Richmond, Virginia's US Open Cycling Championships, a race that faced imminent cancellation just over a month ago, made its successful debut on the calendar on Saturday, at the same time making a bit of cycling history. The first year event is one of the few domestic one-day events to make major sports television when it was broadcast on the NBC Sports channel for more than two hours.
Extreme weather made for headaches for the race organisation, but also made a dramatic backdrop for the television cameras once the skies cleared enough for the helicopters to take flight.
Race director John Eustice nervously waited for the weather to clear the morning of the event, and he made it clear that the television coverage was as important as the race itself. "As soon as the clouds lift, the choppers can fly. If the choppers can fly, we have live pictures and we can have a bike race... it's all about the TV show."
Eustice explained that the coverage of the race was a critical ingredient in raising the level of the sport in America, and said that this race in particular is the type of event that can bring in more than just a niche audience. "It's a point to point race along a very historic route - and you've got this circuit, it's compelling. You're going to have some real interesting, really great action which will show Americans how exciting cycling can be."
"All the ingredients are here to make good races - what we need is television - good television and enough exposure to make the sponsors come in. And stars? That'll come - as soon as you get the big guys winning on television, you'll have stars - but you have to get them on television first or otherwise they're invisible."
The race's demanding circuit would have been dramatic enough, but the race was made even harder by unusually cold and snowy spring weather. BMC's Mike Sayers described the race as "an unbelievable race. It was gas on right from the start. Today was seriously one of the hardest races I've done in America in a long time."
The brutal start to the day made for plenty of nervous racers, and the combination of nerves and riders trying to go hard enough to keep warm led to a little 'excursion' for the peloton. Health Net's Shawn Milne described the start, saying, "The first left turn (of the race) everyone missed.
"Everyone was so worried about crashing, we kept passing the commissaire's car. He slowed down to take a left, and everyone just went around and went straight. I mean, there was so much snow - everyone was worried about not crashing and just staying warm - and not about following directions."
Slipstream director Jonathan Vaughters, a veteran of races in harsh European weather, used the unpleasant conditions to his team's advantage and was satisfied when Pat McCarty took second place in front of the national audience. "It was pretty extreme conditions, but we knew it was going to clear up. It was perfectly okay to run the race - the roads were just wet, there wasn't any ice - it was never unsafe, it was just cold. I just told the guys we need to be aggressive early and often and throughout the race - we just went for the most aggressive tactic and it almost worked..."
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