UCI Cycling: On the sidelines, you can see Glasgow’s best look – Laura Waddell

Riders are seeing the things that get into the psychic architecture of Glaswegians and slip into their dreams

Before last week, I didn’t know a thing about cycling but I can always be persuaded to get out the vuvuzela for events with opening ceremonies. In my household, there is a self-invented cocktail named the Opening Ceremony. The starting party that spawned the creation? I can’t actually recall – just that it involves rum. Depending on your perspective, it’s either disorienting or immersive to live near the circuit for the UCI Cycling World Championships.

Last Saturday, I was watching footage taken from the helicopter I could hear in the sky above my window. When riders zip past in the flesh, it happens in a flash. The television feed, which I’d glance over my shoulder at, ran at around a 30-second delay, providing a longer view of the riders than the naked eye, lingering on their progress up the street from cameras on cars and helicopters. But what I couldn’t take my eyes off were the gratuitous shots of Glasgow. Seeing our city from a different perspective has been a treat.

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It has long been noticed that Glasgow’s shopping streets, dotted with boarded-up premises, have seen better days. Going into town doesn’t have the same buzz it once did. But despite the two-week cycling event bringing spectators out and the bustle around the athletes’ base at George Square, the city centre has a peaceable calm from the absence of cars. Bar essential vehicles, for the duration of the cycling championships, the car has been usurped as king of the road.

Glasgow has laid out the red carpet – or, rather, mile upon mile of shining silver barriers – for the bicycle, and the city’s pedestrians seem to be enjoying roads blocked off to cars too, taking advantage of them when they’re clear. The competition rolls on until this weekend, after which, the cars and their domination of the roads shall return.

I have enjoyed the rambling sporting commentary; with road races upwards of five hours, there’s a lot of space to fill with observation. Commentators remark frequently on the oddities of the course; certainly, it has shown off Scotland’s range of tyre-friendly terrain from mountainous to urban. From a local’s perspective, there is indeed something mad about the concept of going from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and then on a loop between town and the west end ten times.

It’s like travelling the distance of a commute home from work, then embarking upon a punitive circuit to pick up ten forgotten objects one by one. No one in their right mind would cycle this route if not compelled by some external force such as the Union Cycliste Internationale and the glory of victory. After Julie Bego won the Women’s Junior Road Race last Saturday, with winning self-belief, she shared that she’d been telling everyone she was going to do it. She said: “It’s two months that I’ve been telling everyone that I’ll be world champion.” And – remarkably – she is.

As round and round they go, riders are seeing the things local commuters do day in, day out. The things that get into the psychic architecture of Glaswegians and slip into dreams: bridges, end-gables, slopes and hills, streets that start in shadow but end bathed in light. The anticipation of tight, hard corners as the route starts circling around Glasgow Central Station or a long leafy sail down the wide boulevard of Great Western Road.

Later, sucked into the event of it all, I watched a bit of the velodrome on TV, admiring its track of warm, curved wood. An enjoyable bit of sporting architecture, the pit of activity in the middle makes an attraction all of its own. It has a backdrop that frames its riders and showcases their form, such as with paracyclist Shota Kawamoto of Japan who put on an incredible display of strength and efficiency as his leg pumped the pedal. But the pros make it look so easy.

It’s easier to gauge speed when road racers are zipping past familiar landmarks on the street, taking the same route as a number 6 bus, flying where it would trundle. Dotted along the barriers, along with messages from sponsors and whole Lidl corners, were familiar pink ‘People Make Glasgow’ posters. A city slogan that hasn’t tired because it captures something of the city’s essence – and a quality we’re particularly proud of.

Spectators have been out every day, but last weekend in particular, people dotted the sides of the track the whole length of the road race. It was a good turnout, and a good day out even for cycling novices – particularly as it was one of the clearest weekends, weather-wise, we’ve had for some time. It wasn’t exactly scorching, but in the absence of sun, the absence of rain is good enough.

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Now and then, a cyclist who pulled over to the side of the road would be assisted by concerned-looking locals, offering a hand or propping up a bike. I developed a fondness for the Shimano vehicle. When cyclists came into difficulties with their bikes, and a repair was estimated to take too long, the blue car would soon appear on scene, unloading an emergency bike strapped on its roof to set riders on their way as soon as possible. A hero moment for the support vehicle!

But most of all I enjoyed watching the faces of those already on site, looking uncertain as to how much they were allowed to step into the scene, hovering nearby, pulling ‘oh dear’ faces, ready to help if they could and if not, at least offer some sympathy. Small, cheering gestures of human good intention is Glasgow’s best look.



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