It’s safe to say that the build-up to this year’s inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in Scotland – the first worlds event of its kind to feature most of the wide variety of cycling disciplines under the one organisational umbrella – was far from smooth. The weeks, and months, leading up to the 11-day Scottish festival of cycling were beset by controversy and complaint, about everything from road closures and disruption to potholes and route design qualms.
But now we’re approaching the end of this celebration of all things cycling, how has Scotland embraced the world championships, and what has the reaction been like on the streets of Glasgow to the two-wheeled takeover? To find out, we asked a range of locals, volunteers, fans, and riders what they thought about the first ever ‘Cycling Olympics’ and its impact on Scotland, both this week and beyond.
Just walking around Glasgow, surrounded by banners advertising French constructions firms and giant inflatable bowls of fruit, there is a palpable sense, from this writer’s perspective anyway, that cycling has taken over Scotland’s largest city.
That feeling, of course, tends to come and go in waves (especially when you’re faffing about with one of the city bikes outside the Buchanan Galleries and a group of hooded teenagers approach you imploring you to “gee us yer bike”. Sorry mate, I would but I don’t know how to unlock it).
But for the most part, cycling and bikes have imbued the atmosphere around Glasgow. Cyclists, on all types of bikes, are absolutely everywhere, people walk around sporting the UCI’s official merch (fluffy Highland coos are all the rage), hotel receptionists rave about seeing the pros and their swanky equipment, and – most importantly – spectators have flocked to the roadside, the track, and the trails to roar on the best in the world.
Not that there weren’t some grumbles beforehand, of course. One of the primary complaints, rather inevitably, stemmed from motorists and residents across Scotland unhappy that a bike race was preventing them from getting in the big shop for a day.
In Perth and Dumfries, locals complained about the disruption caused by road closures, while in Stirling they frothed on social media about the impact of the time trials on parking at the city’s castle.
The labyrinthian urban circuit for the road races in Glasgow has also provoked some consternation from residents and business owners. Though it has been clear for the past day or so, with the team time trial out of the way and the remaining road races not until the weekend, and despite the lingering presence of the barriers, that the streets are at least partially back in the hands of the city’s drivers.
For Glasgow cycling fan Kyle, the prolonged bout of pre-event complaining is just par for the course.
“I’ve been walking about and it looks great. It’s amazing to see so many people in Glasgow. I was over in the west end yesterday, and it was lovely just seeing all the bikes and all the cyclists,” he told road.cc during the weekend’s junior races.
“But in Glasgow it rains about 300 days a year, and then when it’s sunny we find a way to moan about it, you know?
“The reaction has been kind of mixed. I know a couple of cycling fans who’ve been really excited. But then there’s people who just find a way to moan about it a little bit. I know certain events haven’t been too well advertised – people wanted to get tickets for the track, and didn’t really know when they were going on sale.
“And, as for the closed roads, I was getting picked up the other day to see Oppenheimer in the cinema by my mate who lives in the centre of Glasgow – and all he did was moan about being ‘blocked in’. And I was like, you’re definitely not blocked in! You just need to get on with it, and enjoy the fact that everyone’s here.”
However, there’s one aspect of the criticism from the non-cycling world that has Kyle nodding vociferously in agreement with the mob: and that’s the city’s pothole problem, and the council’s seemingly “selective” decision to repair only the roads set to be used as part of the urban circuit.
Glasgow’s cycling culture summed up in one image?
Last week, politicians, pothole campaigners, a taxi federation chairman, as well as numerous locals in Glasgow hit out at the city council over the last-minute repair work that was carried out on roads which form part of the road race circuit – which they say were made purely to accommodate the racing while others nearby in the city remain “appalling” and “dangerous”.
“The roads in Glasgow for cycling are terrible, they’re really, really bad,” Kyle agrees. “What I’ve noticed is that people tend to be moaning about the fact the roads have been fixed for the cycling, but they’re still driving through potholes. Which I think is up there with one of the most Glaswegian things I’ve ever heard in my life!
“But I think people will get over it in the end, though I’d be interested to cycle on some of the roads afterwards.”
Since the races have started, however, another implication of Glasgow’s two-wheeled takeover has raised its head: the slow walk across roads during races. During Saturday’s men’s junior road race, a slow-moving throng across Buchanan Street just about got out of the way in time as a group careened through the smaller than usual gap, while women’s junior road race champion Julie Bego was greeted by the sight of a completely packed road as she entered her triumphant final straight.
Those snail-like crossings have not gone down well with those desperate to get to Waterstones either, with this writer hearing more than a few sweary mutterings in the many logjams, as if for some people waiting to cross a road was an entirely new phenomenon.
One of those on the frontline of the crossing point battle, marshal Laura, says the majority of people have been understanding of the need to wait as a bike race passes.
“The experience has been amazing. And the locals have been so supportive, just with the road closures. Obviously they’ve had a lot of implications for people, just when they’re out and about around the city,” Laura, a veteran volunteer of Commonwealth Games and European football championships, told road.cc.
“But folk have been so friendly. When we stop them at crossing points, they’re saying, ‘oh, we understand’, and we just explain the system to them if they’re a bit aggravated, that it’s for their safety as well as the cyclists’ safety.
“We do know that it’s upset a few folk in the city. But the majority of people are coming with their families, they’re sitting with their kids, and they’re waving at the cyclists as they pass. It’s so nice to see. The atmosphere has been absolutely great. I’ve volunteered for a few things, and I’m having a blast.”
The volunteers at the BMX get to work (Javier Martínez de la Puente/SWpix.com)
However, Laura also noted that some have been more vociferously vocal than others when it comes to making their feelings known about the 11-day event and, in particular, the cost of hosting it.
On Friday, as the elite men carried out their recce of the city centre circuit, one protester spent his afternoon flashing a sign in the direction of the riders, with the slogan ‘£36 million for this?’ (the revised budget for the championships, which also includes efforts to create a lasting legacy beyond this week, now stands at almost £60 million).
“The man just stood for two hours holding his sign,” Laura said. “But after a couple of hours he left, he didn’t cause any hassle, gave a few folk his Instagram handle. But, apart from that, it was fine.”
Meanwhile, one Scot, Jennifer, who randomly stumbled upon the races while spending a day in Glasgow with her granddaughters, reckons the championships are a great advertisement for Scotland, which could help inspire the country’s next generation of sportspeople.
“I think it’s great for Glasgow,” she said. “It’s good for the economy, to bring people in to see the city and what it can produce.”
Belgian fans, Belgian fans everywhere
One of those fans attracted to Glasgow by the allure of a week and a half of non-stop racing is David, a cycling fan from the Flemish city of Leuven, which hosted the road worlds in 2021. Seemingly always decked out in light blue and carrying a Belgian flag, David is spending basically the entirety of the worlds in Scotland with six friends, who are trying to take in as much of the multi-disciplinary aspect of this year’s championships as they can.
“The road worlds in Leuven in 2021 was really fun – to have the race go through your village so many times was great – so when the news broke of the super event in Glasgow, there wasn’t much doubt that we should get a group together to come here for the whole duration,” he told road.cc.
“I think Scotland has hosted it quite well. Of course, you have to have the facilities. Having the track a couple of kilometres from the road race course is a real plus. The trip up to Fort William [for the downhill mountain biking] wasn’t too long, whereas anywhere else you’d have to travel further. And the city in general is quite nice.”
David and his Belgian buddies have also been availing of Glasgow’s OVO bike sharing scheme – with users free to ride for 20 minutes at a time for the duration of the championships – and are planning to hop on the city bikes for a lap or two around the course before they leave (although they’ll be taking the many hills at a “slightly slower pace than Mathieu van der Poel”, David notes).
“It’s quite nice getting around on these bikes, which work well about twenty percent of the time,” he laughs. “But it’s been great getting around the city and to the velodrome on them. You’re way quicker on a bike, and it’s way more fun as well. And getting all the cheers from all the terraces of the pubs – that’s just an added bonus!”
Slightly tipsy flag-waving Belgians on city bikes aside, most of that roadside adoration is, of course, reserved for those aiming to nab an actual rainbow jersey, and not just buy one from the big merch tent in George Square.
While every acceleration by Katie Archibald caused the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome to erupt into a barely contained frenzy, another local hero, Anna Shackley, has been enjoying sampling the atmosphere in her home city. The 22-year-old, from just down the road in Milngavie, who will form part of a strong Great Britain team for Sunday’s road race, and says she found the experience of racing around her old stomping ground during the mixed relay team time trial as “strange”.
“It was really nice, actually,” she said, after GB finished just off the podium in the TTT. “We had people shouting our names, and there were so many people out on the streets.
“And, for me, this is my home city, so it’s really strange to be cycling past shops I’d normally go into! And there’s so many people on the course, it’s really nice.”
Meanwhile, Australian now-veteran Michael Matthews – a perennial contender for the rainbow jersey, so he knows a thing or two about what makes a good world championships – believes the new multi-discipline nature of the event has helped foster a special atmosphere in the city for the racers themselves.
“It’s incredible,” the Jayco AlUla rider told road.cc. “If a town is able to implement all these different sports – this year it’s going to be quite difficult because it’s the first time, because no one really knows exactly how it’s going to go.
“But, even just walking around Glasgow and seeing other Australians I watch on TV, like the BMXers, the downhillers, it feels like a mini Olympics. I’m a fan of loads of different cycling sports. I grew up doing BMX, downhill, moto-cross. So to see the worlds, and all these riders, cruising around Glasgow, it’s so cool.
“I met a lot of people I’m a massive fan of, and just integrating with different sports has been really incredible. It’s going to be interesting to see after this project how it went, but it’s really been like a cycling Olympics.”
Michael Matthews makes his way past yet another Caffè Nero (Thomas Maheux/SWpix.com)
And, despite not living up to his own expectations in the road race, the four-time Tour de France stage winner had nothing but praise for the almost 200,000 fans and curious locals who lined the Glasgow circuit, and the further 110,000 who turned up at the roadsides of Scotland’s central belt.
“It was truly special. Obviously the UK has a massive cycling following. But honestly I didn’t expect this. The road race felt like I was in the Tour de France, or in Belgium or in Holland, where cyclists are gods,” he said.
“We were treated to a very special race. Everyone had goosebumps when we entered the circuit. Even before the circuit, all through the towns, you could just see the kids really enjoying us riding past.
“You could just feel the love, and that’s truly special. With the amount of negative things you see on social media these days – and you try to black it out obviously – but once the race started, having the fans cheering us on made the race even more special than just being another world championships.”
There you have it. Scotland 2023: More than just another world championships…
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.