Why Harrogate should embrace the UCI cycling - by the Harrogate Advertiser

Just waiting for the riders and the crowds - Anticipation is high as the Harrogate Fan Zone is constructed on the Stray.
Just waiting for the riders and the crowds - Anticipation is high as the Harrogate Fan Zone is constructed on the Stray.

A personal comment by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

It looks ‘fan-tastic’. No pun intended, and dwarfs the one built for spectators at the exact same spot in 2014 for the Tour de France.

It’s a clear physical reminder of just how big this international cycling extravaganza really is and how important it is likely to be for Harrogate and the district.

Make no mistake, like it or not, when they begin on Saturday, the UCI championships will see the biggest transformation of Harrogate since the Second World War, albeit for nine days, not five years.

During the Blitz, the town saw a sizable influx of civil servants and military personnel when Harrogate’s large hotels were handed over to government offices evacuated from London.

Now it’s 1,400 cyclists from 90 different countries who are set to arrive - and their support teams, international media and, oh, yes, hundreds of thousands of cycling fans from across the world.

Harrogate WILL be on top TV channel during UCI cycling championships

The consequences for normal life are immense, as anyone who has noticed the road barriers to vehicle access being erected across roads in the town centre will agree.

But the excitement of being at the epicentre of something of such international significance is equally as big.

Who can resist the chance to watch local favourite Lizzie Deignan battling to become world cycling champion on the streets of Harrogate amid the frenzy of huge crowds?

What’s not to like about nine days of food, drink and live entertainment in the heart of the town in the company of people from all around the world?

I’m told on good authority that a major member of the Royal Family has been lined up to arrive at some point. Or is that just a rumour?

It’s true that not even the keenest cycling fans are looking forward to the road closures or traffic disruption.

In fact, this newspaper is still receiving complaints from readers about the UCIs on the very eve of the event.

Phrases like “causing havoc” and “being prisoners in our own homes” are still coming in from residents and businesses annoyed at having their streets blocked.

I’ve heard stories of some people having left town on holiday for the entire fortnight and of people still worried about getting to their hospital or doctors appointments.

But, if you know anything about what organisers have been doing behind the scenes over a vast number of hours, you will know that the likes of Yorkshire 2019 and North Yorkshire County Council do seem to be attempting to keep disruption to as little as is possible in the circumstances.

The evidence of their extensive planning in advance is there for everyone to see online, specifically on the websites of Yorkshire 2019 and North Yorkshire County Council, the main bodies tasked with delivering locally what cycling’s leading organisation expects from this annual international event.

Here's what the Harrogate Fan Zone schedule looks like for cycling championships

Last week I overheard a couple talking while shopping in a leading Harrogate store.

“They say the cycling will help the economy but Harrogate is already doing well. It’s economy is fine.”

In comparison to many other places in the UK, the Harrogate district remains affluent on the whole. But the broader picture is that its economy relies to a significant degree on visitors.

The reason local authorities including Harrogate Borough Council have been so keen to welcome the UCIs is precisely because it will bring so many visitors to the area.

Over the next week or so, the world’s press and TV will shine a global spotlight on where we live in a way we have never experienced before.

As a profile-raising exercise, the cost of bringing the UCIs to Yorkshire is almost covered by that alone.

One question, however, remains to be answered.

It may be a coup for Harrogate to host the ‘world cup of cycling’ but compared to other past host areas, it is a bit on the small side, being a town not a city.

That isn’t the same as saying, we’re not up to it. Oh no.

Complaining about the presence of the greatest cyclists on earth now, is on a par with Harrogate residents in the Victorian era complaining that the town was full of great British aristocrats and senior members of royalty from across Europe coming to ‘take the waters’.

Welcoming the world to the Harrogate district for much of the next fortnight isn’t really about demonstrating that Yorkshire is the capital of cycling, never mind Harrogate.

The cycling is clearly important but it goes beyond that.

North Yorkshire is one of Britain’s most envied counties.

It’s a matter of pride that it does things better than elsewhere, that it is better than elsewhere.

People who live in Harrogate and Knaresborough and Ripon and Pateley Bridge like living where they do at least partly because of the quality of life.

It’s something they are rightly proud of.

As someone who has lived here for more than 30 years, I know Harrogate’s standards are high, so high in fact that it often looks to London as a true rival.

The nine days of the UCI Road World Championship offer a golden chance to show the rest of world what makes us great.

It's going to be a lot of fun and Harrogate is ready for the challenge.

Bring it on...

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