I’m not a follower of bicycle racing but how could I possibly not go downtown to cheer on the riders from all over the world as they braved our cobblestoned hills? Yesterday I drove to my son’s house in Church Hill and we walked to Libby Hill to watch the practice. It was a glorious day and, while the crowds were smaller than I had expected, it was lots of fun.

We walked down the hill to near Poe’s Pub where I took a picture of a scene that would have been familiar to my great-grandfather, Harry Stilson. He took a picture of his sister, Vera, at nearly that same spot almost 100 years ago so of course I had to take video and photos of bicyclists pedaling up Williamsburg Road to compare with the scene in 1919.

Great-aunt Vera Stilson Smith at bottom of Libby Hill, June 1919

Great-aunt Vera Stilson Smith at bottom of Libby Hill, June 1919

Bike raceThen tonight I braved the detoured roads to watch the folks who rode the course “just like the pros.” Well, maybe not just like the pros but they’re my heroes, anyhow. Dark, wet, slick roads, including the steep,steep, steep hill by Bellvue School on 23rd which is scary to even drive, much less ride a bike on. I felt like yelling “be careful!” even yesterday when it wasn’t raining. Those cobblestones are treacherous!

My son’s friend, Will, was riding tonight and I wanted to meet my son Patrick at Libby Hill so we could look for him together but there was an accident on the downtown expressway which routed all traffic to the Cary Street side of the race course where we got derailed. I pulled into a private parking lot and jumped out, figuring that I could leave if someone needed to park but that didn’t happen. There wasn’t anyone else watching from there so I stood alone across the street from Main Street Station & the old railroad YMCA and yelled encouragement to every single biker who passed. One man walking by clapped for me, saying I deserved to be applauded for my efforts.

The last hour or so I was joined by a woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, whose husband was riding tonight. She ended up in the same parking lot when she ran out of road. They own a bike shop and obviously she knew a whole lot more about bicycles and racing than I did but we both yelled just as loudly. “Y’all be careful out there!” hollered by me was answered with “yes, ma’am” (by Southerners) and thumbs up or “thanks!” by others. Most faces wore smiles despite rain and exhaustion and it was clear that this was a fun thing to do.

I never saw Will and wouldn’t have recognized him in his helmet anyway. I did see an amazing assortment of men, women, older, younger, black, white, all having a great time. One rider yelled “I love you, Richmond!” and I responded that we loved them, too. And we did. Anyone with the determination, stamina, and grit to mount a bike and face the seven hills of Richmond in the rain and dark deserves our admiration, our cowbells, cheers, and yes, our love.

I’m going back this week end. If you’re in Richmond, come, too.

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