UCI Cycling World Championships: Glasgow and Scotland at centre of bike world in 13-event jamboree
The scale and breadth of the event is unique for the sport as it brings together 13 different world championships in one nation across 11 days. It’s the first time such an ambitious cycling project has been attempted and the aim is to do it every four years, in the year before the Olympic Games, so performances in this year’s event would count towards qualification for Paris 2024.
Over a million spectators are expected to attend the mix of ticketed and free events which will feature more than 8000 elite and amateur athletes from over 120 countries competing for 200-plus Rainbow Jerseys, the coveted garment awarded to newly crowned world champions. The programme ranges from road racing to the track, and from BMX to mountain biking, but there is also space for some lesser known disciplines. Artistic Cycling and Cycle-ball will both feature - gymnastics and football on bikes, essentially.
The multidisciplinary nature makes it the biggest cycling event ever staged and will be the realisation of the vision of David Lappartient, president of the UCI, the sport’s governing body. It will begin on August 3 and end on the 13th and should generate millions for the Scottish economy but there will be disruptions too, with road closures scheduled at various stages during the championships.
13 World Championships in 11 days
Everything is being brought together under the umbrella name of the UCI Cycling World Championships but, as mentioned above, there are actually 13 different World Championships taking place, namely: Road, Para-cycling Road, Track, Para-cycling Track, Mountain Bike Cross-country, Mountain Bike Downhill, Mountain Bike Marathon, Trials, BMX Racing, BMX Freestyle Park, BMX Freestyle Flatland, Indoor Cycling and Gran Fondo.
The decision to make Glasgow the inaugural host city was announced in February 2019 and came about as a result of its and Scotland’s track record at staging big events and because of the infrastructure already in place. The last decade has seen Scotland stage the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2014 Ryder Cup, the 2018 multi-sport European Championships, the 2019 Solheim Cup and four matches at Covid-delayed Euro 2020. Add in its ability to put on cycling-specific events such as Mountain Bike World Cups, stages of the Tour of Britain and the Track Cycling World Cup and it becomes clear why the UCI felt they could utilise Scotland’s facilities to maximum effect. The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, built for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, will stage the Track events next month; the Indoor Cycling (Artistic Cycling and Cycle-ball) will be at the Emirates Arena next door; Mountain Biking will take place at Fort William (downhill) and Glentress (cross-country); BMX Racing will be held at the Glasgow BMX Centre on Archerhill Road; BMX freestyle will be on Glasgow Green, along with the Trials. Using existing infrastructure kept costs down as did the fact that Glasgow didn’t have to bid for the championships.
Gran Fondo fun
But it’s not just about the pros and it’s not just about Glasgow. Gran Fondo (‘big race’) is a long-distance mass participation event aimed at the elite amateurs, and it takes place in the east. The top 25 per cent of riders from 27 qualifying events held around the world have been invited to compete. The Gran Fondo road race will be held in Perth and Kinross on August 4, with the time trial in Perth and Dundee three days later. Traditionally, a huge feast follows at the finish line.
No ticket, no problem
The Gran Fondo is free as are the other road events. So too are the BMX Flatland Freestyle and Mountain Bike Cross Country Marathon. Most of the rest is pay-for and tickets are on sale starting at £8, with concessions from £5. Ticketing details are on the official website.
Back on track
Track cycling is likely to be one of the hottest tickets. Hosted at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow’s east end from August 3-9, the Track World Championships is the oldest of the 13 world championships taking place next month. It was first staged in Chicago in 1893 and its storied history includes 11 golds for Hoy himself, between 1999 and 2012. In Glasgow next month, the para-cycling events will be fully integrated into the track cycling programme.
One for the Road
The Road Race World Championship is one of the most eagerly anticipated and allows organisers to explore other parts of the country. The Men’s Elite Road Race, won last year by Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel in Wollongong, Australia, is on August 6 and will begin in Edinburgh, traverse the Queensferry Crossing, move across central Scotland, then culminate in ten laps around Glasgow and a finish in George Square. The Women’s Elite Road Race, won last year by Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands, is on August 13 and starts by Loch Lomond then heads north to Drymen before winding back down via Balfron, Fintry, Lennoxtown and Bearsden into central Glasgow for six circuits and another George Square finish. The individual Time Trials, meanwhile, will take place in Stirling (August 8-11), while the Para-cycling Road events are in Dumfries and Galloway (August 9-13).
Three separate BMX World Championships are being staged. The straightforward Racing will take place over the single lap 400m course at the Glasgow BMX Centre where eight riders will attempt to negotiate curves, bumps and jumps at high speed (August 6-9 and 12-13).
Meanwhile, over at Glasgow Green, you can find BMX Flatland and BMX Freestyle Park. Flatland first (August 8-10). According to the organisers, it’s parkour combined with breakdancing but on a bike as riders produce a two to three-minute routine combining tricks, balance and strength on a flat surface.
BMX Freestyle Park (August 5-7) is a different beast with competitors flying off ramps and riding up walls as they try to impress the judges across two 60-second rounds.
Mountain bikes and electric dreams
The Highlands and Borders have their chance to take centre stage with the mountain bikers. The Downhill is at Fort William where speeds of up to 80km/h can be reached on the rocky 2.8km course on the Nevis Range which drops 550m. It’s one for the fearless and takes place from August 3-5.
Rough and tumble will be the order of the day at Glentress Forest near Peebles where the Mountain Bike Cross Country takes place (August 8-12), and there is also a short-track event, a team relay and, intriguingly, an electric bike event. Top speeds are capped at 25km/h for the e-bikes and racers must finish on the same bike and battery with which they started. The Mountain Bike Marathon is also at Glentress, on August 6, where the 100km course will test the endurance of the hardiest riders.
Glasgow is a football city so Cycle-ball is likely to appeal. The two-a-side 14-minute matches will be played on a small rectangular court at the Emirates Arena, a long goalkick away from Celtic Park. Riders must use their front or rear wheel to control the ball and try to score goals. Headers are allowed and goalies can use their hands. If a foot touches the floor, the rider must leave and re-enter the field of play. It’s all about retaining possession so ideally you want Xavi and Iniesta levels of skill, but on bikes.
Artistic Cycling requires balletic bravery, with riders performing handstands on handlebars. The rules are similar to gymnastics and riders - solo, in pairs, or teams of four - have five minutes to impress a panel of judges by putting together a series of tricks set to music of their choice. The Indoor Cycling events are on August 11-13.
Legacy can be a thorny topic as debate tends to rage over the long-term benefits of staging international sporting jamborees. The cost of building facilities can often outweigh the economic benefits for the host city or nation but that shouldn’t be the case this time around as the infrastructure was already in place. Trudy Lindblade, the CEO of the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, believes partnerships with community cycling projects can help provide lasting benefits in terms of new and better facilities.
“It is widely recognised that events bring social and economic benefits to the cities and towns that host them, and the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships will be no exception,” said Lindblade. “This is more than just an event, and already joint initiatives including the Cycling Facilities Fund and the Community Cycling Fund, delivered by sportscotland, Scottish Cycling and EventScotland, are reaping tangible benefits from the Championships by providing new and enhanced cycling opportunities that will create a lasting benefit in communities across the country. Economically it will also support jobs, both directly within the events sector itself as well as wider sectors including hospitality and tourism across the host regions.”
Lindblade anticipates over a million spectators will attend the Championships across the 11 days of competition, while the TV broadcast will reach more than 160 countries. “The anticipated global TV audience will place Scotland on the world stage as a destination for elite cycling and cycle tourism,” she said. The BBC will show the Championships in the UK.
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