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The world championships: An opportunity to change U.S. cycling

Richmond 2015 COO Tim Miller explains how, for the broader U.S. cycling community, this year's worlds will be much more than just a race

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article on The Outer Line. In it, Steve Maxwell and Joe Harris interview Tim Miller, who is the COO of Richmond 2015, the organizer of 2015 UCI world road championships in Richmond, Virginia.  

This fall, the United States will play host to a top-level international sporting event that has not occurred on U.S. soil in almost 30 years. The UCI road cycling world championships are coming to Richmond, Virginia, bringing more than a thousand of the world’s best cyclists from over 75 countries, to compete across 12 men’s and women’s events. Richmond has played a major role in American cycling before, and was a centerpiece of the Tours de Trump and DuPont, back in the 1990s. Now, the city has a new opportunity to showcase cycling and change the course of the sport in the U.S.

The Outer Line recently spoke with Richmond 2015’s COO Tim Miller, who is a veteran race promoter. Miller has many ideas for how to improve and strengthen the worlds, and he believes this is the perfect moment to put more entrepreneurial thinking and precise execution into play — to help pro cycling move forward in a variety of ways. Miller is a familiar face in U.S. cycling and race promotion, starting over 25 years ago with the original formation of Medalist Sports, when it was the owner of the Tour DuPont (originally the Tour de Trump).

The Outer Line: What is the UCI selection process like? How long did it take?
Tim Miller: The UCI provided an outline of what they were looking for, and what questions needed to be answered in the bid: course details, the budget, the marketing plan, sponsorship strategy, TV production … all the really important details for staging a high-profile professional race. Two representatives from the UCI came for a visit in May of 2011 as part of the review process, and we drove the courses and showed them the general venues. The process started in earnest in January 2011 and we submitted the bid at the end of August that same year.

Our competitors for 2015 were the city of Quebec and the country of Oman; 2015 had already been designated as an “out of Europe” year — a strategy that the UCI put in place to try and really globalize the sport, and so the worlds had to be outside of Europe this year. Richmond is the second iteration of this policy, and Australia (Geelong, 2010) was the first. Quebec dropped out of the bidding process in March of 2011, while Oman actually withdrew their bid on the morning of the bid announcement. To me, this was surprising since Oman presumably would have had no problem with the money needed to pull it off. In any event, I think our preparation and bid was incredibly strong.

TOL: What key attributes allowed Richmond to be eventually selected for the honor?
TM: Richmond has some key advantages for staging an event of this significance. Our major downtown convention center will serve as the event headquarters. This is really the first time to my knowledge that the worlds will have a facility adjacent to the racing venues that’s big enough to house everything in one place — accreditation, press corps, our organizing team, and the UCI’s delegation, the UCI Congress, a major “fan-fest” expo area, everything. Second, it’s easy to get to Richmond, comparatively speaking — Ponferrada was ridiculously difficult to get to and offered very poor lodging alternatives. We’re easy to reach from Europe with the Dulles International [airport] connection just 90 miles away, and a lot of the U.S. East Coast population is within a six to eight-hour drive from us. Richmond also has a fairly rich cycling history, with the original Tours of America, Trump, and DuPont, all having had key stages in the city. And I’ll go out on a limb here, but I think the weather here during the fall is a lot better than in Oman!

TOL: What is your “pitch” to sponsors and advertisers — what do you propose to offer them here that perhaps they can’t get by sponsoring other events?
TM: First and foremost, that this is not just a bike race — and that’s the first message we try to convey to people. From there, it depends on whether or not they are a local company and what their objectives are. For example, we are viewing this as a huge opportunity to create transformational change in Richmond, which may resonate with a Richmond-based company, but perhaps not with someone that is headquartered in New York. Richmond can become a more cycling-friendly city — something we’re already starting to see happen, and even employees are being encouraged by area companies to bike to work. And the worlds created a kind of deadline for Richmond to get other things done — bike projects, trails, share programs, beautification projects, and so forth that have to get done in order to showcase the city. From a regional perspective, being involved in this effort is great publicity. Another factor that has helped is a message of “sustainability” — cycling is a green sport, and this is a green event.

Obviously, the other factor is that the numbers themselves are strong, and that is what a national company is looking for. We can safely estimate 450,000 spectators coming to see the events over the duration of the championships. The broadcast commitment will reach a global TV audience of 100 to 300 million people. And really, this is a once in a generation opportunity — the event hasn’t been in the U.S. for almost 30 years. This is actually one of five sports world championships happening on U.S. soil in 2015, and for companies, which are considering sponsorship opportunities at the Olympic level, the opportunity to participate with us can be a great extension.

TOL: What specific things do you think this event can do to build visibility and excitement, and inject some excitement into US cycling?
TM: Television is an important component. Universal Sports and NBC are committing a lot of broadcasting space for us, with several hours of live coverage every day. Universal Sports is really taking it to another level, having a broadcast desk on site and contributing a lot of additional promotional muscle.

We are also working very closely with the principals at USA Cycling and with Team USA to build momentum. We want to try to create “characters” and name recognition for the U.S. athletes. Compare us for a moment to NASCAR — they have created personalities, and fans know their car numbers, sponsors, and personal stories. Cycling needs this kind of fan connection as well. We’re trying to take a few athletes and turn them into more recognizable personalities for a broader audience. Tejay [van Garderen], [Andrew] Talansky, and Taylor [Phinney], and the women as well — for example, take Evie Stevens, former Wall Street banker-turned bike racer, that’s a great story to share. And there are others. We want to introduce some new cycling personalities to the world. We think we have an opportunity to connect new people with the sport, and get them engaged in cycling.

TOL: Do you view this event as an opportunity to grow cycling in the U.S. — is this a critical objective for you, or are you more focused on just the event?
TM: Like I said before, it is much more than a bike race and we hope that hosting the worlds in the U.S. will inspire more people to get out there and ride! Who knows what can happen from there? We have a youth education and outreach program — we’ll be having events at schools throughout the region and use this to hopefully inspire more kids to ride bikes. I’m not sure that this has been done at any of the world championships in the past. I think the sport has a huge opportunity to connect with new athletes through school systems and youth programs. That kind of outreach just makes talent development so much easier, because you can really connect with kids at an impressionable age and grow a life-long love of the sport. I hope that many top racers of the future will be from the East Coast after this event, and that they will have gotten interested in cycling after watching the Richmond worlds when they were kids.

TOL: How has the UCI been to work with?
TM: They’re pretty good to work with, although we do butt heads occasionally. [Brian] Cookson has the best interests of the sport at heart — but I think things are more complicated behind the scenes than most of the public realizes. Remember, we bid on and were awarded the race before he became the UCI president, and things are changing pretty dramatically at the UCI. For the first three years of our relationship, I gave them a quarterly report on our progress, but once Ponferrada was finished they started to focus a lot more on Richmond. We’re now communicating almost daily, on the phone or by email, working with the staff that oversees their championships. Aside from meeting their standards for staging the event — things which we committed to when we made our bid — we’ve had a fair amount of cooperation from them to make this event special.

TOL: What happens after September 27, when the last race is in the books?
TM: I can tell you I’m focusing all my energy on September 19th right now. We have to run a world-class event first, and then we can all take a breath when we’re done. If it all goes well, then hopefully that will lead to other opportunities for all of us, whether in the cycling world or not. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of putting all the pieces in place to prepare for this moment in the spotlight. We’re approaching a lot of things differently — everything from our partnership programs, our coordination with USA Cycling, and regional cooperation between municipalities.

When we took this on, we knew it would be about more than just a bike race; it’s a huge opportunity for the region and the entire state. And it’s a huge opportunity to set the stage for bigger and better pro cycling events in the U.S. I think once the UCI sees how we’ve really made the most of this opportunity they’ll be able to incorporate more of our planning into future world championships. I’m just proud to be a part of all of this, and I’m sure that if everything goes to plan, it will lead to good things for the future of cycling in this country.

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