Nick Westby: Lessons from Innsbruck - how Yorkshire became the new standard bearer for cycling events
Innsbruck may have the edge on Yorkshire in terms of breathtaking scenery but the Broad Acres has the Alpine region beat when it comes to putting on a show.
This week’s UCI Road World Championships have been staged in bright autumnal sunshine against the stunning backdrop of the Alps.
It is a scene that is easy on the eye, yet stroll around the city and it is almost as if some people are unaware a global sporting event is unfolding on their doorstep.
There is no bunting, very few banners advertising the event, no painted bicycles on street corners and if there are cafes renamed after famous cyclists, then they are hard to find.
Seven hundred thousand spectators are expected into the city built into the Inn Valley over the course of the nine days.
Through those visitors, the organising committee expect to generate an economic impact of 30m euros which would represent breaking even on the money invested by the Austrian government, and sponsors, to bring the championships here.
Half a decade ago, such numbers in cycling terms were common place. They were even seen as strong.
But Yorkshire’s introduction onto the world cycling stage has shifted the dial.
From the moment five million people lined two Tour de France routes through the White Rose in 2014, the bar was raised, and no new player on the cycling scene has been able to catch up.
With that memorable Tour de France weekend, four Tours de Yorkshire in the books and the UCI Road World Championships – at a cost of £24m underwritten by the government – headed to our region in 2019, Yorkshire’s position as a cycling destination gets stronger by the year.
This is not a slight on Innsbruck, for the production has been slick and professional. For a country steeped in winter sports history, organisers have shown that Innsbruck is a city that can cater for summer sports as well. Road cycling is not the entirety of their vision. Unlike Yorkshire, this region is not the self-styled ‘capital of cycling’.
“We want to showcase ourselves as a destination for mountain biking, climbing and hiking, as well as road cycling,” explained Karin Seiler-Lall, director of Innsbruck Tourism, whose city recently hosted the mountain bike world championships. “We want to show Innsbruck as a city with urban character, with imperial history and all on the doorstep of the Alps.” That they have done, with eight million people tuning into the host broadcast by the middle of the championships.
But they have had internal struggles to overcome, namely in the battle for the hearts and minds of their residents.
How will road closures affect me? Will I be able to get my child to school? How will public transport be affected?
Innsbruck is a community that last year voted against the region bidding to stage the 2026 Winter Olympics on the grounds of the huge cost and security concerns.
There is also the matter of the size of the world championships. Innsbruck is the hub but there are four other start towns which requires a vast logistical operation. In 12 months time, Harrogate will be the epicentre while there will be seven further start towns across Yorkshire.
But if there is a lesson to be taken from this week it is that Yorkshire is no longer looking to others for guidance on staging these events. Our region has become the standard bearer.