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The Ride: Richmond World's Course
Richmond, Virginia USA hosted the World Cycling Championships in 2015. It was the capstone of a long history for the city of hosting world-class cycling events.

It started back in 1983 with a memorable role in that year’s Tour of America. This was a one-off event that ran from Virginia Beach to Washington, D.C. over four stages of racing through the mostly-flat coastal regions of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was organized by the Societe du Tour de France under the direction of the late Felix Levitan. Despite some brilliant racing courtesy of top European teams and stars like Phil Anderson, the event was not a financial success, and the elderly Levitan was toppled from his role at the Societe in 1987 after the enormous losses that the race incurred came to light.

Among the highlights were the first stage that went across the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel on its way from Virginia Beach to the finish at the Euro-themed Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, and the final stage that finished just outside of the White House in Washington D.C.

Stages 2a and 2b took place in Richmond. Stage 2a was a road race from Williamsburg to Richmond that included the cobbled climbs in the city’s Church Hill neighborhood that would feature so prominently in the 2015 Worlds. It was won by Dutchman Leo Van Vliet of the powerhouse Ti-Raleigh team, who no doubt felt at home bouncing up the stones.

Stage 2b was a time trial through Richmond Battlefield National Park east of the city, won by the late, great Dutch time trial specialist Bert Oosterbosch, who went on to win the overall GC.

Tour de Trump 1989 | Eric Vanderaerden | Credit: Richmond Times

The cobblestones of Richmond’s downtown Shockoe Slip region, themselves Belgian imports brought over from Antwerp as ballast on sea-going vessels running light to the port of Richmond, hosted a pair of victories by ace Belgian sprinter Eric Vanderaerden in 1989. Richmond was the scene of two stages in the inaugural Tour de Trump, sponsored by the real estate mogul more well-known previously for his sponsorship of professional boxing.

For the next seven years, Richmond would host stages in every edition of the stage race that came to be known as the Tour Du Pont. Among the victors in Richmond were Canadian star Steve Bauer and a young Lance Armstrong.

So the seeds were well-sown for an epic parcours through the old Southern industrial center once Richmond won the bid to host the UCI World Championships in 2015. The 16.3km (10.1 mile) course included a trifecta of short, steep climbs in the final few miles of the circuit before the uphill drag to the finish outside of the Richmond Convention Center on Broad Street.

The first climb has a name more suited to a southern debutante than a leg-breaking ascent. Libby Hill lasts 200 meters over cobbles, but is preceded by an uphill slog to the start of the hostilities, making the climb closer to a kilometer in total distance. Riders are too busy catching their breath to notice, but the summit of Libby Hill offers a historic viewpoint of the city, with the James River and the skyscrapers of the city’s financial district in the background, and a lingering reminder of the city’s industrial past - the old, dormant Lucky Strike cigarette factory - dominating the foreground.


The exclamation point to Libby Hill’s opening statement is 23rd St., a 100-meter long stretch of rough cobbles that maxes out at about 8%, the ruling grade on the course. Peter Sagan’s winning attack at the 2015 race took place on the whole stretch of 23rd St’s stones, but he pulled away from the rest of the contenders at this steepest section. Once clear at the top of the climb, he used his mad descending skills on the ensuing downhill to not only maintain, but extend his advantage.



The final climb before the finish is entirely paved, but to many riders it’s the cruelest of them all. Governor’s St., as the name suggests, passes the east lawn of the Virginia Governor’s Mansion, and when added to the final 600 meter uphill drag to the finish on Broad St., this final climb is the longest of them all at almost a mile in length.

Many cyclists worldwide have become familiar with the Richmond World’s course through the indoor cycling program Zwift, where a virtual simulation of the course was introduced in the run-up to the 2015 event. It remains one of the most popular routes on Zwift, and a similar World’s road race course simulation was introduced for last September’s even hillier course in Innsbruck, Austria.

I live about 60 miles/100km from Richmond, and so I’m a frequent visitor to the city with my bike. If you want to ride the entire 16km/10 mile long World’s course, keep in mind that you won’t have the privilege of a course closed to traffic as the World’s participants did, and so you’ll want to ride it on the weekend or a holiday - early Sunday morning is probably best. The more scenic - and hillier - east side of the course has lighter traffic in general. Libby Hill is closed to vehicular traffic, but bikes and pedestrians can enter to either side of the steel chain across the road.


Part of the bid process for the World Cycling Championships is a demonstration of the potential host’s bike-friendliness, and Richmond upped its game by building an improved network of bicycle lanes in downtown. The capstone of their effort, however, was the construction of a 52-mile long paved bicycle path, the Virginia Capital Trail, which runs from the very first capital of colonial Virginia, Jamestown, to its current capital, Richmond. The terrain between Jamestown and Richmond is flat to gently rolling, and so the 104-mile round trip is an approachable, car-free century ride for most reasonably fit cyclists.

My rides in Richmond usually involve a trip east of the city on the Capital Trail, and then I’ll finish with a slog up Libby Hill (and only occasionally followed by 23rd St.), which is near the western terminus of the trail where I park my car. On a recent ride in the city with a friend, we spotted a Richmond City police officer on neighborhood patrol at the top of Libby Hill, who indulged our vanity by taking some cell phone photos of our assault on the cobbles. Engaging us in conversation as we each caught our breath, he told us that he’d seriously taken up cycling himself after being stationed on duty on Libby Hill during that Sunday afternoon in late September 2015 when thousands of international spectators (including a huge contingent of Norwegians) packed the normally placid lawns of the urban park.


“Seeing all those riders and their fans from all over the world made me want to go out and purchase a new road bike, which I did,” he said. “Now I’m out riding on all my days off.”

Cycling fever in Richmond, it seems, is spreading fast.

BikeRide.com - The Ride Starts Here!
Good reading, thank You! I went to see live UCI Road world championship 2011 in Copenhagen. Cavendish won elite race.

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