The world road cycling championship races will happen in Richmond in September 2015. Some 400 million people around the world are expected to watch the races, including big crowds on along the course.
Race organizers Lee Callahan and Tim Miller of Richmond 2015 visited the Miller School’s ship-shape cycle shop next to the school’s gym Nov. 14 to meet the school’s endurance cycling team, arguably the top high school cycling program in the country.
The world championship will be nine-day event drawing the world’s top 1,000 cyclists from 75 nations. It will feature 12 separate races for three age groups of men and women. Teams consist of the top three to five riders from each country.
The championship was last held in the U.S. in Colorado Springs in 1986. Last year it was held in Florence. Races are over 60 to 85 mile courses and average speeds of 23 to 26 miles per hour. The elite men’s race will go for 160 miles and take over six hours on the bike.
Organizers are considering starting a race from outside Richmond, Callahan said, perhaps from Charlottesville, Fredericksburg or Williamsburg. The road course will be announced in early 2014, he said. “It will be in the city and on short steep hills and some cobblestone. The race will pass the same location every 20 minutes.” They expect crowds to line the route.
“We expect to fill hotel rooms in Charlottesville,” he said. “Visitors tend to make a vacation of it.”
Richmond has previously hosted the Tour de Trump and the Tour Dupont.
Miller expects its team will have several cyclists competing in Richmond.
“Several of the boys have a very, very good chance of making their national teams,” said Miller endurance cycling director Andy Guptill. “For this race you wear your country’s colors. The U.S. will choose three or four riders for the junior category and the 18-and-under race. The elite men’s group, ages 19 to 22, will have nine riders.
Miller has 17 cyclists on the team, nine on the varsity road team, including the Canadian national champion. Two cyclists are from Brazil and another from Hong Kong. The Americans on the team include Jake King, the younger brother of Ben King of North Garden, the U.S. national champion, the youngest national champion in history, who beat Lance Armstrong’s record. He was also a two-time 17-18 champion.
Joining Ben King as a mentor is Andrea Dvorak, two-time member of U.S. world champion team and a winner of a stage of the Tour de France. She now races for the Radio Shack Team. She earned her law degree at U.Va in 2006 and won a triathalon national championship as an undergraduate at U.Va.
“I’m blown away by this program,” said Miller. “There aren’t a lot of development programs out there. Everything about this program is just incredible.”
“With cycling you need such a high amount of intrinsic motivation,” Guptill said. “The riders are really dedicated. Here they get the peer support that keeps them training. None of these athletes has ever let us down. The guiding light of making their national teams is really inspiring them.”
“To make the national team is one step below the Olympics,” said Peter Hufnagle, Miller’s Dean of the Faculty, an English teacher, who pioneered Miller’s cycling program and was its coach until Guptill took over in 2010. “Our team is distinctive in the world. The national organizations consider us the standard for a high school program.”
“These guys, their goal is to get to the world championship and they all have a shot,” said Hufnagle. “In the cycling world, this event is the biggest thing ever to happen on the East Coast.”
“We’ve gone stellar in just three years,” said Guptill, who raced as a pro for 10 years. “I live here because the cycling here is as good as it is. It’s the best in the world. I’ve lived plenty of places and this is the best.”
The team trains every day, starting in the gym. On four days, after classes end, they are out on their bikes until dark. The team’s favorite route, Hufnagle said, is down Plank Road and up Old Mountain Road to the Afton P.O. There are also 12 miles of student-built trails around Miller School’s 1,600 rolling acres.
“You have to ride like it’s a part-time job if you want to be competitive,” Hufnagle said.
All the athletes build their bikes from scratch and keep them in repair. Races are on weekends. Miller hosts the state championship and is a venue other teams come to to race. The course is an 18-mile loop on Dick Woods and Edge Valley Roads.
“We’re trying to get people [going to watch the race] to see Crozet as part of their vacation, said Hufnagle. “Western Albemarle, the roads around here are perfect for cycling. It’s the best location for cycling in the country. I think a lot of people are going to be inspired to get into the sport.”