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It was a different Worlds back then: How things have changed since 1982

Felix Lowe
25 Sep 2019

It has been 37 years since the World Championships last came to Britain. How times have changed

With the 2019 UCI World Championships soon to start in Yorkshire, Cyclist columnist Felix Lowe looks back at the men's race - and the wider world - the last time it visited British shores, when the best riders did laps of Goodwood in 1982. This article is in the current issue of Cyclist magazine - on sale now

Words Felix Lowe Illustration Clear As Mud

When Beppe Saronni motored to the rainbow stripes at glorious Goodwood, ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ was top of the charts, having dethroned ‘Come On Eileen’ the day before.

Yes, it really has been that long since the UCI World Championships have been held in Britain. In the 37 years since then, Italy has had the honour of hosting the Worlds six times, Spain five, Switzerland and Austria three, and France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and the USA twice, with single outings in Portugal, Japan, Colombia, Canada, Australia, Denmark and (sigh) Qatar.

Admittedly, back then Britain wasn’t the cycling powerhouse it is now. In 1982, we couldn’t even have dreamed of three different Brits winning the Tour de France in six years. Professional cycling was just a curiosity, and the best Tour finish we could boast was still Tom Simpson’s sixth place from two decades earlier. Future World Champions Mark Cavendish and Lizzie Deignan hadn’t even been born yet.

In the early 1980s we were much stronger in a different field of excellence – one we have since become abject failures in: the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1981, Britain swept all before it with the mighty ‘Making Your Mind Up’ by Bucks Fizz, meaning that, come 1982, Eurovision was hosted in the UK. And the venue chosen to welcome the cream of European singing talent was… Harrogate.

Fast-pedal forward 37 years and Harrogate is back on the map – this time in the latest chapter of Yorkshire’s bid to become the only cycling destination in the country worth talking about. Current World Champion Alejandro Valverde was only two years old when the Worlds were last in Britain, and it was a different world back then.

1982 was the year of the first computer virus, the invention of ciabatta bread, Ben Kingsley’s Oscar for Ghandi and ABBA’s last public performance. Adrian Mole wrote his first diary (aged 13¾), the Falklands War raged for 10 weeks, PM Maggie Thatcher presided over record unemployment and we all needed some cheering up, hence E.T. being the highest-grossing film.

It was also the year Michael Jackson released Thriller, sales of which were boosted by the invention of something many younger readers won’t understand: the compact disc (you know – those flat silvery things that hang from trees in allotments).

Months before the cycling world headed to Goodwood, Aston Villa – whose most famous fan, Prince William, was born in the interim – beat Bayern Munich in the European Cup final. And while Bernard Hinault was busy winning a fourth Tour de France in July, Italy were wrapping up the football World Cup.

Then came the men’s road race on 5th September – the same day that Sir Douglas Bader, RAF flying ace during World War II despite losing both legs in an aerobatics crash in 1931, shuffled off this mortal coil.

Held over 18 laps of a 9.5-mile circuit (no foreign kilometres in those days), taking in the Goodwood racecourse and the South Downs, the men’s race was remembered for the meltdown between two American rivals. When Jacques Boyer attacked on the final rise to the line, it was 21-year-old Greg LeMond who led the chase – inadvertently leading out the Italian Saronni for the victory.

Giuseppe Saronni winning the 1982 Worlds. Photo: Offside/L'Equipe

Oh well. Boyer probably wouldn’t have won anyway, and back then the Americans were in it for themselves since their highest-placed rider in the Worlds automatically became national champion. So LeMond got second place (ahead of Sean Kelly) but still won something. He would go on to win the first of two rainbow jerseys a year later.

After a 37-year hiatus for Britain from cycling’s blue riband event, it won’t be a case of ‘Goodbye, cruel Worlds’ for long. Given that money now makes the Worlds go round, it’s no surprise to see Britain getting the nod again soon – with Glasgow hosting the inaugural combined cycling World Championships in 2023.

Alas, there won’t be much scope for a rose-tinted look back at today’s Love Island-drenched popular culture. Heck, Brexit will probably still be going on in four years…