The global cycling community has been painted a picture of Wollongong and what it can expect in 12 months when the city hosts the 2022 UCI Road World Cycling Championships
At an international media conference on the eve of the 2021 event in Flanders, Belgium the world was given a taste of what to expect during an eight-day celebration of cycling planned in Wollongong next September.
Wollongong 2022 chief executive Stu Taggart revealed how an international audience of millions watching on from around the globe could expect to see a spectacular seaside city just one hour south of Sydney.
And how the world's best athletes in their sport would receive a welcome from a community fully invested in the growth and benefits of cycling.
Mr Taggart said not only was a full program of professional and spectator events planned for the global cycling event but the 2022 championships would be like no other.
One example of that was a world-first approach to gender equality when the Men Elite and Women Elite individual time trials are staged on the same day, over the same distance.
Speaking at the same media conference as UCI president David Lappartient he said the 2022 event would signify a hallmark moment for cycling.
"Australian postcard moments will come to life in Wollongong with white sandy beaches, crystal clear oceans and dramatic natural escarpment setting the scene for the high-energy 2022 UCI Road World Championships," Mr Taggart said.
"Hosting the UCI Road World Championships is the equivalent of hosting the Olympic Games for Wollongong and we'll be welcoming athletes, staff and spectators with the same enthusiasm and fanfare."
Australian postcard moments will come to life in Wollongong with white sandy beaches, crystal clear oceans and dramatic natural escarpmentStu Taggart
Mr Taggart said Wollongong was incredibly proud to attain the UCI Bike City lable.
"We are well down the track to creating a true lifestyle revolution around cycling in the region and across the country as a result of this event," he said.
"We are working closely with AusCycling to continue driving growth in all disciplines and levels of the sport, while partnering with Wollongong City Council and local community organisations to create new opportunities to embrace cycling as part of everyday life.
"The UCI has awarded us the opportunity to broaden the footprint of elite cycling competition outside of Europe and we will reward that confidence by delivering a UCI Road World Championships event that is sustainable, exciting and unforgettable. We are inviting you to come along for the ride of your life."
Mr Taggart said Wollongong 2022 and the UCI were actively seeking to embed gender equality at the event which will place a spotlight on women, and their success, skill, resilience and determination.
"Having the world's elite female cyclists competing in the individual time trial on the same day and over the same distance as the elite men for the first time on the opening day of the championships will be a transformational moment for our sport," he said.
Mr Lappartient said Wollongong hosting the 2022 UCI Road World Championships would confirm the global reach of one of cycling's major annual events.
"The UCI Road World Championships are the UCI's flagship annual event, bringing together the very best road cyclists in the world," he said.
"Following five years in European venues, it was important for the UCI to again take our event to another region. This is the first time we return to Oceania since 2010, when the UCI Road World Championships were staged in Melbourne and Geelong.
"Athletes competing at this level require excellent conditions in order to perform to their best, and I know that their expectations will be met in Wollongong. The cycling world looks forward to coming to Wollongong in 2022."
NSW minister for sport Natalie Ward said there was no better location than Wollongong for such a landmark event that coincided with the state government's commitment to opening up more opportunities for women and girls in sport.
And NSW minister for tourism Stuart Ayres said Wollongong's preparations for elite event involving the best athletes in the world with coincided with Sydney preparing to open international borders as vaccination rates increase significantly in NSW.
"We cannot wait to welcome visitors from around the globe back to our shores and to Wollongong to support the recovery of the local visitor economy," Mr Ayres said.
Meanwhile Destination Wollongong board member Simon Kersten is encouraging Wollongong residents to tune into the 2021 UCI Road World Championships in Flanders this weekend.
Mr Kersten said watching the elite men's and women's road races would give people a good idea of what the the Illawarra can expect when the world titles come to Wollongong in 12 short months.
The elite women's road race is being live streamed to SBS On Demand on Saturday from 9.30pm. And the elite men's road race is at the same time on Sunday night.
"This is a true festival and the atmosphere will be literally going off," Mr Kersten said.
"People need to understand what a carnival it will be and the proximity you get to these athletes, you are basically on the pitch with them. It goes nuts. For everyone in Wollongong we should realise this is very real for us and be aware this is what we are about to experience."
Mr Kersten said the Belgians will be going all out to win the title with their national champion Wout van Aert.
"Cycling is their national sport and we're going to see their national team work hard as a team to get the win," he said.
"Cycling is a religion to them "
Mr Kersten explained, like the Tour de France, riders work together in teams to put their best riders in the most enviable position.
"Anything can happen. It's a long race and so much can go wrong," he said.
Mr Kersten said there was a chance Australia could snag a victory in the men's race with Michael Matthews and Caleb Ewans the top hopes.
"If Caleb Ewans can get himself in the finish, then anything is possible," he said.
The 2022 UCU Road World Championships will be held in Wollongong between September 18 and 25.