There are not many situations you can chase a woman at high speed through a city without a call being made to a police, but in Richmond, Virginia I did just that, writes Steve Zacharanda.

This city staged the World Cycling Championships with aplomb and I was given the chance to follow US athlete Carmen Small’s time trial in a car as she strived for perfection through the streets as residents, police and anyone on the route cheered the home hero on. And cheering me as I waved from the back seat.

Getting a behind the scenes look at the Union Cycliste Internationale championships was fascinating. Nine days in September were the culmination of years of hard work, political capital, and innovative thinking by the American hosts.

No-one knows how these events will pan out until they happen, the fear is always they will be bankrupt the host like Montreal Olympics. Will residents get behind the event? Will the elite athletes be happy? Will the sponsors be happy? Will there be a freak storm? Will it be worth everyone's time and effort?

As I whistled through the historic neighbourhoods of Richmond during an overcast Tuesday afternoon I worried the event might be a damp squib as all the route was not lined with supporters like the Tour De France and Olympics.

Comments on Facebook were familiarly depressing with the gold standard of mean-minded missives - "what a waste of money, it could have been spent on schools or hospital!" and people treating the disruption getting to work like having to have a leg off. But this is not a bad reflection on Richmond. These people are all over the world, brave powers-at-be must ignore them as world of their making would be a place where smiles would be an endangered species and laughter a distant memory.

These doom-mongers were out in force before the London Olympics predicting disaster and they mostly booked the two weeks off and left the capital for the games, so all the nice people were left and the games were very enjoyable without them. A good indication to see if locals embrace an international event is volunteers. And over 6,000 of the good people of Richmond gave up their time to ensure the championships were a success. Young, old, black and white - this army of helpers always had a smile on their face and a friendly Southern welcome to the city they were obviously all proud of.

The championships also meant parts of the city had been cleaned up, revamped and improved (bizarrely the Facebook moaners moaned 'they are only repaving this street because of the cycling'), which would leave a legacy as were the miles of cycling trails and lanes which the locals could enjoy after the circus left town. There are 38km of public cycling routes in Richmond, 25 of those were because of UCI. And some of these link up to Virginia’s impressive urban and suburban trails, one leads into Washington DC.

The championships also acted as a natural deadline for other projects. One of the most innovative hotel chains in America - Destination Hotels - opened its brand new Quirk Hotel, which breathed new life into a historic bank and a forgotten part of downtown, to coincide with UCI. The uber-cool lobby, bar and restaurant was the place to be seen after the sun went down and crowds went home.

By American standards Richmond is historic, it was capital of the Confederacy and is the most northern city of The South. Named Richmond by settlers due to a bend of the James River being reminiscent of Richmond upon Thames. There are five major hills which makes it perfect terrain for world class cycling.

The picturesque Libby Hill with its winding cobbled streets was a natural meeting point for spectators during the championships and looked wonderful on television. It suddenly became an iconic cycling destination and will stage cycling events for years to come. Each morning Conquer the Cobbles was open to anyone to cycle and before the end of the championships it was attracting over 1,000 people a day.

One of the races started at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens which, as well having stunning flora and forna and beautiful butterflies, had plenty of history for fans to enjoy as it was the home of one of America's first cycling clubs in the late 1800s.The finishing line was always the same, outside the Marriott Downtown Richmond hotel and was flanked by the VIP areas which were heaving with people enjoying pulled pork, local beers and other refreshments for $300 a day.

It was fascinating to see the elite of Richmond and the Capital Region, which includes Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, enjoying themselves and the sport on offer. Lots of old friendships were reacquainted and new ones forged as the UCI provided the perfect excuse for a party. And though the number crunchers can come up with how much money is spent due to sporting events being held in a city but the value of a damn fine day out with friends is priceless.

Organisers predicted 450,000 spectators would turn out to watch the world class sport on offer, as it was over 670,000 people enjoyed the spectacle. The final weekend was bathed in sun and the streets were lined with fans. It was great to see how the championships really took hold of the city, with more people enjoying it as the days went by.

The Americans brought several new additions to the championships, for the first time there were fanzones, the convention centre was full of stalls about cycling, the region and Americana. The most popular stand was the Richmond Tourist Board, which offered free tattoos. The finest foods were available at the fanzone as well and access to the cyclists was unprecedented with even the leader's chair and podium in public.

We were staying at the Marriott which was a hive of activity with 1,000 superfit athletes from 75 countries having their every whim catered for their permanently worried looking teams. The atmosphere was electric as the culmination of years of hard work was being ruled a success or failure in a matter of minutes, there were hushed conversations in corners and stressed out phone calls in foreign languages relaying excuses back home.

The traditional model of staging world sporting events of cities underwriting the cost with the help of private sector sponsors to foot the bill is starting to look outdated as democratic cities like Richmond are at a disadvantage. It is no co-incidence the next slew of world events announced are being held in places where the Government’s can write a blank cheque without the worry of attendance numbers or a stringent press asking questions – World Cups in Russia and Qatar, Winter Olympics in China and the next cycling UCI in Doha.

With that in mind, the Mayor of the Richmond Dwight Jones deserves credit for the foresight to back the bid for the first UCI in America in 30 years. During a memorable meal in the fashionable Church Hill district at Metzger with the mayor and his staff is was great to see the relief and chutzpah of all them all after realising they delivered a successful UCI.

He said: "I was asked if we would put a bid together but I did not think we could do it but I was persuaded that Richmond could win and stage a successful championships, I am delighted we did.

"It took a lot of work but it has been a brilliant opportunity to show the entire world, through the hundreds of millions of people watching on TV, what a great place Richmond is to visit."

He added: "I'm extremely proud of the way the region pulled together in welcoming the world to our doorstep and showcasing our community.”

And of all TV sports cycling is the best showing a host at its best and is why the Virginia tourist board was so keen on the bid which would mean over 350 million people across the world would see the picturesque state in their living room. I was back home for the final team race. The BBC coverage showed a course lined with spectators enjoying the sunshine and cycling.

Commentator Simon Brotherton said: “Richmond has been a fantastic host and is a really beautiful city.”

Co-commentator and Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman said: “The cycling routes have been fantastic and there are plenty of craft breweries places to enjoy a night out, it has been a great host city.”

I remembered speeding through the streets behind Carmen Small and was delighted millions of viewers got the chance to glimpse the beauty of a city I’d revelled in and was pleased for Richmond it got publicity you cannot buy.

Factbox:  For more information about the Capital Region visit

Purely Capital Region USA offers a seven day holiday to the Capital Region USA from £1068 per person including direct return flights with British Airways into IAD from London Heathrow, 7 days Economy 4 door car hire inc all taxes, all insurances, breakdown cover and unlimited mileage, and six nights’ accommodation (2 Nights at the Cambria Suites, Rockville, Maryland on a room only board basis, 2 Nights at the Embassy Row, Washington, DC on a room only board basis, and 2 Nights at the Marriott Downtown, Richmond, Virginia on a room only board basis). Price based on two adults sharing.

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