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Satire: Photo Finish

It’s September 2015. After years of preparation, Richmond finally plays host to the world’s biggest bike race.

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It’s a week of vindication for Dwight Jones, in his second term as Richmond mayor. He settles into a plush chair at his condo in Palm Beach, Fla., to deliver a pre-race speech via satellite. Finally, after four years of building excitement, the World Road Cycling Championships are about to start.

“There were those who didn’t believe that Richmond could become the tier-one city that it is today. But today we are showing the world how wrong they were,” he says as he leans into the camera, wearing a celebratory, flower-print silk shirt.

“There were those who didn’t believe that Richmond was capable of playing host to half a million tourists. There were those who didn’t believe the region’s 17,000 hotel rooms could accommodate 450,000 cycling enthusiasts from around the world. Four years ago the Brookings Institution ranked the city’s regional transit system as one of the worst in the country. It’s now gone, replaced by a fleet of church buses and commercial rickshaw services that can transport commuters from my own First Baptist Church all the way to West End Presbyterian.”

With a knowing smile, Jones raises his Shirley Temple and winks at the camera. “But where are those nonbelievers now?” he asks, chuckling. “Today, we celebrate not just one of the world’s great cycling events, but the entire city of Richmond.”

The cameras cut to Shockoe Slip, where the race begins. Hitting the cobblestones at speed, the pack of vibrating cyclists is cheered on by fans emerging from canal boats. Shockoe Bottom, unfortunately, becomes a slippery obstacle course because another torrential downpour has overwhelmed the rainwater drainage system, spilling sewage and water into the streets.

The racers swing through Church Hill and back toward downtown after passing through the Fairfield and Mosby housing projects. The announcers, in refined British accents, comment on how these bikeless children are no doubt inspired by the spandex-wearing athletes riding $150,000 Aurumania’s Gold Bike Crystal editions.

Then they’re onto Jackson Ward. The announcers coo over the quaint, early-21st-century architecture of the convention center, which is filled with actual conventioneers for the first time since the 700,000-square-foot hall opened.

(In another alignment of the stars, Altria researchers lend their drug-manufacturing expertise to a new performance-enhancing drug center at the Virgina Biotechnology Research Park, which has also been converted to temporary headquarters for Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling’s governing body. This generates some controversy overseas, which the commentators fail to mention.)

Over on Broad Street, TV cameras cut to reveal a smiling, if oddly silent, throng of people, cheering on the cyclists who zip down Richmond’s main thoroughfare. Closeups reveal the “fans” to be animatronic mannequins, and the “buildings” to be wooden facades propped up to better complement the opulence of CenterStage.

Aggressive code enforcement by the city has successfully purged unseemly art galleries and hair-braiding emporiums. Most of the homeless (on the advice of business leaders) have been shipped off to Powhatan County, and unruly teenagers have been incarcerated in the city’s new youth prison-church gardening work camp. Richmond’s noise ordinance ensures that the only sounds within earshot are the grunts of the cyclists, the whirring of wheels and the faint sounds of Wagner emanating from the opera house. Unfortunately, potholes remain on Broad Street, and there is a nasty 15-rider pileup that earns gasps from the TV announcers. The “fans” smile and wave at the carnage.

Spectators gather on the roof of the old FFV cookie factory, which is still vacant, and The Diamond offers a great wide-open space for a pit stop. The baseball field has become the Squirrels’ Nest Campsite, dotted with tents due to the hotel-room shortage. The TV announcers comment on the hometown baseball team’s nickname, even though the Flying Squirrels relocated earlier in the year to Athens, Ga. They don’t mention why the team left.

The race ends in the picturesque Monroe Park, across from the Landmark Theater. The cameras keep cutting to the spectators, where the juxtaposition of bedraggled, bearded hipsters and sprightly college-aged girls, all of them smoking, comes off as strangely European.

Gov. Ken Cuccinelli steals the show, however. He rides in on one of the rickshaws, wearing a Stetson, and gives a speech claiming credit for ridding Virginia of British imperialism and homosexuals. The commentators briefly mention his presidential bid in 2016. But they can’t stop talking about how much Cuccinelli resembles the Marlboro Man. S

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