadcast of the race.
Like most sporting events, the real excitement and flavor was best felt where the action was taking place. Broad Street was afire with flags from some of the 74 home countries of the cyclists, including Russia, Italy, Australia and Canada. However, none shone more proudly or more numerous as the green, red and blue flag of Eritrea.
Located in the horn of Africa, Eritrea is a small country — not much larger than the state of Virginia. What it lacks in square miles, it more than makes up for in heart and national pride.
More than 100 Eritreans literally paraded along Broad Street on Friday during the Men’s Under 23 Road Race. With four of their countrymen competing in the event, they draped large Eritrean flags around them and cheered with great enthusiasm so they could be spotted as the cyclists whizzed by.
“It just feels good that we are represented,” said 17-year old Waganta Olgbagiorgis, who traveled from Philadelphia with a group on a chartered bus. “It’s just amazing to see our athletes out there. I’m proud.”
The mix of national pride and the unified celebration made UCI such a unique event. As the races moved from trials to the final competitions in men’s and women’s events, the crowds increased in number and enthusiasm.
Even the Richmond Police Department caught the spark, serving as security and goodwill ambassadors from beginning to end — directing traffic, answering questions and even snapping shots of fans who wanted to pose in the center of the course.
Still for some, it was the worst of times
The aggressiveness of the city to ensure a safe and conducive race environment may have worked too well.
Many people were scared away by the mention of the sheer size of the crowd expected, the messages about street closings and the warnings that parking would be at a premium.
Chesterfield resident Loren White and six of her girlfriends were hoping to mix a birthday celebration with the excitement of the second day of the races, but they were sorely disappointed.
“No one was out,” said Ms. White, explaining that the group gave up after going to several popular Shockoe Bottom nightspots. All the venues were dead.
“We were the only ones in there! And the streets — it was like a ghost town,” she said.
With residents avoiding the traffic confusion and not willing to take a gamble on getting towed, popular nightspots, restaurants and vendors took it on the chin.
“I’ve already taken a loss,” said Malcolm Andress III, president of Soul-Ice. Mr. Andress, who has been operating carts of fruit smoothies-icees since 2007, said he invested a lot of money in bolstering his inventory for the races. But with his cart positioned on 9th Street beside City Hall last Friday, the Pittsburgh native’s treats were too far from fans who were clustered mostly around the finish line three blocks away.
“The city marketed street closings and traffic. They should have marketed the event,” Mr. Andress added.
Richard A. Waller Jr., owner of Waller & Co. Jewelers on Broad Street between 1st and Foushee streets, watched late Friday as dozens of cyclists sped past his family business to the din of thousands of cheering fans.
“I like the cyclists, but the races have not been good for our business,” said the 77-year-old who enjoys cycling and became a member of the Richmond Area Bicycling Association in 1976.
The opening weekend of the races, his business suffered “the worst Saturday since I’ve been on Broad Street,” which is 1970, he said.
With the street closures and anticipated crowds, many of Mr. Waller’s regular customers stayed away, he said. So he shut down his store on the next to the last day of the races and headed to North Carolina for a family reunion.
“If we had been doing more business, I would have found a way to keep the store open. But it was not worth it to me,” he said.
Not everyone was disappointed. Coda Urban Bistro was able to cash in. The secret to the restaurant’s success? Location, location, location.
The bistro, located at 7th and Broad streets, was positioned close to the action and the finish line. Coda even adjusted its serving hours to accommodate the early morning crowds. Patrons could drop in for a breakfast parfait, a sandwich at lunch or early dinner seating, all without missing a moment of race action.
“We’ve been very aggressive in our marketing,” said Katharine Peterman as she operated Coda’s refreshment station in front of the National Theater.
“We passed out fliers and stayed out here on the street the entire time. But I have to admit we have the advantage being right here at the finish.”
Even the vendors who were less than pleased with the bottom line from the 10 days expressed support for the city and its willingness to take on the challenge of hosting an event of this size.
“I hope there are more things like this in Richmond,” said Mr. Andress.
Free Press writer Joey Matthews contributed to this story.