When Richmond Hosted World-Class Cyclists.
Brooks Smith recalls the Tour duPont, which for a time put Richmond on the map as a venue of international bicycle racing.
Farrar: Brooks Smith continues to rediscover Richmond's sports history. Brooks, the last time we talked about the ancient sport of cricket, but I know you're also looking into some more modern sports. What do you have for us today?
Smith: Well, I'm gonna fast-forward us to truly modern bicycle road racing here in Richmond in the late 80's and early 90's. Let me preface it by saying that most everyone knows about the Tour de France, just ended actually a couple of days ago, the biggest and oldest bike road race in the world, dating back to 1903. Most everyone knows the great American racers like Greg Lamond and Lance Armstrong, but I wonder how many people know that Richmond was part of, and in fact, the host city of, a major international road race, perhaps the biggest in America, in which both Lamond and Armstrong rode and won.
Farrar: Really? Well, what was that?
Smith: It was called the Tour de Trump when it started in 1989 by the famous Donald Trump, then a real-estate mogul, and his idea was to build a race here in America that would rival the fame and fan base in France. He considered it to be America's premier cycling event. He was the lead funder and host for two years, and then it became the Tour DuPont and continued into 1996, so it ran for just eight years and it was a classic bicycling road race; a thousand miles, featuring Olympic-caliber riders from all around the world, went through cities like New York and Albany, Atlantic City, Baltimore and of course, Richmond, as I mentioned.
We were the only city to participate each and every year from inception to end, and in fact, we became the headquarters for the race from 1990 forward.
Farrar: Oh, really? Well, I guess Richmond was a good site because of the hills and the cobblestone streets and everything; it made a challenging course for the racers.
Smith: Yes, it's one of these interesting sports where it has this mass fan appeal because everybody has ridden a bike once in their lives, perhaps more. But it's also an unusual sport to rally around because you have these world-class athletes riding at top speed through town and it's not like they stop to pause for photographs or lunch, you know, it's a quick hit and out, but what Richmond had, like you said, is wonderful terrain, wonderful setting for a road race, and in the vernacular of bike racing, there's all different legs of a long road race.
You have stage races and prologue circuits, time trials, criteriums; Richmond in later years of the race, got to run circuits, so the riders actually rode around downtown five times and then up Taylor hill four times, so that literally, thousands of people came down to downtown Richmond and perched on parking decks and office buildings and street corners to watch these racers come through town.
Farrar: And what caused it to come to an end?
Smith: Well, unfortunately, the organizer, Mike Plant, an Olympian and Richmonder for a couple of years, was, fortunately for him, unfortunately for Richmond, he was called to Turner Sports to run the Goodwill games in '96, so he went down to Atlanta, and I think there were some sponsorship issues at the top, so the race ended nationwide and since then, there have been a couple of efforts to revive a similar race; there's a vibrant one out in California and I think there's one down in the Southeast, but there's really nothing like it anymore in the mid-Atlantic.
I mentioned this at the beginning, but what's fun, you know, in this league of fine road racers, we had Greg Lamond, who won in 1992, Lance Armstrong in '95 and '96, and one of the best quotes I've found in the research, after circling the city five times and riding up Taylor's hill four times, the only thing that Lance Armstrong could muster to say to the reporter was "Phew!"
Farrar: That hill put him out of breath.
Smith: That's right.
Farrar: All right. Any final thoughts?
Smith: Well, I, just a dear reflection on an old law that's since become forgotten in Richmond; back in 1974, in our bike craze of the 70's and the early energy crisis, City Council created a bikeway from Capitol hill area all the way up to the University of Richmond with a designated bike lane and signage and, of course, this was enacted into city code. It's obviously no longer there, and I can't help but ask the listening base here that, wouldn't it be nice to find that old law and reenact it?
Farrar: Okay, thanks to Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond, and we can hear Brooks' pieces on ideastations.org/radio/archive.