September 11, 2015

Hundreds of the world's best cyclists will descend on Richmond, Virginia, for the road world championships next week. It's the first time that the U.S. has hosted the event since 1986, when Italian rider Moreno Argentin sprinted to victory in Colorado Springs.

Here are a few things to know after that nearly three-decade absence.

MEDALS AT STAKE

There are 12 world titles at stake, highlighted by the elite men's and women's races on the final weekend. But there are also road races for under-23 men and junior men and women, individual time trials and the team time trial. That's the only event in which riders compete with their trade teams - think the teams they ride for in the Tour de France - rather than national teams.

LONG TIME COMING

So why did it take nearly three decades for the worlds to return? Well, the U.S. made a few attempts to secure it over the years, but cycling remains a largely Eurocentric sport. Top riders and feverish fans are based in Europe, making it easier to stage the event there. But that has begun to change with Australia hosting in 2010 and Qatar on deck next year.

WHY IT MATTERS

The world championships tend to be good barometers of future Olympic success, particularly in the time trial. That should be especially true this year with Richmond serving as the final worlds before the Rio Olympics. Riders who make a good showing over a course that ends on Broad Street in downtown Richmond will help their chances of making it to Brazil next year.

BEST OF THE BEST

The past couple of worlds have produced surprising champions in the men's road race in Rui Costa and Michal Kwiatkowski. But generally, big names tend to rise to the occasion. Eddy Merckx, regarded as the best rider ever, won three titles in the 1970s. His female counterpart Marianne Vos, skipping this year's event due to injuries, has won three golds and five silvers.

HOW TO WATCH

More than 450,000 fans are expected over nine days of racing, taking in the expos, concerts and fan festivals along with the championships. For those who can't make it to Richmond, every event will be aired on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC or Universal Sports. There will also be daily pre- and post-race shows and live streaming of all races on the Richmond 2015 mobile app.

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