PEZ Turns 20: Chuck’s WORLDS’15 Weekend!

Guides

I’m sort of the new kid on the block, having become a contributor to PEZ in 2015. But I’d been a longtime reader and my connection to PEZ started the year before when my (and my RAAM teammate, Sam Bishop’s) #steelisreal Hollands was featured in Readers’ Rigs. And the PEZ crew is so close knit that it feels like I’ve been here forever.

This is the second piece I penned for PEZ (the first being my ride of the Richmond 2015 Worlds course). And it was my first time back to a pro race since the 90s — when I went to the Tour de France on a Breaking Away tour with my wife, was at every edition of the Tour de Trump/Tour Dupont (including being there for Greg Lemond’s last major win of his career and getting an invite to the post-race party where I got to hang out with Davis Phinney and Laurent Fignon, amongst others), and several editions the USPRO Championship (then sponsored by and more commonly called CoreStates) in Philadelphia with the brutal Manayunk Wall (I hitched a ride in one of the Mavic neutral support cars one year and it was a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride around the course, especially the fall from the wall). Plus it was part of my “comeback” after a 15 year hiatus off the bike and it just felt great to be back in the middle of it all.

What made this a different weekend is that I didn’t go to Worlds with a bunch of my cycling buddies. It was a family trip to Richmond to visit our friends Tilly and Bonnie. Tilly and I go way back to my competitive tennis days and then later in life golf buddies. Tilly and Bonnie used to live not too far from us in Arlington and we used to socialize and go out to dinner together a lot. So although we went down to Richmond to watch the races, the weekend was more than just that.

Chuck’s Worlds Weekend:

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Chuck Peña rode the Worlds road race course for PEZ to preview the sights of Richmond before the fans arrived. So it was only fair that we send him back with his camera for the week-end of the championships to get the ‘Chuck Peña Angle’ on all the action from the 2015 Richmond Worlds.

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Near the start/finish, one of many murals painted just for the Worlds

Friday
Having ridden the Worlds course earlier this year and watching delayed TV race coverage of the time trials during the week, Friday morning couldn’t have gotten here soon enough for our family 3-day weekend trip to Richmond aka RVA. Up early, pack the car, a stop at Java Shack for lattes, and we were off! Fortunately, it was smooth sailing from Arlington to Richmond and we arrived at our friends’ (Tilly and Bonnie) house in the Ginter Park neighborhood about 10am.

There was a lot of news reporting that the crowds weren’t as big as anticipated, so we decided to risk it and drive into the city proper (more accurately, my friend Tilly drove us) on the chance that we’d be able to find parking. Rather than having to wait for a bus, driving was the right call. We found a parking spot just one block off Broad Street, the main straight of the race course.

And we were very near Lift, which from my previous visit to Richmond I had dubbed the official PEZ coffee shop for the Worlds. So the first order of business was an early lunch. Although not mobbed, Lift was definitely crowded – one of the benefits of being right on the race course. And a benefit of going to Lift was that their outdoor sidewalk seating was one of the best seats in the house for watching the race. While we were there, we saw Chloe Dygert (USA) on her last lap powering her way to a solo breakaway victory in the Women’s Junior Road Race and her second gold medal of the week (her first being the Women’s Junior Individual Time Trial).

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Being at Lift put you about as close to the racing as you could get

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Denmark in the house (with Lift owner, Stephanie)

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The world really was in Richmond and at Lift judging by the map where people marked where they were from

After lunch, we walked down Broad Street to see the start of the Men’s U23 race. And since it was nearby, we visited FanFest 2015 to check out the exhibits.

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And they’re off!

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An old frame marque brought into the carbon fiber age

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No caption needed, but if you insist: Shut up legs!

From FanFest we made our way to Shockoe. The corner of Main Street and 15th Street was a fast downhill 90-degree right-hander. Ah, the smell of burning carbon fiber as the racers were hard on their brakes into the corner. I’ve previously described the road course as an oversized downtown crit and just like in a crit, after braking hard they had to jump hard out of the corner to accelerate onto the straightaway.

The highlight of the day was going over to the top of cobbled climb on 23rd Street. Closer than Libby Hill and we figured it wouldn’t be as crowded. I was able to get a front row seat at the barrier. Although Libby Hill was billed as the marquee climb of the course, in some 23rd Street was a harder climb. Although shorter, it’s steeper… a lot steeper. And it’s narrower, so more of a fight for position. As Peter Sagan would later prove, the 23rd Street climb (and descent afterwards) would prove to be decisive.

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23rd Street is a combination of new cobbles that are smoother (on the right) and old ones (on the left)

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What happens when you drop your chain or crash at the bottom of a steep, cobbled climb? You run up

Saturday
Since this was a family trip, we weren’t on any kind of schedule, i.e., not in a rush to spend all day at the races, so we slept in a little. Breakfast in, but lattes from Stir Crazy in Richmond’s North Side neighborhood where our friends live.

It had rained overnight (our friends had just laid down new sod so they were happy for that). The weather forecast on the news was for 2-4 inches of rain. Yikes! We decided to not worry whether we made it to the morning’s Men’s Junior Road Race and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t get soaked at the Women’s Elite Road Race. Tilly and Bonnie were taking care of their grandson for the day so we hopped on a bus into Richmond that dropped us a block off of Broad Street.

There was definitely moisture in the air, but it wasn’t really raining. Nonetheless, we decided it would be better to be under cover rather than standing out in the open so we make a beeline for the Shimano tent on Broad Street, just after the turn coming off the climb up Governor. One of the perks of having a wife who works for a bike shop is that she knows people in the bike industry. So we hung out with the Shimano gang for what was left of the Men’s Junior Road Race. Not only could we see the race up close and personal, but we also had a view of the Jumbotron placed on the corner of Governor and Broad – best of both worlds at the Worlds.

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Prime viewing from the Shimano tent on Broad Street

After the Men’s Junior Road Race, we walked to Shockoe to a party hosted by Atlantic Exhibits, whose offices on 15th Street were right on the race route (Health Warrior, a Richmond company that makes chia protein bars and snacks, co-hosted the party) to watch the Women’s Elite Road Race. A special “thank you” to Joe Notarincola who invited us after having read my PEZ article about riding the course. Atlantic and Health Warrior threw a great party. Lots of food and drink. Lots of great people. Big screen TVs to watch inside. And an elevated landing for watching outside. What more could you ask for?

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Le creme de les femmes ascending Governor

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Our gracious host, Joe Notarincola

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Watching the race inside at the Atlantic/Health Warrior party

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Watching the race outside at the Atlantic/Health Warrior party … Allez!

Saturday night was Operation Dinner Out with our friends, Bonnie and Tilly. We went to Lemaire, a swanky restaurant in the Jefferson Hotel, which is considered Richmond’s grandest hotel. In addition to the great food, Lemaire was a great choice (my wife picked it) because they have a whole menu devoted to Negronis, the PEZ drink of choice. I had Lemaire’s Classic Negroni: Plymouth Bin, Doulin Rouge, and Campari. As Orson Welles said, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

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A Negroni … What better way to cap of a day of race watching?

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Welcome to the Jefferson

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Not race bikes

Sunday
Once again, it rained overnight but no rain when we woke up. My daughter wanted donuts for breakfast, so Tilly and I made a trip to Sugar Shack for donuts and lattes. Marin went the Full Monty and got chocolate covered with sprinkles. Me… I had a “healthy” plain donut.

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Mmm … donuts

Even though we knew it would be more crowded for the Men’s Elite Road Race, we (again, Tilly drove … we were just passengers) decided to drive in and hope we could find parking. Once again we found parking just a block off of Broad Street.

First stop, the climb up Governor. If you watched the races on TV, it’s hard to appreciate just how hard this climb is. The run in on Main Street is uphill. Then a right turn onto Governor, which is a grind up. And the reward for making it up? A left turn onto a false flat and then the finishing straight that seems to go on forever.

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Vogue … strike a pose … on the climb up Governor

And then day two at the Atlantic/Health Warrior party. We decided it would just be easier to camp out there rather than deal with the crowds at Libby Hill and 23rd Street. Plus, like on Saturday, we could see the whole race on TV and the race live every time they came down 15th Street. Again, “thank you” Joe Notarincola for your hospitality. And there’s a certain truth to the Chinese proverb “If you stand in one place long enough, the world will come to you.” That’s exactly what happened each time the peloton went by.

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If you stand in one place long enough, the world will come to you … on bikes.

Another advantage of being at the Atlantic/Health Warrior party is that it was in the middle of two other good vantage points. I would walk up the street to watch the peloton come careening down Main Street into the corner onto 15th Street. And then down the street to watch them make the jump out of the corner onto Dock Street. Definitely just like a downtown crit.

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Local boy Ben King in the early break

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Peter Sagan sat in all day until he made his winning move on the last lap

Some race analysis:
As I watched the final lap, I predicted that the break — Tyler Farrar (USA) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) — would be caught by Libby Hill, and they were. And that there would be separation on the 23rd Street climb, and there was. Many have said that Peter Sagan won the race with his charge past Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) up the cobbles on 23rd Street. But I’d argue that he really won the race on the descent afterwards. He looked almost serene as he bombed down Broad Street at warp speed to widen the gap. And then he just railed on the downhill lefthand turn onto 18th Street, using every inch of the road — there’s a reason Sagan is considered the best bike handlers in the pro peloton and one of, if not the best, descenders. When the TV showed Sagan on the uphill run in on Main Street before the climb up Governor, I said “He has it” because you could see the hesitation and disorganization in the chase behind him. I knew from his epic climb up Mount Baldy in the Tour of California that he had the legs to make it up Governor ahead of his pursuers. And when he made the turn onto the seemingly endless finishing straight, all I could do was scream “Allez!” at the TV to will him on to the win.

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And some food for thought:
Michael Matthews (Australia), aka “Bling,” won the bunch sprint for second and later lamented that he thought he could have won had the whole team been riding for one rider (Australia chose to have two team leaders, Matthews and Simon Gerrans). But consider that Germany was all-in for John Degenkolb (Andre “the Gorilla” Griepel — one of the worlds best sprinters and winner of four sprint stages in this year’s Tour de France — absolutely buried himself), yet Degs (winner of Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix this year) couldn’t overhaul Sagan. When asked how many of his teammates were riding for him in the closing kilometers, Matthews replied, “I think I maybe had three guys.” Well, that’s one more than Sagan had riding for him for the whole race — 261 kilometers (162 miles). Just sayin’.

We had a great three days at the Worlds watching great racing. The forecasted rain never really materialized. Which certainly would have changed the character of the racing with slick cobbles on Libby Hill and 23rd Street and maybe the outcome of the races. Our friends Tilly and Bonnie were great hosts. Joe Notarincola and Atlantic/Health Warrior hosted a great party. The city of Richmond did a great job hosting the race. I hope it’s not another 30 years before another Worlds comes to the U.S. because Richmond proved the world should come to America more often.


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