By Stephen Nielsen
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The World Road Cycling Championships, one of the most prestigious international competitions for bicyclists, is coming to Richmond in two years, giving a healthy boost to the city’s image and tourist industry.
The Worlds, as it’s called, is a nine-day event consisting of 12 races for both men and women. It will include 1,500 top athletes, an expected half million spectators and a global TV audience of roughly 300 million. The Worlds will be held in Richmond in September 2015 – only the second time the races have come to the U.S.
“It’s a unique opportunity for the Richmond region to be spotlighted,” said Lee Kallman, director of marketing and communication for Richmond 2015, the event’s organizing body.
“And the nature of cycling TV is there’s a lot of tourism stuff built in. There’s a lot of time where announcers can talk about landmarks and other interesting things that the race is going through.”
While Richmond has a growing tourist industry, the Worlds gives the city a chance to be seen in a new light. The exposure could do a lot for tourism over the long term.
“People know about Richmond and its history,” Kallman said. “That’s not something we have to sell them on, necessarily.” Instead, the Worlds will be a chance for people from all over the world to experience the metro area’s restaurants, wineries, nightlife and culture.
“Historically, Richmond is thought of as kind of a Southern, sleepy, Civil War town,” Kallman said. “A global event helps drive those perceptions in a really positive way.”
The event will enhance not only perceptions but also the local economy. The Richmond 2015 group last year commissioned a study of the financial benefits of the Worlds. It found that the event will generate almost $160 million in direct and indirect spending throughout the state.
The chance to host the Worlds is an honor in itself.
“It’s been an event that’s traditionally very European-centric, as a lot of things in the sport of cycling have been,” Kallman said. For example, the Worlds was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2011, and in the Netherlands the following year. The event will be held in Florence, Italy, this September and in Ponferrada, Spain, in 2014.
It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the Union Cycliste Internationale, a global governing body for the sport, decided to push globalization and require the Worlds be held outside Europe every five years.
“At the time, there was a group in Richmond that had some experience in the cycling world and noticed the opportunity that the Worlds presented,” Kallman said. “They got the ball rolling, getting the city behind it and finding some initial funding for the project.”
In December 2010, local supporters announced that Richmond would officially bid for the 2015 World Championships. There was intense competition, but at the 2011 Worlds, officials announced that Richmond won the bid over the Arabian country of Oman and Quebec, Canada.
Kallman believes Richmond got the nod for a couple of reasons:
¶ “When you look at the cities, for the most part they don’t look to have it in huge, huge cities,” Kallman said. “An event like this, the arena is the streets. It’s tough to shut down the inner city of Manhattan or L.A. for the amount of time that the World Championships covers.”
¶ Virginia’s capital city also is convenient for prospective spectators. “Richmond has great access to concentration of population. We’re within half a day’s drive from half the U.S. population.”
Richmond has a strong cycling culture, meaning the event will be locally popular.
Now preparations for the event are underway. It will cost $21 million to host the Worlds. So far, Richmond 2015 has raised more than $11 million, largely from Virginia-based companies such as Altria, CarMax and Genworth. Individuals such as Bill and Alice Goodwin and Jim and Bobbi Ukrop also contributed.
The four co-chairmen of Richmond 2015 officials recently announced that the group had passed the halfway point in fundraising. They are Thomas Farrell II, the chief executive officer of Dominion; Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones; Gov. Bob McDonnell; and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.
Jones expressed his appreciation for the business community’s strong support for “this unprecedented opportunity to showcase the Richmond region on a global stage.”
McDonnell added, “Staging a world-class event with more than 1,000 elite athletes representing more than 70 nations will bring positive attention to the commonwealth. We are excited to showcase our region to the hundreds of thousands of on-site spectators and the hundreds of millions watching on global television.”
Kallman said the next step is to broaden the fundraising.
“The last few months, we’ve really made a transition to dialogue with national and international brands about the opportunity that the World Championships presents,” Kallman said. “We got a great response there.”
After the races, officials hope Richmond will remain a spot internationally recognized by cyclists. It’s definitely true that many people who had never heard of Richmond before have now, Kallman said.
“Richmond is on their radar now.”
On the Web
The website for the group hosting the World Road Cycling Championships in Richmond is at http://richmond2015.com. There, you can read about the event and its economic impact. You also can make a donation or buy merchandise such as T-shirts, caps and water bottles to support the event.