Wheels on fire

Wheels on fire

Yorkshire is hosting the UCI Road World Championships in 2019, William Fotheringham investigates what makes it Europe’s cycling capital.

The fans wait for the sound. Seconds pass, there’s a ripple of excitement – we can hear the distant thrum of helicopter propellers telling us the riders are coming. The anticipation grows, then there they are - nearly 200 bikes hurtle towards us at breakneck speed. As they zoom past, we can feel the rush of wind and crackle of sweat.Wherever the location; Richmond, Doha or Bergen the spectacle is truly gripping. In 2019, the Road World Championships come to Yorkshire and this carnival atmosphere will be coming to God’s Own County.

Yorkshire’s relationship with cycling is not a new thing. There’s a strong tradition of hosting world-class cycling in Yorkshire dating back more than 50 years. Remember the Harrogate and York cycling festivals – massively popular in the 70s and 80s - and the Leeds Classic, a World Cup race held in the 90s over the iconic Holme Moss climb? It drew crowds that gave a preview of the present-day success of the Tour de Yorkshire and 2014 Tour de France.

What sets Yorkshire apart from other European locales though, is the way that heritage has been used as a foundation stone to build 21st century success: A Tour de France Grand Départ hailed as the finest ever by the organisers and a world-class annual stage race (the TDY), extended from this year to four days for men and two for women. Add in some of the finest and most varied cycling roads that Europe has to offer – high moorland, glorious coast and quiet rural lanes and it is not hard to see why the UCI not only chose to make Yorkshire the 2019 host, but also made it one of UCI’s eight worldwide Bike Regions.

Yorkshire’s place in the cycling history of Britain is unique. Two things set it apart: the enduring richness of its two-wheeled history and the way it has built on that tradition. Current Yorkshire stars include former World Champion Lizzie Deignan and World Tour riders Ben Swift and Scott Thwaites. These riders are in a direct line that goes back to the multiple world champion Beryl Burton, who was the first Briton to win the iconic rainbow jersey of world champion, in 1960.

Burton, who came from Leeds and rode for the Morley Cycling Club, won a second title in 1967 and would surely have taken multiple gold medals at the time trial – but unfortunately it was not included in the programme until 1994, two years before her death in 1996.

Burton is Yorkshire’s greatest cycling champion, but there are many others; Wakefield’s Barry Hoban, winner of eight stages in the Tour de France and Brian Robinson, who was the first Briton to finish the great bike race and the first Briton to win a Tour stage. That tradition continued through the 70s and 80s with the likes of Keith Lambert, Sid Barras and Malcolm Elliott and goes on to the present day with Ed Clancy, Russell Downing, Ben Swift and a host of others.

Wherever the World Championships are held, one part of the spectacle is always the same: the tension, speed and excitement that mounts lap by lap in the closing circuits of the climactic event of nine days of competition: the men’s elite road race, approximately 270 kilometres and over seven hours long. Faces become increasingly drawn, the eyes more focused, the pace rises, the drop-outs multiply and the pressure is palpable.

The venues for the event change annually, but what makes the event unique – the tension, speed and excitement - remains constant and that’s what’s coming to Yorkshire in September 2019. Over 1,000 cyclists from around 75 countries compete in total, beginning with team time trials on the opening weekend, followed by individual time trials and then regular road races. These include juniors, under 23s and elite events for men and women. The main events are the men’s and women’s road races which feature over a climactic closing weekend.

Fans travel from all over the globe in massive numbers to cheer on their nations in raucous, colourful style. And for Yorkshire, domestic fans in the UK will surely make the journey en masse, as this is only the fourth time the Road World Championships have been on these shores.

The World Championships provide a unique chance to showcase a region. That is why, although the race finishes will be centred on Harrogate, events will start in other Yorkshire towns including Beverley, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Ripon and Northallerton. The exact routes and start venues have yet to be confirmed, but two principles underlie the Championships. In the road races and time trials, the distances vary, but all the events incorporate the same finish circuit. That provides a unique opportunity for up and coming racers, from 16 upwards, to share the same roads as the idols they are looking to emulate in the future. For Yorkshire, it means that most of the region will get a piece of the action.

This article was taken from This is Y 2018