The Super Bowl of pro cycling? Stats show staggering kickback from 2021 road worlds

The Flandrian worlds proved a staggering success for all involved – but things aren't always rosy for those behind rainbow jersey races.

Photo: Getty Images

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Who said there’s no money in bike racing.

Stats recently revealed by the UCI confirm the staggering kickback generated by last fall’s Flandrian road world championships.

The key number? The week of rainbow jersey racing generated an estimated gross added value of €27.4 million to the Flemish economy – and it wasn’t all spent on beers and burgers.

Local accommodation, transport, and entertainment businesses all likely felt as overjoyed as “champions of Flanders” Elisa Balsamo and Julian Alaphilippe when they prepared their year-end accounts. Here’s why:

Flanders world championships – the figures (per EY ‘Impact Report’):

  • 1.5 million visitors across four venues, 1 million unique visitors in total
  • Average duration of visit: 4.5 nights
  • Combined total spend by event visitors: €36 million ($40 million)
  • Gross added value to the Flemish economy: €27.4 million ($31 million)
  • 208 million TV viewers in 113 countries

The numbers put overwhelming, but unsurprising, facts on last September’s spectacle.

Cycling-mad Belgian fans – and a 10 percent smattering from neighboring nations – packed the Flandrien lanes last fall, bringing an atmosphere beyond the world of bike racing.

“It was unbelievable, it was like racing in a stadium on roads,” Tom Pidcock said after the men’s road race. “We weren’t racing a road race, we were racing in a stadium. It was incredible, chants, singing it was unreal. It was like a football [soccer] match.”

The surging stats from Flanders may be huge, but they’re not out of proportion to what’s been seen before. Another impact study produced by EY based on the waterlogged 2019 worlds showed host community Harrogate came away with an £18 million uplift (€22 million / $25 million at current rates) from the event.

One interesting nugget?

The numbers from Yorkshire came from a total attendance estimated at “just” 300,000, around 20 percent of the huge crowds seen in Flanders. Innsbruck 2018 was reported to welcome a similar crowd-count to that of Yorkshire.

Just goes to show, Belgians really love bikes.

Rolling the road worlds dice

The crowds came to Bergen, but the bank balance suffered as organizers got it wrong. (Photo: Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)

Hosting a world championship doesn’t make for guaranteed financial success for the local community or race organizers.

The 2014 event in Ponferrada suffered huge losses. The 2017 championships in Bergen drew an estimated 700,000 spectators on the road and 300 million more watching on the television, but a swathe of miscalculations and malign exchange rate swings saw projected income through the floor and costs through the roof.

Also read: Report: Bergen goes bust

The organizers went bankrupt with a deficit of some $7 million, but still ruled the event a success thanks to the good vibes and good racing it brought to the Norwegian city. The financial impacts on the local economy are unknown.

So what’s the takeaway?

The road worlds can bring clutches of cash to a host community, just like the Tour de France does to its start and finish towns.

However, while the ASO is guaranteed a huge haul from the Tour’s tried-and-trusted model, massive TV rights and host venue bidding-wars, the race for the rainbow jersey is far less a guaranteed money-spinner for organizing officials.

Hosting road worlds can turn out to be a banking black-hole, an unparalleled success for officials and locals alike, or a bit of both.

Of course, if you’re going to take a festival of cycling anywhere, the beer halls and burger bars of Belgium is the place to do it.

Wollongong will be the next to spin the road worlds roulette wheel. After two years of a COVID-inflicted international racing drought, the Aussie community looks set for some dollar.

Flanders worlds – All the info:


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