The Louisville Courier-Journal ran an article last Sunday informing residents that "River Road...will be closed until Feb. 5 to accommodate two cyclo-cross events." River Road runs out of downtown Louisville along the Ohio river.
As I drove around this morning picking up bits of cold weather gear and some fat pens my gloved hands wouldn't drop, I chatted with a dozen or so locals about the event. Everyone knew about the event and they all referred to it in some fashion as "that bike race that's closing River Road."
When I told them that it was a pretty big shindig, a world championship with riders and teams from all over the world held outside of Europe for the first time and right here in our backyards, without exception their attitudes changed to something like "wow, I didn't know it was a world championship, I just thought it was another bike race."
One fella who told me he was horribly inconvenienced by the road closure reacted by saying, "why didn't they tell us that, if I had known it was a world championship I wouldn't have been so ticked off by the detours."
To be fair to the local messengers, the Courier-Journal has been running stories on the event for months and the article quoted above specifically says that the road closure is for the "Union Cycle Internationale Elite Cyclo-cross World Championships." The city names the event in a similar fashion on its website, as do many area businesses.
But I understand how my neighbors missed the significance of the event. The manner in which we consume news media these days favors a quick skimming of pertinent facts, and the fact of a "road closure" is sure to attract the attention of our Internet-trained eyes before the word "world" in the event's ponderously long title.
What struck me, though, was how proud they all seemed to realize that our fair community was hosting such a prestigious event. A couple of them even asked me details about when the races were and where to park.
Again, this knowledge was relayed through local media and city sources, but folks just didn't attend to that information after reading that a road used by 14,000 local vehicles a day would be closed for a "bike race."
At the race course I ran into more proud Louisvillians. The city workers at the media center were having as good a time as everyone else, and when I told Lionel Hamilton that my muddy boots left a bit of a mess in the men's restroom the only response was "do you need a bag for your boots so they don't make a mess in your car?" He went and got me a heavy-duty trash bag.
On the course, city workers assisted the course designer in making last minute changes to the race track and trying to keep the mud bogs under control. Others put last-minute touches on the start/finish line.
Then there was the army of volunteers recruited by the Louisville Sports Commission. These folks endured the biting north wind as temperatures struggled to reach the freezing mark just to put a shine on the city's hospitality. They performed the usually thankless job of checking credentials to various places and parts of the course, always with a "how ya doin'?" and tried to answer my silly questions.
City leaders, local planners and the cycling community work hard to cultivate an image of the city of Louisville as a bike-friendly community. Work is well underway toward completing a 100-plus mile bike loop around the city and an old railroad bridge over the Ohio river is nearly refurbished to permit cyclists to ride both sides of the river.
Of course the city also hosts one of the world's most celebrated races, The Kentucky Derby.
So it isn't surprising that locals have a positive attitude toward cycling and races. And when you bring to their attention to the magnitude of the event, Louisvillian pride and hospitality come to the fore.
If you can make it to the race, check out my primer on the sport. It should be a great weekend!
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