One of the most iconic scenes from the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond in 2015 was of the crowd gathered on Libby Hill as the riders made their way up the cobblestone switchbacks. Thousands descended on the area near Church Hill overlooking downtown, cheering on their favorite riders.
Thanks to a fund-raising event held this past Saturday, road cyclists and mountain bikers of all abilities had the chance to see how they fared going up the same challenging serpentine path as the professionals two years ago.
The “Climb to Conquer Cancer,” which benefited VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, drew a field of about 150 cyclists in their quest to test themselves. It was the brainchild of Amy Williams, the president of Amy’s Army of Cancer Warriors, and Les Carter, the event director.
“We were hoping to re-create the vibe (from the 2015 Worlds),” said Williams, a cancer survivor who credits the Massey Cancer Center with saving her life. “We first thought about a road race, but that can cost between $20,000 and $30,000.”
Instead they decided to feature two timed climbs up Libby Hill as part of a ride of 26.2, 44 or 62 miles out on the road or 19 or 33 on the area’s mountain bike trails. The average time of their two climbs (the first after about a 3-mile warm-up and the second ending their ride) was used as riders competed for a polka dot jersey, just as the pro riders earn as the best climber, or King of the Mountains, in the Tour de France.
“The credit for that goes to Emily Bashton,” Williams said.
Bashton is the organizer for Pedal through Petals, a cycling fundraiser for Amy’s Army that was held in May. Bashton also came up with the idea of a podium ceremony, complete with two young cancer survivors (Mia and Abigail) serving as podium girls, who handed out flowers and the famed polka dot jerseys to King and Queen of the Mountain winners in four categories.
But event organizers were eyeing more than just cyclists. They wanted to make it fun “for people to watch,” Williams said. Special VIP spectator areas were set up, and fans were able to get in on the action by ringing small cowbells and cheering as the cyclists made the climb and passed under a white and yellow balloon arch at the top of the hill.
The climb up the cobblestones measured about one-tenth of a mile and had an average grade of 9 percent. Saturday’s riders in Richmond did the climb just twice, while at the 2015 Worlds, the men made the climb up Libby Hill 16 times and the women eight. At the 2017 Worlds in Bergen, Norway, which concluded Sept. 24, the big climb up Salmon Hill in the men’s and women’s elite road races was 1.5 kilometers (almost a mile) with an average grade of 10 percent.
Looking at comments the riders posted on their Facebook pages, it was a big success, and many can’t wait to do it again. But if you missed the chance this year, don’t worry. Williams and company already are looking ahead to next year.
“We all talked afterward and heard a lot of ‘This is great. Let’s do it again.’” Williams said.
Event organizers will meet in the next two or three weeks, hoping to pin down a date. But Williams said it probably will be around the same time of the year since this one seemed to work out well.
“When we started talking about it earlier this spring, we thought if we got 50-75 people, that would be great,” she said. “I’m really happy with the way it went. We are looking to improve (the event) and hear what to add and what to fix.”