Virginia's Commonwealth Classic cancelled

Organisers of the Commonwealth Cycling Classic in Virginia have called off the inaugural edition of the four-day 2.1 race that was planned for August 24-27.

Speaking with Cyclingnews by phone from Richmond, Commonwealth Classic Executive Director Tim Miller said local support for the race was strong, but the timing was wrong to pull together all the necessary pieces for the event that he hoped would serve as a legacy to the 2015 Richmond World Championships.

"I talked to quite a few sponsors, and most of the sponsors I talked to said, 'Hey, it sounds great, and if you get this up and running we're in'," said Miller, who was also chief operating officer of the 2015 Richmond Worlds organisation. "But creating an event like this from scratch is like a complex jigsaw puzzle where all these different pieces have to fall into place at the right time in order to go the the next step. And all those pieces just didn't fall into place at the right time for various reasons."

The Commonwealth Classic was the brainchild of RPM Events, a group Miller formed last year with two Colorado businessmen to promote the Virginia race and the new Colorado Classic, which is moving forward toward its scheduled dates of August 10-13.

Earlier this week, the Colorado race announced details for a 'Velorama' music festival that will run concurrent with the final stages in Denver. Organisers are betting that national acts including Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie will entice spectators to pay admission to see the concert and watch the racing. They've also added a two-day, three-stage women's race to the cycling festival.

When RPM Events announced the new Colorado and Virginia races last September, the group claimed it was seeking a more financially stable, streamlined business model with new revenue streams, especially important because neither race had secured a title sponsor. They also opted for cost-saving spoke-and-hub routes based out of a single city rather than the more costly far-flung point-to-point races.

Miller, who is the chief operating officer of RPM Events, headed up the Virginia group, while RPM Chairman Ken Gart and CEO David Koff focused on their home state of Colorado. While resources and support flowed into Colorado to pump up that event, the Virginia race was apparently withering on the vine.

"The Colorado event developed much more quickly than the Virginia event did," Miller said. "We weren't making the progress in Virginia, and ultimately those guys had to make a business decision based on what was best for the business and what was best for the investors. A decision was made to cancel or postpone the Virginia event. I wouldn't characterise it as taking money from Virginia and pouring it into Colorado."

Miller told Cyclingnews that the Virginia race was challenging for several reasons. First, organisers were late going to market to secure support from cities and sponsors. Second, Richmond, which would have been the hub of the race, was undergoing a leadership transition from incumbent Mayor Dwight Jones, who had been in place throughout the build-up and execution of the World Championships, to Mayor Levar Stoney, who took over in January. Miller said the transitioning leadership made it hard to "pin some things down".

"I have a very high opinion of [Mayor Stoney], and I think he's going to be a fantastic mayor, but he's got some big challenges ahead of him taking over an administration," Miller said. "He's got a lot of pressure to focus on the public school system and core services. It's just tough to put something like a bike race at the top of the priority list under those circumstances. As much as I do believe it's a valuable tourism and economic development tool, it's still a tough sell under the circumstances."

Moving forward

Despite today's news, the possibility still remains that the race could take place in 2018, Miller said, if there's a will among the event's local supporters to carry the idea forward.

"There's some discussion going on," he said. "There's a core group of people here in Richmond that would really like to see it happen. There are a number of corporate sponsors and even some cities I think that would like to be involved and support it. So we're discussing it, but it's really going to be a matter of after we make this announcement, will people say, 'Hey, let's try again for 2018'? There are people who can still make this happen, but we've got to get some signals that people really want it."

If there is an effort to make the race happen in 2018 or beyond, it will have to look elsewhere for its leadership. Miller told Cyclingnews he's ready to move on professionally after having worked full-time on the World Championships and then trying to bring the Commonwealth Classic to fruition.

Miller began his career in cycling at the original Medalist Sports event management company, working as part of the media and public relations team for the Tour DuPont in the 1990s. In 2003 he founded the CapTech Classic, a USA Cycling National Racing Calendar event, which he developed and ran until 2006. In 2010 he led the effort to bid on the Richmond Worlds and was ultimately named chief operating officer of the organising committee.

"It's time for me to do something else," Miller said. "By all means, if there's a group that wants to do this in 2018, I'm happy to be an adviser or serve on a committee or something like that and do everything I can to help, but it's time for me to start the next chapter in my professional life. There are other people who can do that if the desire's there to make it happen."

Unfortunately, organisers of a future event could face a higher hurdle in the eyes of sponsors and governing bodies after this year's cancellation, Miller said.

"It's an unfortunate situation because I truly believe that this is a big opportunity for the Richmond region and for the state of Virginia, and if we don't create a legacy for Richmond 2015 and the World Championships it would be a huge missed opportunity in my opinion," he said. "It's just a question of whether everybody else has that opinion or not."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.