All the World Championship medals in cycling are being decided in Scotland this week in an unprecedented feast of riding that sees over 200 rainbow jerseys being fought for in everything from Paratandem track pursuit to Fort Bill Downhill. It sounds ace on the surface, but Guy Kesteven wonders if packaging everything together in the ‘biggest cycling event ever’ is all positive?
All you can watch buffet
Right now I’m sitting here typing with the second day of track coverage circulating in my left side peripheral, watching the laps tick by until I jump across to the Junior DH this afternoon. Tomorrow it’s more track, Elite DH men and women and junior road racing. Sunday it’s the Elite road racing for men and women, XC Marathons, the first day of BMX Park and the fourth day of Track. Monday more Track, more BMX Park, then midweek is e-MTB, mixed relays on road and off, time trials, BMX Freestyle and BMX Racing before the final weekend when the Men's and Women’s Elite XC and Elite Trials and then the last rounds of the BMX Racing tie everything off.
That is a LOT of riding to even keep tabs on TV with the luxury of replays and highlights - have to say the GCN+ subscription is feeling like a good investment right now - but what about trying to watch it for real? If you’re only interested in one discipline then it’s not an issue and that seems to be borne out by the ticket numbers. After an almost deserted Fort William yesterday when the UCI were charging for tickets to watch practice, the first day of DH racing with the Junior's final and Elite qualifying has a 10K presale. Tickets for the XCO races at Glentress next weekend are listed as ‘limited’ currently too. Presumably spurred on by previews of the rocky ravine gap jumps which will hopefully look spectacular and underline just how rad XC is becoming, even if the course doesn’t seem to be that popular with actual racers overall.
Mega mix or mega mess?
However, I don’t think my mates and I are alone in having a broad interest in all sorts of cycling in a spectator sense even if not in terms of active involvement. Plus the World Championships create a very special draw that drags in new interest from other disciplines, as well as those who might not normally watch riding at all but fancy getting into the festival spirit.
Not only is there now overlap in terms of timings, but also a big spread of locations. Fort William is a long way from the track in Glasgow and Glentress is an hour and a half away in the other direction. To be fair, it does give enterprising fans like my mate, Graham, the chance to skewer a tasty kebab of cycling and culture. His enviable weekend itinerary starts with a midnight Banksy exhibition in Glasgow, then a mix of Road Race and XC Marathon on Sunday, before a velodrome viewing session on Monday and maybe some BMX if he can manage it.
If you want to watch trials and XCO finals though it’s not going to happen, and coming from a town that hosted just the road World Championships in 2019, the resolve of spectators and tolerance of locals starts to wear thin in a week let alone. Especially if the weather is wet like it was then and is now in Scotland.
It’s not just being able to see the events, things like finding accommodation become harder and more expensive. Not just for spectators but also for rider supporters/families, teams and brands. It means multi-discipline brands (or multi-brand distributors) might have to cover multiple locations simultaneously (or at least close enough to make no difference) if they want to represent. As an example, I’ve just got an email from Specialized about their events in Glasgow where they’ll have meet and greets from athletes from DH to their women’s road racing stars across the week. Meanwhile, I was chatting to the Pon Bike crew ( the umbrella company that owns Cervelo, Cannondale and Santa Cruz to name but three) a couple of weeks about how they were trying to rep Santa Cruz at the DH in Fort William AND Cervelo in Glasgow one day after the other. Even logistics like hiring enough portable loos and crowd barriers for so many different concurrent events create a more awkward admin load for organisers. And the laws of supply and demand being what they are, prices are almost certainly going to be pushed up right across the board.
An example of how the admin overload can cause issues for those attempting to cover the events on the media side comes from my Bike Perfect colleague, Paul Brett, who had a less than favorable day one experience at the velodrome.
"I had (or so I thought) photographic accreditation across the board from XC to downhill and everything in between. I had been at a Canyon Track Bike launch the evening before and had the privilege of meeting Chloe Dygert, who would be racing the Canyon bike on day one, so having made plans to see her in the Team USA pit and take some candid shots of her warming up as well as racing, I was excited to get to the Velodrome.
“The warning bells rang as I scanned my pass only to be told 'computer says no'. With nobody around to ask,I just wandered in anyway and found the media area, where a fairly irate UCI women told me I wasn't on the list, so no bib would be issued. Showing her my email that clearly shows track access, she still refused and told me I could view from above with the public. As I politely explained the arrangement with Chloe (who was now in the IP final in an hour) she still refused and asked me to leave.
“Therefore I had no option but to shoot from above and watch Chloe Dygert take the win and celebrate in the pit with the very guys from Canyon and Team USA I'd met that previous evening. I'm writing this on day two with a trip to Fort William planned, assured by another UCI person that my bib is waiting for me, but the experience so far is far from good, and having spoken to other photographers, it wasn't just me that had the issues. Time will tell if I get access, and with the UCI notorious for non-communication, I just have to go and hopefully, I'm lucky. With Greg Minnaar lined up for a shoot and a chat, I better be."
Make the most of it
We won’t know whether this ultimate cycling buffet will be seen as a massive success or a muddling mess for a while. However, it’s worth noting that the 2024 champs will be split apart again with DH and XC in Vallnord, Para and then Road champs in Zurich.
Sitting here right now watching the para riders and trad trackies from all over the world spliced together in the velodrome schedule is awesome though. Not least because it underlines some of the incredible performances athletes facing extra challenges put in. I’ll certainly be keeping it on the second screen when I fire up the Junior DH shortly too. And if you’re someone who’s never watched different disciplines before then whether you do it virtually or for real, I recommend getting stuck into as much content as you can over the next week. I’m going to be bingeing on BMX and trials and hell, I might even watch the e-MTB on Wednesday to see what that’s all about.