Four men gathered at the corner of Fifth and Broad streets in downtown Richmond on a warm Friday afternoon in mid-September.
A few feet away, construction crews put the finishing touches on an elaborate project that was transforming huge chunks of the city.
The opening ceremonies of the UCI Road World Championships, one of international cycling’s premiere competitions, were to begin in less than three hours, but these four men weren’t on hand to simply observe the progress. For years, they and a few colleagues had devoted their lives to staging this event - and in this moment, they could embrace all they had done and anticipate all that would follow.
The four - Wilson Flohr, Tim Miller, Lee Kallman and Paul Shanks - were key figures in Richmond 2015, the nonprofit organization that over four years had organized, financed and were hours away from executing the largest sporting event in Richmond’s history.
“It’s finally here,” said Flohr, the CEO.
To fully appreciate what they felt standing at the corner of Fifth and Broad, you have to go back to 2010.
Miller, Richmond 2015’s chief operating officer, was the founder and director of the CapTech Classic, the cycling race that ran in Richmond from 2003 to 2006.
A longtime cyclist and race organizer whose roots go back to the Tour du Pont in the 1990s, Miller was working on bringing the CapTech back to life in 2010.
That spring he got a call from another race organizer with local ties, who wanted to talk about creating a bid to bring the world championships to Richmond.
It was a long shot. UCI, cycling’s governing body, hadn’t held a road world championship in the United States since 1986 in Colorado Springs, Colo. But the talk in the cycling world was that the organization could consider coming back under the right circumstances.
Richmond, Miller believed, would be an attractive spot for UCI - it was on the East Coast close to major population centers, had a history of staging races and could provide courses similar to the classic races in Europe.
Buoyed by the possibility, he worked to convince public officials and the business community that the city not only could put on a cycling event surpassed in stature only by the Olympics and the Tour de France, but that they must support the bid.
He won them over, and on Dec. 21, 2010, Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced that Richmond would bid to host the world championships in 2015.
Kallman, a sports marketer and cyclist who recently moved back to Richmond from Atlanta, heard about the effort to host the world championships in late 2010 and joined as a volunteer.
For the next nine months, a plan was created to sell UCI on the idea that Richmond was where the world championships belonged and that it could stage the event as well as any city.
It worked. On Sept. 21, 2011, UCI voted unanimously to award the 2015 world championships to Richmond.
The next four years were dedicated to getting Richmond ready for the massive sporting event - and the worldwide attention it would generate.
Putting on an event the size and scope of the world championships is an exhausting process where the smallest details must be studied, vetted and approved before it can be implemented.
Richmond 2015 had to come up with the $21 million needed to stage the event along with creating security and traffic plans and travel programs. And the group had to sell an event largely unknown in the U.S. to a skeptical audience that wouldn’t see what was in store for the area until the first bike rode onto the course.
To help put all the pieces together, Flohr, the former general manager of Kings Dominion and former president and CEO of Richmond Region 2007, was named Richmond 2015’s CEO in April 2012.
Miller was named chief operating officer so he could focus on day-to-day operations. Kallman became vice president of marketing and business development.
The remainder of the team - Shanks, director of communications and digital marketing; Monica Callahan, community engagement director; Jim Copp, chief financial officer; and Joshua Griffin, community liaison - joined over the next couple of years.
So, as four of the seven principals stood at Fifth and Broad streets on Sept. 18, hours before the opening ceremonies, they were enjoying the fruits of four years of work and many sleepless nights.
The only thing left to do that afternoon was see how it would all turn out.
Indeed, the world championships transformed Richmond and the region into the hub of international cycling in September, bringing in an estimated 645,000 spectators to the courses.
For about 10 days, flags from dozens of nations were waving from Broad Street to Kings Dominion to Libby Hill Park, while many local restaurants, shops and hotels were filled with an international clientele.
For most of the races, locals pressed against the barricades and rang cowbells next to fellow fans from around the world, and English was one of dozens of languages spoken in the city.
On the final day, tens of thousands of people lined the course to watch the greatest cyclists in the world compete, while images of the crowd and the city were beamed to tens of millions watching in 150 countries.
“I took my kids to the start this morning and drove them (in one of the sponsor cars) from the start all the way in, and did a couple of laps with them on the circuit,” Miller said Sept. 27, the final day.
“I was absolutely blown away by how many people were out there and that they got to see that. It was unbelievable. That definitely makes you feel good. We did something right.”
WILSON H. FLOHR JR.
Position: CEO, Richmond 2015
Born/hometown: July 27, 1946; Rutherford, N.J.
College: Rollins College (bachelor's degree and MBA)
Family: wife Judy, four children
Position: COO, Richmond 2015
Born/hometown: Aug. 29, 1969; Richmond
College: Roanoke College
Family: wife Joanne, daughter Maddy, son Grant
IN HIS WORDS: TIM MILLER
Your hope for Richmond 2015's legacy
First, I hope that it inspires more people to ride bikes for recreation, fitness and transportation - and that 10 years from now, we are talking about someone that has reached the top of the sport who was inspired by the world championships. Second, I hope that it encourages political, business and civic leaders to invest in cycling infrastructure to support the newfound interest in bikes. And finally, I hope that it leads to an annual, international event in the region that allows us to capitalize on the opportunity that has been created by hosting the world championships.
A moment that stood out to you
Wednesday, Sept. 24, during the elite men’s time trial, I had the opportunity to follow one of the athletes from start to finish. As we left Kings Dominion and headed south on Route 301, I was blown away by the people along the roadside. Every other house was hosting a lawn party, neighborhoods were having block parties, Hanover Tavern was packed, and the Rutland FanZone was beyond description! That was the first time that I stopped and realized what was happening. It was surreal.
Impetus for hosting the event
It was really about affecting transformational change in the community and furthering a cycling culture and all of the great things that come along with that. And to be clear, a cycling culture isn’t just about bikes - it’s about tourism, quality of life, economic development and so much more.
Richmond 2015's future
With the conclusion of the world championships, Richmond 2015 will be spun down and closed.