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Oh, what a wonderful Worlds: Yorkshire 2019's legacy

29 Nov 2019

The view of many is that this year’s World Championships in Yorkshire were a washout. But don’t believe the naysayers

Words Joe Robinson Photography Sean Hardy

‘Cycle race “complete disaster” for businesses,’ read the BBC headline six days after Mads Pedersen crossed the Harrogate finish line to be crowned men’s Road Race World Champion.

At a meeting of local businesses organised by the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Harrogate’s Business Improvement District team that same week, cries of ‘hear, hear’ echoed after one local businessman proclaimed that the town ‘does not want any more cycling events’.

Some shops reported figures that saw them 70% down year-on-year, having ordered extra stock in anticipation of higher footfall that never materialised. Others didn’t even bother opening throughout the week, such was the ‘message of fear’ relayed prior to the Championships.

When the curtains closed on the World Championships, the immediate reaction was that it had failed. The critics’ voices had been heard loud and clear, but it didn’t tell the whole story.

For those tasked with assessing the real impact of the event, the Worlds represented the culmination of a five-year transition of cycling in the UK that has transformed Yorkshire into a global centre for the sport.

Vocal minority

Lashed by some biblical weather, parts of Harrogate were empty during the week of the Worlds. While some streets on the course were so tightly packed with spectators that there was barely room to move, other parts of town looked post-apocalyptic. Some shops were shut, others just empty. There’s no denying that some businesses were impacted financially and that, at times, access to the town centre was limited.

Director of Visit Harrogate Richard Spencer knows some of these local businesses suffered during the Worlds and sympathises, but he is also keenly aware that the current perception doesn’t show the whole picture and says those who embraced the Worlds ended up profiting.

‘I heard about that meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and the businessman who stood up and said the Worlds wasn’t good for this town,’ Spencer tells Cyclist.

‘I think that the people who didn’t do well or did worse than expected have captured the louder share of voice in the immediate aftermath. Yet in my inbox I have plenty of messages from people telling me how well they have done and how it was a raving success.

‘The businesses that saw what was coming, and took an enterprising view of it, profited. Every business that went through that process of maximising and leveraging opportunity did well. Those that didn’t do that, unfortunately, didn’t maximise the potential returns.’

Scratch away at those surface reactions, the ones that caught the headlines, and you start to uncover a whole host of local businesses that profited greatly from the week’s racing.

For every business that reported losses or failed to open their doors, there were the likes of Baltzersens, a Scandinavian-styled cafe run by local Paul Rawlinson, which posted a 21% rise in sales that week and believes the Worlds will provide ‘some good showreel footage’ for attracting similar events in the future.

Or Patrick Byrne of Peter Gotthard’s salon, who foresaw that his family-owned hairdressing salon was likely to take a hit during the Worlds, so used its position on the finishing straight of Parliament Street to rent out the space as a pop-up store to clothing brand Katusha, manufacturing a scenario in which he could make money from the event.

Then there was Starling Independent bar, cafe and kitchen. Open only two years, it began talks with various cycling brands in 2018 to act as a base for their potential World Championships activities.

Eventually, the small bar struck up a deal with Rapha and Canyon to be a temporary store for the two brands and host for nightly talks and parties during the week. It was a decision that company director Simon Midgley is reaping rewards from.

‘For the week of the Worlds we doubled our previous best week in terms of profits but we wanted to be more than a 10-day firework display, which we will be,’ he says. ‘We have agreed to host a pop-up event with Canyon once a quarter going forward, and we have confirmed that we will be a satellite Rapha cafe, too.’

It’s cases like these that Spencer believes have created the bedrock for Harrogate to attract more world-class events, and not just cycling: ‘Around 80% of those coming to watch the racing did something else in Harrogate, too. We know people who came for extended breaks, spent more money here than usual and will likely come back.

‘The Worlds built the equity of Harrogate. Images of our town were broadcast around the world and this will reap its reward.

‘We proved we’re able to host a global event on a scale like this in the future. It’s something to build on as a Yorkshire brand for tourism in the future. A brand that’s becoming synonymous with cycling and continues to build and can now be diversified.’

Keeping up the momentum

Look further afield from Harrogate’s high street and you’ll soon realise that other businesses have been profiting for half a decade due to the influx of professional cycling to North Yorkshire – a rise that has only continued with the Worlds.

Take Dianne and Andrew Howarth. They run a family-owned chain of B&Bs called Cottage in the Dales. Being based in a beautiful location, the business has always done well, renting rooms to tourists who want to ramble across the Dales and gorge on Wensleydale cheese.

But since Christian Prudhomme decreed more than six years ago that the Tour de France’s Grand Départ would take place in Yorkshire in 2014, these independently run holiday cottages have seen a whole new level of activity.

‘We have always been successful – I’d say 90% full throughout the peak summer months,’ says Dianne. ‘But since that day in 2013 when the ASO announced Yorkshire would host the Tour de France in 2014 it has gone ballistic. Within 48 hours of the announcement we were fully booked. We were briefed that this may be the case, but we never expected it to be the reality.’

Watching the stage start in Leeds in 2014, Dianne was struck by the crowds that lined the entire route that day and realised that a change was going to come. Sure enough, the effect of the 2014 Tour is still being felt five years on.

Dianne has had a loyal set of customers who have returned every year since. Like the lady in her mid-sixties who, despite only living up the road in Darlington, books the weekend of the Tour de Yorkshire every May to get her roadside fix.

Or the couple who booked in for 10 days of following the Tour de Yorkshire by bike in May before returning for a second stay later in the year to partake in non-cycling activities, and have done so every year since 2014.

‘There’s also one set of guests, a couple who live down south. The wife is originally from Yorkshire and had been trying to convince her husband to visit the Dales for years with no luck,’ says Dianne. ‘He was adamant he didn’t want to visit until he saw the Tour de Yorkshire on TV one year. They have been guests here every year since.’

Dianne has also noted an increase in business from abroad. Visitors from the Netherlands and Germany have been popping on the North Sea ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull for short stays at Cottage in the Dales. And the recent coverage of the Worlds has extended her customer base even further.

‘I’ve already got the provisional Tour de Yorkshire dates for 2020 and 2021 fully booked and, for the 2020 date, I have an Australian lady who will be staying with us after watching the Worlds Championships on television.’

The town that found its way

If you want to see proof of a legitimate legacy being left by professional cycling in Yorkshire, then travel 42 miles down the A1 from Harrogate. Unlike Harrogate, Doncaster is not a ‘honeypot’ location. It doesn’t really profit from tourism as it isn’t close enough to the Dales or the Moors. The town was deeply affected by the closing of the mines during the mid-1980s, with some areas yet to fully recover almost 35 years on.

Andy Maddox, leisure services manager at Doncaster Council, says, ‘Doncaster is a town that has had issues in its past and has communities that lost their way due to the closing of industries.’

In other words, it was a town primed for a revolution of some kind and it just so happened it took place on two wheels.

‘We bid for the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire and we hosted the finish to Stage 2. That was a major turning point for how politicians and executives viewed the power of sport. Not so much about it making more people active, but more how it engaged our communities.

‘We spent time encouraging these local communities to engage with the race and it was suddenly a lightbulb moment for the council. We immediately saw how we could develop that to make the economy better, get more people feeling better and healthy, and increase employment.’

While Danny van Poppel was winning the Tour de Yorkshire stage into Doncaster three years ago, a plan was being agreed between Doncaster City Council, Sport England and British Cycling on how to act on that ‘lightbulb’ moment. They decided to build a cycling track on the outskirts of town.

Now a ‘beacon circuit’ covering the catchment area of South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, it is one kilometre long, can be divided into 14 different routes and has the world’s first purpose-built cobbled climb.

Maddox estimates that around 40,000 people will use the circuit a year – a far higher footfall than similar-sized tracks – and both the junior women’s and under-23 men’s road races at the Worlds departed from the track, acting by way of a grand opening.

‘By the time the Worlds had passed through Doncaster, 73% of our population had been within a one-mile walk of a free international sports event, and we also have this purpose-built cycling centre,’ Maddox says proudly. ‘We worked to map the Worlds and Tour de Yorkshire through ex-mining villages. They aren’t the most leafy places but it benefits the wider population and acts as a balance between showcasing Yorkshire and helping local communities.

‘You have to lift your head over the parapet for perspective here. If I’d have spoken to you five years ago and I had told my executive team we would host a World Championships, they would have laughed me out of the room.

‘But Doncaster did host the Worlds, it has hosted the Tour de Yorkshire, and it has done it with such a sense of ownership it proves we can deliver these major events just as well as, if not better than, London.’

And if the legacy of a purpose-built track, or increased profits at cafes and B&Bs is not enough to convince the naysayers, then how about the personal impact on local people? It’s something Maddox says he has experienced first-hand.

‘In 2016, when we hosted a stage finish of the Tour de Yorkshire, my team went out to the local communities to see how it was being received,’ says Maddox. ‘While there, one of my colleagues was stopped by an elderly woman.

‘She came over crying, grabbed my colleague by the hand and said, “These events have brought such community spirit. The last time we had spirit like this was during the miners’ strike.”

‘For those communities to mention the strike is painful. So for those same communities to mention it in a positive way – that was truly powerful. We really knew cycling had done something here.’

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