It’s not every year Australia gets to host the UCI Road Cycling World Championships.
In fact, this month was only the second occasion in history, after Geelong was the first the earn the right in 2010.
We don’t do race reporting in The Latz Report, as there are plenty of consumer sites you can visit for that information. But apart from us, no-one in the large media contingent was there to report on how Australia’s bicycle industry got involved.
Wollongong, NSW was announced in 2018 as the venue for the 2022 worlds. At the time it seemed an eternity away but then, with Covid, it was just as well it was not 2020 or 2021 or the event would have been cancelled.
While the term ‘cold shoulder’ might be too strong, neither the local 2022 organising committee or the UCI (International Cyclists’ Union) that runs global cycle sport took any action that we were aware of to embrace or encourage local bike industry participation.
That’s not surprising when you consider the economics of the UCI and the World Championships it owns. For the Union, it boils down to two numbers, media rights and hosting fees.
According to road race website Cycling Tips, the total cost of staging the Worlds was about $20 million. This is mainly NSW State Government money. A significant chunk of this is paid to the UCI for hosting rights. Meanwhile, the UCI makes many millions more selling the broadcasting rights, particularly to European nations where the audience is largest.
Although the UCI controls eight different cycle sport disciplines – including BMX, MTB and track – which until now have all their own separate annual world championships, the road championships are where the money is. In particular, it’s the final race of the series, the professional men’s road race, which has a television audience measured in the hundreds of millions.
Perhaps because of this, next year’s worlds in Glasgow, Scotland will bring all the cycling disciplines together for a combined, Olympics-style single event.
The UCI’s financial statements for 2021 show it made 11,567,000 Swiss Francs (A$17.8 million) from hosting fees and 8,049,000 Swiss Francs (A$12.3 million) from media rights, out of a total income of 61,435,000 Swiss Francs (A$94.6 million).
All of this is to say that neither the UCI nor the NSW government have any motivation to sell local bike industry exhibit booths for a few thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars. It’s just a rounding error for them, so Australian bike wholesalers initially found it very hard to get their calls returned at all. In the end, there were about a dozen persistent companies who had exhibits at the start-finish area and at least five more who did ‘pop-ups’ or other activations around town.
As expected, the week built gradually and the crowds on the final day of the pro men’s road race were possibly the biggest for any cycling event in Australia’s history. That’s a very difficult claim to verify, but having attended the previous worlds in Geelong, the Sydney Olympics and most of the Tour Down Under events since their inception, I’ve certainly never experienced a larger crowd.
Best of all was the party atmosphere. Everyone was there to make the most of the day. Thousands rode bikes to the different vantage points and the extensive bike parking racks at the finish line were full. Everyone was cheered, from the motorcycle police to anyone in costume, with the biggest cheers for dropped riders, especially from the Ukraine, Rwanda and any other ‘underdog’ nation.
Overall, it was an historic event that will hopefully help to boost our bike industry after a pretty tough winter.
Here’s a photo summary…
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Did you make the trip to Wollongong? What was your experience like?