On top of the Worlds: A fan guide to the UCI Road World Championships

On top of the Worlds: A fan guide to the UCI Road World Championships

Andreas France still remembers the moment he heard Richmond would serve as the host city for the UCI Road World Championships, one of the most hallowed events in international cycling. France, a junior at Cosby High School at the time, was new to the area, having recently moved to Midlothian from Cincinnati with his family. He was still adapting to his surroundings, still trying to get a lay of the land. He had just gotten out of class one day when news hit that “the Worlds,” the Super Bowl of cycling, would be alighting in his new hometown.

“I was so psyched,” France said. “I never thought I’d be able to see something like this in person. It’s unbelievable to me.”

Born in bicycle-mad Belgium, France was just 1 year old when his family moved to the United States — where mainstream coverage of international cycling rarely ventured beyond the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong — but he became an avid rider and fan of the sport at a young age. His entire family, in fact, including the many relatives still in Belgium, are enthusiastic followers and participants in the sport.

Now a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in political science, France works as a courier for Quickness RVA, hustling food through the city streets on his bike, and serves as the treasurer of the Cycling Club at VCU, a stalwart group of student cyclists who meet for group rides, organize cycling-centric events and compete in a variety of collegiate events. Last year, several members of the club competed in the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships in Richmond, an event that served as a warmup for the Worlds. Chris Jones, a member of the club, cinched his status as a local legend by capturing the national time trial event at the competition.

Chris Jones, VCU student and winner of the men’s individual time trial at the the 2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.
Chris Jones, VCU student and winner of the men’s individual time trial at the the 2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.

Among the activities of the Cycling Club, which originated in the 1990s, is holding viewing parties of major European races, often scheduled early in the morning to accommodate inter-Atlantic time differences. It’s likely the club would have been gathering around someone’s TV this month for the 2015 Road World Championships if not for the more intimate access they can anticipate as the races sweep through and around campus. This year marks the first time since 1986, when the event was staged in Colorado Springs, that the Road World Championships have been held in the United States.

France hopes that the disruption and inconvenience of hosting an event as large and complex as the Worlds does not overshadow the thrill of what he and many others consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

France said he grew up dreaming of attending the Worlds and other premier pro events such as the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) and Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain). Now, to his daily disbelief, the race is coming to him.

“All of my cycling friends and I are freaking out that this is happening,” France said. “For us, this is heaven.”

About the races

The UCI Road World Championships is a nine-day event that includes races in the categories of individual time trial, team time trial and road circuit. Divisions include men’s and women’s junior, men’s under 23, and men’s and women’s elite.

While many other races of similar stature, such as the Tour de France, decide a winner after multiple days or weeks of racing stages, the Worlds keeps it simple. Each race lasts a day, and each race crowns a new world champion.

Also different in the Worlds, cyclists compete for their countries instead of for their professional club teams — except during the team time trial events on Sept. 20. The Olympics is the only other competition for elite cyclists that follows this format.

A powerful emblem of the Worlds’ particular prestige is the rainbow jersey that the winners of the men’s and women’s time trial and men’s and women’s elite road races wear with pride throughout the following season. In addition, winners earn the privilege of wearing rainbow stripes on the sleeve of their jerseys for the remainder of their cycling careers.

A facet unique to this year’s Worlds? VCU Health is the exclusive medical sponsor, meaning that physicians, nurses and physical therapists will be on hand to treat any injuries incurred by cyclists. VCU nurses and physicians will even ride in cars behind the action in case of accidents along the course. In addition, nurses will staff fan zones around the city and will offer comfort care to the estimated 450,000 spectators expected over the course of the event.

The medical tent at the 2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships, of which VCU Health was also the exclusive medical sponsor.
The medical tent at the 2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships, of which VCU Health was also the exclusive medical sponsor.

Where to watch

Spectators are welcome to view the action from virtually anyplace along the race courses. But a few particularly good viewing spots — such as Libby Hill, the steep hill on 23rd Street, Governor’s Street and Monument Avenue — have been identified as key stretches in the road races and locations certain to attract large crowds. For VCU fans, cyclists will zip through the Monroe Park Campus multiple times a day. Each race will pass Monroe Park along Franklin Street, making Monroe Park a good place to watch with plenty of space to hang out during down times and local food trucks on-site. The time trial circuit races on Monday and Tuesday will completely encircle the park and the road circuit races during the Friday-Sunday stretch at the end of the event will travel along the Franklin, Belvidere and Main street sides of the park, with cyclists making multiple laps (16 for the elite men’s road circuit).

Fan zones (free admission) boasting Jumbotrons, bike valets, restrooms and food and drinks will be established near the start and finish lines and other key spots along the course, and grandstand seating will be arranged along the finishing straight downtown. Special VIP Pavillions (tickets required) at the finish line and Libby Hill will offer enhanced viewing.

Also, near the start/finish line, Richmond 2015 FanFest will be held in the Greater Richmond Convention Center from Sept. 20 to Sept. 27. This will be the site of the official awards ceremonies that close each race day. Large screens will display race coverage, cyclists will occasionally be available for pictures and autographs, and more than 100 vendors and exhibitors will set up. There will also be live music and food and beverages.

France said he hopes to find a location along the course with a Jumbotron so that he can both view the cyclists up close as they speed past and follow the overall nip-and-tuck progress of the race on the screen. For viewing recommendations for each day, visit navigate.richmond2015.com/where-to-watch.

Schedule of races and training

Sept. 19 – Individual and Team Time Trial Training

Sept. 20 – Women’s and Men’s Team Time Trial

Sept. 21 – Women’s Junior Time Trial and Men’s Under 23 Time Trial

Sept. 22 – Men’s Junior Time Trial and Women’s Elite Time Trial

Sept. 23 – Men’s Elite Individual Time Trial

Sept. 24 – Road Circuit Training

Sept. 25 – Women’s Junior Road Circuit, Men’s Under 23 Road Circuit, Conquer the Cobbles ride

Sept. 26 – Men’s Junior Road Circuit and Women’s Elite Road Circuit

Sept. 27 – Men’s Elite Road Circuit

For more on the schedule, visit richmond2015.com/about/courses.

By the numbers


Some key cycling terms to help you enjoy the action

Allez allez! – A common cheer fans cry at passing cyclists. The French phrase means “Go! Go!”

Blocking – When one rider blocks the path of an opposing rider to benefit a teammate. A widely used tactic.

Bonk – A state of severe — and frequently sudden — exhaustion, often also referred to as hitting the wall. Bonking can be identified by the telltale signs of wavering, trembling limbs, a drooping head and simple surrender. Cyclists bonk because of a depletion of glycogen in their liver and muscles, and they ingest foods and beverages rich in carbohydrates before and during the race in hopes of eluding the condition.

Cadence – The pedaling rate of a cyclist. Racers seek to find a cadence that ideally blends speed with energy conservation.

Cowbells – A popular fan tool for urging on cyclists.

Domestique – A cyclist who spurns personal glory to work for the benefit of a teammate. Domestiques use a variety of methods (see: blocking, drafting) to help push one of the elite racers on their team toward victory. Domestique, in French, means “servant.”

Teammates in the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships demonstrate the technique of drafting during the team time trial event.
Teammates in the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships demonstrate the technique of drafting during the team time trial event.

Drafting – The practice of riding closely behind another rider to take advantage of the windbreak and conserve energy. Also known as sitting in or — even better —wheelsucking, drafting is sometimes done in collaboration with the rider ahead of you — and other times without their permission.

False flat – A deceptively gentle but extended climb that can surprise cyclists and tire them more than anticipated. France said this could be a factor in this year’s races, particularly on a critical stretch of Franklin Street.

Jam – A period of hard, fast racing, typically marked by a particular cyclist deciding to push the pace and test their competitors to see who will follow.

Musette – A food bag for cyclists. Musettes are handed to cyclists in a “feed zone.” France said cyclists enter the feed zone at top speeds, locate team staff who are holding a musette bag in the air for them, and then snatch the musette without slowing down. They wrap the musette over their shoulder and pull food from it, ingesting the fuel necessary to endure and thrive in a race that requires such a deep well of stamina and energy.

Peloton – The main cluster of riders. Also known as the pack, the bunch, or the field. Watch the gap between the lead group and the peloton, France said. If the gap grows too large, then the riders in the peloton will struggle to successfully track the leaders. However, if they can maintain a reasonable gap, then frantic and fun cycling may ensue in the final stretch of the race as members of the peloton try to run down the leaders.

Road rash – One possible painful result of cycling accidents. France said cyclists travel at such great speeds in such close proximity to each other that crashes and injury are always in play. Cyclists consider it bad luck to even talk about wrecks.

Sag wagon – A support vehicle that follows cyclists with equipment, food, first aid supplies, mechanics and other team support staff. Also be prepared for low-flying helicopters tracking the action, France said.


Cyclists to watch

Men’s Elite

Taylor Phinney
<br>Photo by James Boyes via Creative Commons license.
Taylor Phinney
Photo by James Boyes via Creative Commons license.

Tom Boonen (Belgium) is the 2005 champion and a consistent top contender.

Mark Cavendish (Great Britain), who won the title in 2011, is known for his strength as a sprinter.

Ben King (United States) is a Richmond native and former national road race champion with a reputation for breakaway speed. France said King is well-known in local cycling circles and occasionally participates in rides in the city.

Michel Kwiatkowski (Poland) is the defending champion, though he won’t wear the rainbow jersey for the event itself. He will be in his Polish kit.

Peter Sagan
<br>Photo by Richard Masoner via Creative Commons license.
Peter Sagan
Photo by Richard Masoner via Creative Commons license.

Taylor Phinney (United States) hails from cycling royalty. His father, Davis, was a prominent professional cyclist and his mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, was a gold medalist cyclist in the Olympics. With Tejay van Garderen derailed by injury, Phinney may be the best hope for the U.S. at the Worlds, particularly in the time trial competition.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) is a fan favorite, highly regarded not only for his racing ability but for the flair with which he competes. Sagan has been known to pop wheelies during races.

Alejandro Valverde (Spain) has never won the Worlds title but he has finished third three years in a row in the road circuit race and has been a top-three finisher six times in his decorated career.


Women’s Elite

Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
<br>Photo by youkeys via Creative Commons license.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
Photo by youkeys via Creative Commons license.

Kristin Armstrong (United States) has won a number of national and international cycling competitions, including a gold at the 2012 Olympics in the time trial. She is also a two-time time trial champion (2006, 2009) at the Worlds.

Lisa Brennauer (Germany) captured first in the time trial competition in 2014 and finished runner-up in the road circuit.

Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) is a two-time road circuit champion (2010, 2011) at the Worlds. She plans to retire following the 2016 season.

Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) is the defending champion in the Worlds, and she is also the current world champion in mountain biking and cyclo-cross — a rare treble.

Emma Johansson (Sweden) is one of the sport’s most consistent performers and finished third at the 2014 Worlds and second in 2013 in the road circuit event.

Evelyn Stevens (United States) is a former investment banker who took up cycling full-time in 2009. She was third in the Worlds time trial event in 2014.


The following resources can help you learn even more about the UCI Road World Championships and the event’s impact on the university, VCU Health and the city of Richmond.


Subscribe to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.


Members of the Cycling Club at VCU go for a spin on four key segments of the Road Circuit course and explain what makes each location important to watch.