Cycle conference in Harrogate ‘can learn from this year’s mistakes’

In a Yorkshire town where cycling left its mark literally as well as figuratively, they were preparing yesterday for a return visit. But next time, the delegates will come in suits, not on bikes.

Harrogate, much of whose 200 acres of central parkland was churned up during the week-long UCI Road World Championships in September, will mark the anniversary by hosting a global “cycle summit” conference in 2020.

The annual event brings together some 100 industry figures from across the world to discuss the benefits and beartraps involved in cycling tourism.

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It will be the first time the conference, whose delegates are said to be “some of the biggest names in the cycle tourism industry”, has been held in Britain.

Damage to The Stray in Harrogate this year

The irony of staging it in Harrogate, where parts of The Stray remain waterlogged following its use as a central rendezvous for all this year’s races, was not lost when the announcement was made yesterday.

The Stray Defence Association, which was formed to protect the area, had described it as looking “like a battlefield” after the cyclists left town 10 weeks ago. But they said the conference next October, which will be held at the Majestic Hotel and other indoor venues in the town centre, would nevertheless be welcome.

Guy Tweedy, a veteran campaigner who speaks for the association, said the conference would be “a different kettle of fish” and represented the type of event that was crucial to the Harrogate economy. But he added: “Hopefully they can learn from our mistakes.”

He told The Yorkshire Post: “The condition The Stray was left in was absolutely appalling. It could take two or three years to get it back to normal.

The Elite Men Road Race peloton passes the Royal Pump Rooms to climb Cornwall Road in Harrogate during in the UCI World Championships 2019.

“They’ve done a patch-up job but some of it is still cordoned off. And it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“At the moment it’s a swamp. If you walk across it in Wellington boots, you’ll sink into it.”

Mr Tweedy also said many business owners would never recover the money they had lost from days of road closures.

“It was a net negative for the town, because the people who came to watch bike races were never going to use our facilities. They weren’t going to go to The Ivy or to Bettys – they were going to Asda for cheap backpacks.”

Damage to The Stray in Harrogate this year

Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Council, stressed that next year’s event was “not a cycle race”, but painted this year’s competition in a more positive light.

“As I understand it, it’s coming to us purely because people saw how brilliant Harrogate was during the UCI championships,” he said. “People will be staying overnight and using our restaurants, and they wouldn’t have been here had they not seen us during UCI.”

Mr Cooper said the council had not been consulted about the conference, which had been a “normal commercial booking”.

It was announced by Welcome to Yorkshire, which was also behind the UCI races. Its chairman, Peter Box, said it would “showcase Yorkshire as a world-class cycling destination once again”.

• The CycleSummit 2020 conference to be hosted by Harrogate next autumn is the annual convention for cycling tour operators worldwide.

Its managing director, Heiko Riekenberg, said: “We always look to host it in an interesting and inspiring cycling destination. Yorkshire certainly ticks those boxes and we couldn’t wish for a more suitable host town to base ourselves during the summit.”

Harrogate is not the only town to have seen a backlash from staging cycling’s Road World Championships.

The 2017 host, Bergen, Norway, overspent its budget and had to mount an online crowdfunding appeal to stave off possible bankruptcy.