Yorkshire ready for cycling spotlight with UCI Road Cycling World Championships
Yorkshire will once again be the centre of the cycling world this coming week when the region plays host to the UCI Road Cycling World Championships.
Yorkshire’s love affair with professional cycling began five years ago when it hosted the Grand Depart of the Tour de France and has continued with the annual Tour de Yorkshire and ambitions to bring both the Tour and the Vuelta a Espana to the county in the future.
But for the next nine days the towns, villages and dales of the region will be painted in rainbow bands in celebration of its biggest event yet.
Though the Tour de France needed no introduction to the casual observer when it arrived five years ago, Andy Hindley – chief executive of organising body Yorkshire 2019 – said the world championships are on another level.
“People have been saying to me it’s the biggest sporting event we’ve never heard of,” he told PA.
“Once you explain it, people understand that this is a true world championships, nation against nation, 90 different countries and 1,400 athletes attending.
“We’ve got junior races, under-23s races, women’s and men’s races. There is no Tour de France for most of these categories, that’s just for the elite men. So this goes beyond what the Tour offers.”
An estimated 4.8million people watched the two stages of the Tour pass through Yorkshire in 2014, but with the world championships spread over nine days, including two full weekends, that number could well be surpassed in the coming days.
The racing begins with Saturday’s para-cycling events and Sunday’s innovative mixed team time trial, before continuing through the week with individual time trials and road races for men and women in the junior, under-23 and elite categories.
The biggest draw will come next weekend with the women’s and men’s elite races.
Yorkshire’s own former world champion Lizzie Deignan will be out out to regain her rainbow jersey on Saturday, while 24 hours later, former Tour winner Geraint Thomas is part of a powerful British line-up for the men’s race, up against the likes of three-time former world champion Peter Sagan, defending champion Alejandro Valverde, and the star of this year’s Tour, Julian Alaphilippe.
Individual races begin across the county but all will end on a circuit around Harrogate, with a finish line on the Stray, where a week-long festival with fan zones, children’s activities and live music will be staged.
Hindley, a former professional sailor who has previously been involved in events such as the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup, said the biggest challenge for his group is planning for an event where the attendance is an unknown until the day itself.
“The best problem we have is not knowing how many people we’re expecting,” he said. “Because no one is buying a ticket you can’t know who is going to show up. There are scientific ways of estimating it but that’s what they are – estimates.”
But what is already clear is that the event will prove a major boon to tourism in the region.
The UCI recently published a report showing that Innsbruck, which hosted last year’s world championships, saw its cash registers ring to the tune of around £35million pounds over the course of the week.
And that does not count the long-term benefits it will receive from what amounts of a week-long tourism campaign broadcast around the world.
Hindley has told Yorkshire businesses to expect even more.
“We’ve done our impact studies and we expect it to exceed Innsbruck by some margin,” he said.
But as a former athlete himself, Hindley wants the event to provide a legacy which is not only counted in the balance sheets.
“Personally, I want it to be remembered for everyone having a good time, seeing some fantastic sport and it making a positive impact on the economy and social well-being of people.
“And hopefully for some British winners as well, but I can’t control that bit.”