For the first time in 30 years, cycling's Road World Championships will be held in the U.S. The nine-day event, which features road races, as well as team and individual time trials, will be held in Richmond, Virginia, from September 19 to 27. Worlds will bring in more top-tier cyclists than the Tour de France, and the host city is worth a visit in its own right. Here's what you need to know about the world championships, especially if you don't know — or care — much about bike racing.
1. It's a really big deal. Really.
Next to the Tour de France, this is the most prestigious cycling event in the world. The winner gets to wear the rainbow-striped jersey of the world champion for an entire year — the ultimate bragging right. The city is expecting nearly half a million spectators. It's sort of like the World Cup: All of the best athletes in one place, a bunch of national pride, and a sport most Americans still don't quite get.
2. Richmond is actually very cool.
You know how all your liberal arts college friends were looking for the next next cool town? That's Richmond, Virginia, now. The city's a weird amalgamation of confederate nostalgia and postwar healing — the course runs right up and down Monument Avenue, where statues of both Jefferson Davis and Arthur Ashe reside. In historic neighborhoods like Church Hill and Shockoe Bottoms, you'll find trendy bars, quirky bike shops, and artisan bakeries.
3. But seriously, Richmond?
Okay, it didn't hurt that in its bid to host the world championships, the folks in Richmond hired a sports marketing agency operated by the brother of the president of cycling's governing body, the UCI, which ultimately chose the host city. Next year's race is in Qatar. See how this event is a lot like the World Cup?
4. No, you can't dust off your Huffy and line up.
U.S. bike racers have been competing for roster spots all year. And the U.S. coaches selected not just the fastest cyclists (six for the men, and seven for the women), but also considered how the racers would work as a team. Still, bring your bike, it'll help you get around the road race's 10-mile circuit.
5. The U.S. probably won't win, but we might!
Like our World Cup teams, the U.S. women have historically been better than the men, but both squads have racers to cheer for. In 2014, Shelley Olds placed sixth in the world championships road race, and the diminutive sprinter is a favorite on this year's technical course. For the men, much of the hope resides in Taylor Phinney, the son of a Tour de France stage-winning dad and an Olympic gold medalist mom, who's recovered from a near career-ending crash to make the roster for Richmond.
6. There will be beer. Lots and lots of beer. And great food, too.
Cycling fans know how to party, so expect mugs full of frothy libations and outlandishly patriotic costumes. You'll find beer gardens in the official fan zones on Libby Hill and 23rd Street, the two steep cobblestone climbs where the racers will be battling for position and launching attacks, and pubs all along the course offering pints of local craft beers. Try the Singel, a Belgian-style ale from Richmond's Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, at 23rd and Main Taproom, and then sober up with a Virginia Omelet (filled with lump crab meat) from Millie's Diner, located at the base of Libby Hill.
7. There are nine days of racing spread over two weekends.
The opening ceremonies kick-off Friday night (September 18), and in a heartwarming display, the U.S. team will be led to the stage by members of the Richmond Cycle Corps, a nonprofit organization that brings cycling programs to kids in public housing. From September 19 to 23 the team and individual time trials will take place. The team competition is especially impressive, with bikes that look like rocket ships and a half dozen racers working together to average upwards of 40 miles per hour. The following weekend, the road races will take place on a circuit in and around downtown Richmond. The men's elite road race kicks off at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and will travel 16 laps on the circuit, totaling 161-miles.