A look ahead to the 2019 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 February 2019
The UCI Road World Championships comes to cycle-mad Yorkshire later this year. The man charged with making sure it runs smoothly talks to Tony Greenway
Andy Hindley doesn’t lack a passion for cycling. On the contrary, he loves it. What he lacks is enough hours in the day. Still, when he can get out for a ride on one of his bikes, he does. ‘I have five bicycles,’ he admits. ‘Two mountain bikes, two road bikes and a commuter/general knock-around bike. I cycle as much as I can... but I don’t have enough time.’
And particularly these days, because he has a rather important cycle tournament to organise (which is putting it mildly): the UCI Road World Championships, which comes to Yorkshire in September.
Part of the Triple Crown of Cycling, this event – promoted by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – has an incredible pedigree. It started as an amateur race in 1921, turned professional in 1927 and is now a milestone in the annual cycling calendar, watched by some 250million people in 150 countries around the world. The 2019 championship is the first to be hosted by Great Britain since 1982 and the BBC will be broadcasting the races live.
So no pressure then. Actually, Lancashire-born Hindley is no stranger to a bit of pressure. He’s a former sportsman himself, having sailed around the globe twice. He then served as race manager of the Volvo Ocean Race and chief operating officer of the America’s Cup, among other world-class water-based spectacles.
Being CEO of the UCI Road World Championships is a different challenge, mind you. ‘First of all it’s land-based,’ he says (although I’d spotted that one, to be fair). ‘Working on water brings with it a lot of complications, as well as rules and regulations. Secondly, spectator-wise, the UCI Road World Championships are huge. Put it this way: the expected turn-out over nine days is 3.2 million people.’
That’s a lot of cycle fans, and they’ll be coming to Yorkshire from all over the planet. Of course, if an event is ticketed, organisers have at least some idea of how many people will ultimately turn out to watch. But the world championships are free, so final numbers will be anyone’s guess. ‘This fantastic turn-out to watch cycling in Yorkshire is our biggest problem – and the best problem to have,’ admits Hindley.
Non-cyclists might groan at the thought of yet another Yorkshire-based cycle tournament, because we already have one. It’s called the Tour de Yorkshire, and it’s been pulling in more than 2.5 million spectators since 2015. Is there really room for the UCI, too?
Well, yes, says Hindley, because the UCI Road World Championships are on a different scale. Don’t get him wrong: he’s a massive fan of the Tour de Yorkshire and, when it finishes in early May, many of its staff will join his team. But the event he’s charged with delivering is a whale of a size. ‘Pick any smaller tours – Tour de France, Tour de Yorkshire, Giro d’Italia – and you’ll have circa 200 riders,’ he says, ‘whereas we’ll have 1,400 athletes from 80 nations.’ It’s also spread over nine days, and there will be a number of men’s and women’s races starting in different towns and cities throughout the county (including Beverley, Bradford, Doncaster, Leeds, Northallerton, Richmond, Ripon, Tadcaster and Wetherby) and finishing in the main competition town of Harrogate. Plus there will be a UCI first: a para-cycling event running alongside the championships which will act as a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
‘The Tour de Yorkshire is an annual event,’ says Hindley. ‘The UCI Road World Championships doesn’t even come around every decade. So is there room for both? Yes: because the UCI is a one-off. So embrace it for what it is – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to host the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire.’
And the world championships will be exciting and fiercely competitive, he insists. ‘Peter Sagan (of Slovakia) wants his Rainbow Jersey back. He lost it this year in Innsbruck to Alejandro Valverde (of Spain), but had won three in a row previously. If Sagan wins it a fourth time he’ll be making history. Also – and I don’t want to put too much pressure on her – Yorkshirewoman Lizzie Deignan, who lives in Harrogate, has to be up there as one of the favourites to take the title. I know she wants to. She’s very much focused on it and training towards it. So we could see a British woman winning the women’s elite.’
Of course, the real star of the show is going to be Yorkshire itself. ‘It’s got the scenery and it’s got fantastically technically difficult roads,’ says Hindley. ‘The UCI doesn’t want to make it easy. It’s the world championships, so it’s meant to be tough.’
Are Yorkshire hills really that hard going, though? As tough as cycling up an Alp or over the Pyrenees? (Bearing in mind that I just typed that last sentence while drinking a cup of tea and having a biscuit, so I feel bad asking.)
‘It is,’ says Hindley. ‘And I’ll tell you why: because it’s constantly up or down. There’s very little flat, so you get very little rest. The speed riders average makes it as hard or harder as the big mountain stages in the Alps. You won’t see as many of them dropping off on the climbs; but, in the end, you’ll see a reduction (in their number) because it will be brutal. I’ve walked down the climb at Lofthouse on the women’s elite route. It’s steep and it goes on and on. Not like Alpine on and on. But it’s a 20 per cent gradient in places.’
With all that scenery in the spotlight, the race is designed to build long-term legacy for Yorkshire. ‘People will see the cycling opportunities, how beautiful it is and how difficult it is,’ says Hindley. ‘That’s not a negative in cycling terms. People who cycle a lot don’t want to go to a place where it’s pan flat. They want a challenge and to know that it’s been ridden by the pros.’
The next seven months are going to be busy for Hindley. But during the championships, if everything goes according to plan, he should be twiddling his thumbs. ‘You put the team together, give them a focus... and, at the end, I should be standing around smiling at people, shaking hands and not doing much else,’ he says. ‘If that happens, the event will have been a tremendous success, because it will have run seamlessly and smoothly, and I won’t have had to step in and make any major decisions.’
He might even find more time to ride his bike or, rather, bikes. In Hindley’s line of work, he’s privileged to have been cycling with ex-professionals and up-and-coming star riders. And in one way, he admits, that’s great but in another...oh dear.
‘I like to think I’m reasonably fit, he says. ‘But next to them I’m not in the same league. I’m not even one league down. It’s frightening how fast they can ride their bikes. Along the flat, up the hill, it doesn’t matter. It’s just incredible and it really brings home their effort, training, dedication – and, I guess, little bit of God-given talent.’
UCI Road World Championships September 21st-29th worlds-yorkshire.com