Calm before the storm as ‘world cup of cycling’ descends on Yorkshire

A cyclist climbs out of Swaledale  over the rebuilt bridge, which was washed away the the floods last month, across Grinton Moor on the Elite UCI World Championship Course
A cyclist climbs out of Swaledale over the rebuilt bridge, which was washed away the the floods last month, across Grinton Moor on the Elite UCI World Championship Course
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Harrogate had seen nothing like it since the Eurovision Song Contest was held at the Conference Centre in 1982.

Not everyone had wanted the town centre to be closed to traffic for large chunks of the coming week, but as the man in charge of it all basked in the calm before the storm of the UK’s biggest multi-national event for some years, he could hear murmurs of appreciation.

“I’m actually listening to people walking around the town saying how beautiful it is when it’s quiet,” said Andy Hindley.

It won’t be this afternoon when the first riders cross the finish line.

Then, and for the next eight days, all roads will lead to Parliament Street, on the edge of The Stray, where each of the 15 races that constitute the UCI World Road Cycle Championships will finish.

A “fan zone” will accommodate the thousands of spectators expected to attend – nearly two-thirds from outside Yorkshire.

Starting lines will be as far afield as Beverley, Bradford and Doncaster.

It is the sort of spectacle to which Yorkshire has become used. It staged the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014 and its own spin-off, the Tour de Yorkshire, every year since.

But this, said Mr Hindley, was nothing like any of them.

In contrast to the Tour de France, which is packaged by its French owner, Amaury Sport Organisation, the UCI championships are run by a local organisation.

That body is Yorkshire 2019, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government agency, UK Sport. Mr Hindley is its chief executive.

“In a way it’s the reverse of the Tour de France,” he said. “We’re for nine days. They come into a venue for less than 24 hours normally. They’re focused on setting something up that can be dismantled quickly.

“Our company has one mission in life, which is to deliver this championship. After that we will wind the company up.”

There will, however, be a legacy. Doncaster’s new cycle track, financed from a £15m Government fund, is part of that. The rest, said Mr Hindley, is “what we do for Yorkshire in terms of lifting awareness among the 250m watching on television globally, and the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people coming from outside Yorkshire to see it.”

They will differ from the fans who descended on Russia for last year’s World Cup in that, save for those in the hospitality tents, they will not have bought tickets.

Mr Hindley said: “In terms of countries, athletes, size and the scale of our field of play, it’s the biggest sporting event in the country this year, and potentially for many, many years to come, and it’s completely free.”

The scale of the cycle championships beginning in Yorkshire today is comparable to the Cricket World Cup earlier in the summer, said chief executive Andy Hindley.

“The TV audience for that was massive, because of the Indian representation. So we’re not going to compete against that. But we have 1,400 athletes and 90 nations competing. The Cricket World Cup had a handful.”

He also drew a parallel with the football World Cup.

“It’s organised in the same way – nation against nation. But unlike them, we’ve also got juniors, and we’ve got women – all competing in the same event over the same in the same period of time.”

The 177-mile men’s elite road race from Leeds to Harrogate via Swaledale, the climax of the Championships, has been as much of a challenge for the organisers as it is likely to be for the cyclists.

Between Hawes and Leyburn, on the steepest part of the circuit, it passes Grinton Moor, where a bridge was washed away by the floods which devastated the area in late July, rendering the road impassable.

Amid fears that the route would have to be redrawn, North Yorkshire County Council installed a temporary structure which sits on top of the damaged stonework.

Grinton Moor was the scene of some of the most memorable racing in the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart, and the route of next weekend’s race – the culmination of the event calendar – was designed as a near-repeat run, taking in the Buttertubs Pass near Hawes before turning south to Harrogate.

It will share the same finishing strait as the previous 14 races, down Parliament Street, past Bettys tea rooms and along the edge of The Stray. A hospitality tent and “fan zone” will accommodate some of the spectators. Others will line the barriers that were being put in place yesterday.

“We deliberately waited until the very last minute,” said Andy Hindley at the organising company, Yorkshire 2019.

“We could have started early but we wanted to ensure that the disruption was minimised.”

West Park, which meets Parliament Street at The Stray, has been closed since earlier in the week, and there are parking restrictions right across the town. Access to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Harlow Carr is on foot only for much of the week.

“There is disruption for a week, but think of the long term benefits and the impact over the next five, 10 years,” Mr Hindley said. “The rewards will come in time.”

In what might be seen as a nod to Eurovision in 1982 – the last time Harrogate entertained competitors from so many countries – a music stage has been erected in the fan zone, with performances from Sheffield’s Jarvis Cocker and The Pigeon Detectives from Leeds, amongst assorted others, this weekend and next.