Wollongong will host the UCI Road World Championships in September, 2022, attracting 200 million viewers globally. That's an absurd level of exposure. It is, after all, the second largest cycling event on the planet after the Tour de France. But it's not about the event.
Securing the hosting rights to the world championships was never purely about the elite component - it was about using our "Olympic moment" as a springboard to change the way cycling and active recreation is embraced by the broader community.
One of the primary drivers behind the acquisition of the event was the opportunity to be known as a 'UCI Bike City' for four years after the event.
There are currently only 10 cities in the world that boast this global accreditation, none of which are in the southern hemisphere.
The bar is set high, because UCI Bike City status is not awarded for any one genre of cycling - it takes a multi-disciplinary approach and long term strategic thinking.
Road cycling, mountain biking and BMX are all sporting disciplines, but recreational cycling, commuter cycling, education programs, research, cycling tourism, dedicated infrastructure and, importantly, the acceptance of this pursuit by the non-cycling community, are all part of a far bigger picture.
When this journey began, no one could have foreseen COVID-19 and its associated consequences. The only glimmer of positivity from the current crisis is the way the community has engaged in active recreation.
Activity in National Parks reportedly doubled during lockdown. You only need to drive down the street to see couples walking or families on bikes. COVID-19 has presented Wollongong with an opportunity to re-position itself as a progressive city, committed to fostering a new-age lifestyle.
This mega sporting event can act as a catalyst for positive change, because its success will not be judged on those nine days in September 2022, but how the community engages and the city benefits for many years to come.
On Monday night, Wollongong City Council will consider its Annual Plan and budget, alongside a draft Cycling Strategy for the region to 2030. This draft strategy positions Wollongong as the "place to ride", citing five key drivers.
It ensures we are committed to a SAFE environment, encouraging all of the community, especially woman and children, to ride. In Denmark and the Netherlands, women make up half of all trips made on bikes to work. Incredibly, five of the 10 UCI bike cities in the world are in those two countries. Conversely, Australian figures show only 15% of women have ridden a bike in the past week, so we have a long way to go.
The strategy also recognises that the connectivity of key locations needs to be CONVENIENT, whether that be connecting schools, shopping centres, beaches or local parks. It takes into account that PLANNING for new precincts, such as West Dapto, require prioritisation in early planning, to ensure that active recreation sources are viable means of transport within local communities.
It values TOURISM - and not just the impact of a global event bringing visitation to the city in 2022. It was pointed out to me early in this process that once the course is announced for the world championships, it becomes an invaluable piece of legacy infrastructure.
Leading into the event, athletes from around the world will train on the course and long after the event, amateur cyclists from all walks of life will test themselves on a course that challenged the world's best. It's a unique offering when you think about it - weekend golfing hacks don't get to play at Augusta.
Lastly, the "city of innovation" will be judged on INNOVATION. Through delivering this event, Council is supporting a Cycling Australia initiative to deliver a Ride Nation school in Wollongong, which will provide bike education to 10,000 primary school aged children through a variety of platforms. That's a legacy you can't put a price on.
In its annual budget, Wollongong City Council has committed $12m over the next three years to deliver cycleways in the region. $1.6 million will be committed to delivering a criterion track, allowing our local cyclists to compete safely and regularly. $600,000 will go towards a world-class "pump track", where the next generation of young cyclists can learn their skills and dream of emulating locals who have taken their love of cycling to another level.
The missing piece, not through want of trying, is the formalisation of a mountain bike trail network on the escarpment. Hopefully that will come soon, because that multi-discipline approach is the key to completing the puzzle. It's the key to gaining UCI Bike City accreditation.
Some events primarily provide economic impact; there's not a hotel operator that doesn't love a schoolgirl netball competition in the dead of winter. Other events provide precious 'reputational' impact. Corona Sunsets, for instance, achieved one million views globally in the 24 hours following North Wollongong's unprecedented beach party.
It might have been held on the sand, but that was pure gold dust. A number of events hit both of these measures, and that's extremely valuable. A special few do that and much more, providing numerous legacy strands, be it infrastructure, social capital, or cultural change. That's when it's no longer about the event.
Mark Sleigh is the general manager of Destination Wollongong
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