Organisers of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia yesterday revealed the courses which will be used to determine next year's champions, announcing two cobblestone sections which are expected to be decisive in the 16.5km urban road race circuit.
"Traditionally the UCI frowns upon cobbles in the world championships," said Jim Birrell, managing partner of Medalist Sports. "But when we established 5th and Broad Streets as our start line, we knew we had to work with the UCI to incorporate Libby Hill. We went ahead and put that in there, and had a site visit with the UCI officials late last year."
The UCI approved the use of Libby Hill Park, one of Richmond's first parks, which first featured in the US Cycling Open in 2007 won by Canadian Svein Tuft. The climb isn't particularly steep, but the cobbles are as rough as those of the Kapelmuur which until recently featured as a critical sector in the Tour of Flanders. It falls right at 3km to go on the 2015 road race course, and is followed quickly by the 23rd Street climb, which kicks up to 19 percent and is 110m in length.
"We found an old route from Tour DuPont that went up 23rd street. It's enough to wreck havoc on the peloton," Birrell said.
The Richmond course is unique in that the entire road race will take place on the circuit, unlike last year's race in Florence in which the elite men spent the first 100km of their race making their way from Lucca to the finishing circuits. The fans in Richmond will see the men go by 16 times.
"We're concentrating all of the efforts in the city of Richmond," Birrell said. The outlying areas will be featured in the team time trial and elite men's individual time trial, but otherwise the city hosts the vast majority of the courses.
The elite men's and women's road race course not only includes the rough cobbles of Libby Hill Park and 23rd Street, it also goes over a lengthy section of pavers which, while not as rough as cobblestones, offer up much more resistance than a smoothly paved road.
Boost for North American racing
Birrell expects the other UCI races in 2015 in North American to attract strong fields of riders who are gearing up for the Worlds in Richmond. The Tour of Utah, USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, the Tour of Alberta and the WorldTour races in Montreal and Quebec will all benefit from the championships being held on the continent.
"The fields for those Tours will be as bright as they ever could be, because there will be overwhelming interest to come over here and acclimate.
"Riders will spend three weeks racing at altitude in Utah, Colorado and then Alberta, they come back to the east coast time zone and lower elevations for Montreal and Quebec with a lot of strength in their legs."
Medalist Sports also runs the races in Utah, Colorado and Alberta, and when asked if those races would incorporate team time trials to attract more teams interested in preparing for Worlds, Birrell said it was possible.
"We're in discussion with both Utah and Colorado with regards to 2015, and I think there are some opportunities to entertain adding some team time trial elements to both of those races. It would be great preparation for Worlds in Richmond."
Hopefully only a flood of riders...
The USA's luck with world championships in recent times has not been terrific, the cyclo-cross Worlds in Louisville had to be condensed into one day because of flooding of the course due to heavy rains far upstream. The Worlds in Florence, Italy last September took place under a massive deluge, with riders navigating some sections that were under 10cm of water.
On August 30, 2004, Richmond, Virginia's Shockoe Bottom, through which the course runs en route to Libby Hill Park, was the site of devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Gaston, which pounded the region with 14 inches (35cm) of rain in just five hours. The flooding came not from the nearby James River, which is held back by flood gates, but by run-off from the downtown area pouring into "the Bottom". Businesses and homes were under 12 feet of water in places.
Neither the UCI nor Birrell expressed concern that the same type of event could affect the Worlds. "Fortunately, in September, the spring runoff is gone, and the James River is more like the Jimmy Creek. The city has done a tremendous amount of work over the decades in preparing itself for floods. As a former resident of Richmond, I do remember the days of Shockoe Bottom under water, but I don't envision it happening - it's not a major concern of ours."