Svein Tuft, of the Canadian Symetrics team, dropped the entire field of the U.S. Open Cycling Championships for a decisive (:41!) win on Saturday. It was an impressive finish to a race that had come close to being canceled, by some reports. I – and everyone else there – would have missed out on something amazing, had that happened. This was the best time I’ve ever had in Richmond.
You can find a comprehensive race report from Velo News, and hopefully even watch it on an NBC rebroadcast, so I’ll just share some of my own experiences as a spectator. All of the pictures here (and more) can also be found here.
Due to an unexpected stop, I arrived in Richmond later than planned. Unfortunately, this meant I missed the end of the women’s race, which was confined to a shortened version of the men’s circuit. Fortunately (for both me and the riders, I think), the start of the men’s race had been delayed by snow. Yes. Snow. Lots of it. In April. While it gave the riders a little extra rest, and me a chance to see every lap of the peloton, I’m pretty sure that the weather contributed to a rather dismal spectator turnout. Most of the folks there were obvious cycling fans – and more than a few of us had driven down from DC. The Libby Hill portion of the course was filled with local residents, and the remainder seemed to be families dragged out by dads.
I think I can claim partial credit for at least one convert, though. Deciding to grab a bite to eat while waiting for the peloton to arrive, we ducked into a small convenience store/grill. The owner didn’t seem to know why the road was closed, but we chatted with him and gave him an extra copy of the course map. I thought he might have ended up annoyed, but later on I saw both him and his wife out at various points on the course, cheering the riders.
The course was well designed for spectators – it wasn’t hard to cover most of it on foot, and there were plenty of places where you could catch the leaders and chase groups at one point, and then hoof it a block or two to catch them again at another point on the course. The best point, by far, was the Libby Hill cobble climb. At the far east end of the course, it drew a lot of spectators (and neighborhood support). I spent a couple of laps there, in awe of the sound that is a hundred drivetrains rattling over cobbles. Amazingly, there were no peloton-splitting wrecks, even though the the steep and narrow switchback nature of the hill seemed to be designed for exactly that.
After the riders made it up Libby Hill, it was a straight and fast descent down Franklin Street. The riders must have been approaching 50mph on this descent, and FixedGear, driver of one of the neutral support vehicles, thinks he caught air in his car. I don’t doubt that at all. (I think I saw FixedGear stop and give a rider a wheel on that same stretch.)
From there, I (pretty much) ran from corner to corner, trying to get catch as much of it as I could on my way back to the starting line. I was happy with some of my pictures, but it mostly just reminded me that I need to pull the trigger on getting a new camera (unless one of these guys wants to offload some equipment). Here’s a smattering:
As I made my way back up East Main Street, it wasn’t hard to notice that there were almost as many volunteers as spectators at a number of points. While this speaks well of local cycling clubs, I can’t help but be disappointed that the race didn’t get more local support. The problems of the race organizers were well publicized, and it never did come up with a title sponsor. If Richmond wants this race back, I think it’s going to have to step up. Otherwise, I sure would love to see Arlington/DC/Montgomery county put something together for next year . . .
The finishing line was full of people, without being crowded. They had a jumbotron set up, with live footage from the helicopters. Did you hear that? Helicopters. Plural. At an American race. Between that and having Bob Roll & Al Trautwig in the tent behind us, it felt just like a real live ProTour race. I’m not sure who the officials pavilion announcer was, but he was doing a very good job of calling the race. (Nota bene for the announcer calling the race at Libby Hill: it is really not cool to repeatedly ID a rider solely as “the Mexican”, especially when 1) he has a name – Gregorio Ladino Vega 2) should get some respect for managing to keep his solo breakaway for two laps, and 3) he ISN’T MEXICAN (he’s Columbian).)
I watched the final laps from the finish line, surprised that Ivan Dominguez wasn’t able to make more out of his position in the breakaway, and impressed at Svein Tuft’s ability to draw deep on the Libby Hill climb for the :41 breakaway that ultimately secured his victory.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (who lives only a couple of blocks away from the finish) was in attendance for most of the event, and did a decent job of talking up Virginia’s cycling attractions. While mostly your typical local boosterism, Gov. Kaine’s comments were much more believable than the over-the-top praise heaped on Richmond during the NBC broadcast. But if that’s the price for national cycling coverage, I’ll gladly pay it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch on camera the most cringe-inducing moments of the event. No, not a crash (in fact, I wasn’t aware of *any* crashes on the Richmond circuit). It was during the award ceremony, where both third place Alejandro Borrajo (Rite-Aid) and Svien Tuft both leaned over to accept the traditional flowers and kiss, and then got left hanging by Miss Greater “I Don’t Do Podium Kisses” Richmond. Somehow, though, I think they’ll be able to get over it.
All in all, though, it was a great way to spend a Saturday. I was thrilled to have an event like this so close to home, and I hope they’ll be able to pull it off next year. With this year’s lessons under their belt, I’m sure they could build this into a world-class cycling event. Here’s hoping.