Thursday, May 6, marks an important milestone for the city of Wollongong and the Illawarra region.
It marks 500 days to go before the city plays host to the biggest event to be seen in this region for many a year, if ever, the 2022 UCI Road World Championships.
Wollongong 2022 CEO Stu Taggart shared with us his thoughts 500 days out from the event being billed as "Wollongong's Olympics" _
I approach the May 6 milestone of "500 days to go" until the start of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships here in Wollongong with equal measure of excitement and anxiety.
If I think of the speed with which the first 125 days of 2021 to date have passed, the thought of the largest event ever in Wollongong starting in less than four times that short space of time is energising to say the least.
And that is partly because there is a great deal to do to prepare for this massive event. We will host 11 world championship events in eight days next September. A huge amount of work and consultation with stakeholders is currently going into planning just the courses for those events.
The considerations are almost infinite. Showcase as much as possible of our spectacular city to a global television audience of hundreds of millions, while minimising disruption for residents and the expense of any capital works, satisfying the stringent technical requirements of international cycling, and ensuring that the festival experience for 300,000-plus spectators is the best time they've ever had. Easy.
At the same time, we're in the market, at home and abroad, to attract the set of sponsors that such an event deserves. The response has been encouraging.
Businesses know the power of a cycling community in Australia that numbers more than 3.6 million, and has grown by 19 per cent in the last 12 months. Bicycle users globally now exceed 2 billion.
And they are excited about the prospect of the world's best riders competing against the breathtaking backdrop of our escarpment and coastline, and the chance to present themselves alongside those athletes to 300+ million viewers worldwide. And they want to be part of a place-defining major event for Wollongong. So we're working hard to ensure that as many as possible of the right partners have the opportunity to come on the ride.
But there is a deeper source of my excitement and anxiety with just 500 days to go. It is the knowledge that the once-in-a-generation window of opportunity for Wollongong to take advantage of our status as host of one of the largest and most prestigious annual events in world sport to create an enduring legacy for our city and cycling, is closing every day.
So every day we are eager to use the platform provided by being host of this event to put Wollongong in front of new audiences around Australia and the world. As the annual season of major international cycling events begins this month, the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France will see the cycling world looking ahead to Wollongong next year.
Just a few months later, our presence at this year's UCI Road World Championships in Flanders, Belgium will begin to expose Wollongong to unprecedented international audiences. With our event partners, Destination NSW, Destination Wollongong and Wollongong City Council we hope to convert that attention into intention. Enquiries into bookings.
Across the city we're in a race to take advantage of our newly won UCI Bike City status. Having achieved the label 18 months ahead of plan, the pressure is on not to waste a day putting it to work for Wollongong and cycling.
By the time the COVID recovery allows the UCI to visit Australia to present the award in person (hopefully later this year), we will want to demonstrate that Wollongong is truly worthy of the designation, by pointing to the additional cycling infrastructure that it has inspired around town, and to the cycling tourists that it is attracting.
This is a critical time too for the sport of cycling in Australia. A recent ground-breaking national merger of multiple cycling disciplines into AusCycling will bring enormous opportunities for the sport.
AusCycling represents more than 52,000 members across BMX, BMX Freestyle, Cyclo-Cross, E-Sport, Mountain Bike, Para-Cycling, Road, Track and Lifestyle (recreational and commuter) riding throughout Australia.
The 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong will be the largest cycling event in the country in the crucial first few years of this venture. If it is harnessed effectively, it can play a unique role in uniting and galvanising the whole Australian cycling community behind a wonderful celebration of the sport.
But we also only have 500 days to make that happen.
The vision that we have adopted for the event is:
- By hosting the best ever UCI Road World Championships, Wollongong 2022 intends to reposition Wollongong nationally and internationally as a destination famous for lifestyle, innovation and cycling.
- Wollongong will deliver a distinctive, citywide, world-class cycling festival that creates transformational legacies for Wollongong, lifelong memories for its community, and unique, high-value opportunities for partners.
It is unashamedly ambitious. And it is this, alongside the operational preparations for the event, that keeps me up at night, and pushes me hard to squeeze the most out of every day.
Because every day between today and September 18, 2022 is uniquely valuable for Wollongong and our event partners.
And it's a day that's not coming back.
- Stu Taggart is the CEO of Wollongong 2022, the organisation overseeing the delivering of the world championships.
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