Thousands of spectators from all over the world watched the world's top cyclists start one of the premier cycling races on University of Richmond's campus Sunday.
About 3,000 to 5,000 spectators, according to a university spokeswoman, attended the start of the Men's Elite Road Race -- the premier race in the UCI Road World Championships -- flooding the hill in front of Boatwright Memorial Library and lining the barricades along Richmond Way. Prior to the start, fans cheered on the riders as they were introduced. The Americans, riding in their home country in this event for the first time since 1986, received the loudest cheers.
"It's like a dream come true," an American rider told me moments before the start.
The loudest cheer, not surprisingly, came at 9:00 a.m. when the race began. But, as campus police chief Dave McCoy said before the race, "The unique thing about a bike race is once it goes it's gone."
McCoy was right.
The hill had cleared, most spectators left and Richmond Way began to look normal about a half hour after the riders began their 162.4-mile circuit race, which should take about 6.5 hours to complete. By 10:30, only a small podium, a bare starting line and a few cones remained.
"I think we had a great crowd," McCoy said moments after the race. "It was a great event. The best thing is everyone is leaving here with a good, positive experience."
One of the many people in attendance was President Ronald Crutcher, who said the whole atmosphere was magnificent and student turnout was great.
Crutcher, who has spent much of his life at many colleges and universities, said he had not seen anything like this before -- "Nothing anywhere close to this." He said he planned on watching some of the rest of the race on television. The university will have multiple commercials air during the race, and he had not seen them yet, he said.
Matt Jones, a Richmond College senior, was one of the many students in attendance.
"The whole international feel to it was very cool," Jones said. He said he appreciated the energetic and almost chaotic feel, but appreciated the organization. "From what I saw, there were a fair amount of students," Jones said.
The early start time challenged some students, including sophomore Patrick Hughes.
"I woke up a little late and I do feel like I missed a somewhat historic event, which is on me," Hughes said. "I did get to see the whole crowd though, which was cool."
The earliest fans arrived on campus between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Some of the most interesting scenes came before the race when the various countries organized themselves and socialized in many languages with fans and the media in the parking lots behind Ryland Hall and Maryland Hall.
Stig Kristiansen, a team manager for team Norway, said before the race he was impressed by both the city of Richmond and the university.
"The event has been very smooth," Kristiansen said. "No hiccups whatsoever, and the audience is fantastic."
Kristiansen said he had never seen a university like Richmond before. "It looks like what we have seen in American movies," he said, laughing.
Joanne Lagutin, the wife of world-class cyclist Russian Sergey Lagutin, was also impressed by the campus.
"I see they're building, which means they are putting money into the school, which is great," Lagutin said. "Obviously the school has money." Lagutin earned a college degree from Montclair State University in New Jersey, she said.
"Our campus is a real treasure for us," Crutcher said. "It makes me very proud when people can come and see it. The beauty of this campus is hard to describe. You have to actually see it to understand it."
Richmond locals took advantage of what was to some a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. Tim Donnellan, who lives within walking distance of campus, called the atmosphere amazing. He, his wife and their two children, all big cycling fans, attended the start of the race.
"It's good stuff, right in your backyard," Donnellan said. "Doesn't get any better than that."
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