An estimated 200 million people from across the globe have tuned in to watch one of the biggest cycling events in the world take place in Wollongong.
- Wollongong hosted the UCI Road World Championships for the first time last week
- The city’s bid for the event was aided by its topography, including nearby hills and beaches
- The world governing body for cycling says Wollongong has gained the prestigious Bike City label
The Union Cycliste Inernationale (UCI) Road World Championships saw the elite male peloton zip across the Seacliff Bridge before undertaking 12 gruelling laps of the city circuit.
It was nothing short of a marketing triumph for the New South Wales city, better known as an industrial heartland and home to the St George Illawarra NRL team.
Wollongong City Council Community Services director Kerry Hunt said it won the pitch in 2018 after the NSW government recognised the city had all the key components for the race.
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“You need to have access to transport, such as trains, buses, and connectivity to international or regional airports, which we certainly do, access to accommodation, but also access to things like congress facilities and venues,” she said.
“Wollongong is in this incredible setting — it’s beautiful — so from a destination marketing perspective, it’s a pretty spectacular place to show the world.”
Topography a key element
Another key factor was the area’s topography, such as steep hills rolling off the Illawarra Escarpment and kilometres of golden sandy beaches — all in close proximity to the city centre.
“My advice is that these events are not best held on a flat place like Canberra or Adelaide,” said NSW Sports Minister Alister Henskens.
“They, in fact, want to have a combination of hills and flat areas to cycle and, looking at the course as I went through it today [Sunday], it [Wollongong] is absolutely perfect from that point of view.”
The cycling event is part of a state government plan to host 10 world cup events in 10 years, with just the cycling event alone expected to deliver $ 94 million to NSW’s visitor economy.
“The UCI Road World Championships is the first of a series of world cups that NSW will host in 2022, with the event to be followed by the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup and the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup,” Mr Henskens said.
“When you look at the huge infrastructure that is behind all of the teams, then look at the people from all over the world that have come into NSW to either be part of this event or watch this event, it’s going to drive substantial economic stimulus to our economy.”
From industrial to Bike City
The UCI has declared Wollongong a Bike City, one of 18 around the world, and the only city in the southern hemisphere to be given the prestigious label.
UCI advocacy manager Isabella Burczak said prospective cities for the Bike City title were assessed against 10 criteria, such as hosting a UCI race event and having a plan to develop cycling at all levels.
“Wollongong City Council had just approved the 2030 cycling strategy, a number of initiatives were being put in place and a number of community partnerships were being put in place,” she said.
“So they really used the enthusiasm and momentum around the world championships to do much more and be able to accelerate a number of projects as well.
“We award the labels to cities that actually come out and request the labels, so they came to us and said, ‘We are really interested in the label. What do we need to do?'”
How Wollongong won the bid
Wollongong was named Bike City ahead of other Australian locations like Victoria’s Geelong, which hosted the championships back in 2010.
Rob Arnold from Bike Media believed Wollongong was proactive when the concept of Bike Cities was relaunched by the UCI in 2016, with a renewed emphasis on broader community benefits.
“Melbourne [and Geelong] has hosted track world cycling championships in the past,” he said.
“Canberra hosted the Mountain Bike World Championships back in 2009 and I agree that Canberra, in my appraisal, would be the most obvious Bike City,” he said.
“But maybe they didn’t lobby for that tag.”
Mr Arnold said there were many broader benefits for people living in a Bike City because it prompted people to use a bike for short journeys instead of relying on a car.
“I think that the whole push to get the UCI Bike City status is just to try and prompt people to think of alternative ways of getting around.”
“I’ve got the opinion that any government initiative, even if it’s just an attempt to encourage cycling, is a positive one.”
The Road World Championships will head to Glasgow in 2023, followed by Zurich and then, in keeping with expansionary plans outside of Europe, it will be hosted by Kigali, Rwanda, in 2025.