UCI Cycling World Championships: Queensferry Crossing to close for event as ‘Power of the Bike’ unleashed on Scotland
It is set to be the first closure of the Queensferry Crossing of its type and a unique use of the bridge’s protective wind-shielding.
When the world’s biggest cycling championships – and Scotland’s biggest sporting event – arrives next month, riders in the Men’s Elite Road Race will take in the bridge as part of a 168-mile course between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It has been described as like the Tour de France – which started at the weekend – coming to Scotland.
Organisers, ministers and tourist chiefs hope the six-year-old crossing will provide a stunning backdrop for media coverage of the 2023 UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] Cycling World Championships – and provide another opportunity to try to turn Scotland into a nation of cyclists. Up to one million spectators are expected for the events, which will also attract an estimated 1.1 billion global TV and online audience.
The bridge’s 3.3m-high carriageway wind-shielding, which has dramatically cut the number of days of vehicle restrictions by deflecting gusts of wind up and over traffic, will also help protect the competitors from crosswinds should Scotland’s notoriously fickle summer weather take a turn for the worse on Sunday, August 6.
The race is expected to provide one of the highlights of the 11-day cycling extravaganza, which starts three days before and features 13 world championships from BMX and mountain biking to para-cycling and gymnastics-like artistic cycling. They are being brought together for the first time and will feature some 8,000 competitors from 120 countries – more than in the entire Commonwealth Games in Glasgow nine years ago.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency is still considering a request from the organisers to close the Queensferry Crossing for the road race, but it said it had a number of advantages over the adjacent Forth Road Bridge, whose main carriageways are now reserved for buses and taxis.
Its spokesperson said: “From an international cycle race safety perspective, the Queensferry Crossing is better suited to hosting an event of this type and scale. This is partly due to the size and orientation of the various bridge joints and the design and structure of the parapet barriers on the Forth Road Bridge compared to the more modern Queensferry Crossing.
"Due to the potential for high winds, and the wind barriers in place, the newer crossing is far more suitable for an elite international cycle race. It should also present Scotland in a positive light, showcasing modern engineering and innovation to a global audience.
“If approved, the detailed plans and operations will be established and agreed with the organisers and others, including Police Scotland and councils.” Details of road closures for the race and other events will be published on the championships’ and Traffic Scotland websites.
The spokesperson said the crossing had remained open in high winds more than 100 times when the Forth Road Bridge would have closed to at least some types of vehicles.
For the agency, the championships will be as big an operation as Operation Unicorn, Queen Elizabeth’s cortege travelling between Balmoral and Edinburgh following her death in September last year. One official said: “It is the most complex exercise we have ever undertaken in its scale, duration and importance.”
But as well as presenting a good impression of Scotland to the world to attract more visitors, Transport Scotland is also anxious to get more more people cycling for everyday short journeys, and are planning three related funding announcements in the run up to the championships.
The slogan “Power of the Bike” is being used as a catalyst to promote cycling both as a way of tackling climate change by reducing vehicle emissions and to change the way people get about to improve their health.
Championships chair Paul Bush told the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow two years ago: “Cycling represents one of the planet's great hopes to shift towards lower or zero-carbon methods of transport and address some of the greatest threats to humanity – climate change, air pollution and premature death from inactivity.”
Targets for the event’s legacy include to ”engage with new audiences to increase wider participation and advance Scotland as a cycling nation”.
Lee Craigie, the Scottish Government’s Ambassador for Active Travel and a former mountain bike champion, said the event had a key role to play because cycling offered potential universal appeal.
She said: "That this event is coming to Scotland is fantastic. Unlike other sports, cycling has something to offer everyone from the commuter to the downhill mountain biker.
"An event like the Cycling World Championships reminds us of the Power of the Bike, but hosting it is just the first step. We must then harness the energy it brings and pour it into ensuring more people, especially unrepresented people, have access to safe, everyday cycling at whatever level and for whatever purpose they choose.”
However, Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns for campaigners Cycling UK, warned the event alone would not change people’s habits unless they were accompanied by other measures to encourage cycling.
He said: “Research into the impact of previous Cycling World Championships suggests that on their own, they don’t get more people cycling day to day journeys, but they can if accompanied by other measures.
"So the championships coming to Scotland is fantastic for many reasons, but getting people cycling as part of their normal lives requires complimentary improvements to local cycling infrastructure and measures to really involve local people. Otherwise the opportunity to create a legacy of a sustained increased in cycling in Scotland will be missed.”
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