Chamber boss says world bike event would be ‘amazing economic opportunity’

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Lochaber Chamber of Commerce boss Frazer Coupland has said that while hosting mountain bike races as part of the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships would bring challenges concerning enough accommodation and transport availability, it would still be an amazing economic opportunity for Fort William and the wider area.

Mr Coupland was addressing a session comprising part of last Thursday’s Tourism Day – part of the chamber’s Ideas Week staged at Ben Nevis Distillery.

The gathering, including many local accommodation providers, had just heard a talk from Gavin Ross, of the Scottish Government’s major events department.

Scotland was announced as the host country for the first UCI Cycling World Championships back in 2019 and since then both Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway have been named as venues for some of the 13 world championship disciplines that will be contested around the nation over the event’s 10 days in August 2023.

With more than 2,600 competitors from around 120 countries, an expected one million spectators and more than one billion viewers worldwide, the Cycling Worlds will be one of the top 10 sporting events on the planet.

A nationwide series of events that promises to bring the ‘power of the bike’ to the whole of Scotland, it is a format that the governing body plans to repeat every four years.

Glasgow will host championships for BMX, Road Cycling, Track Cycling and Track Para-Cycling amongst others, while Dumfries and Galloway will be home to the Para-cycling Road championships.

Venues for the remaining five disciplines will be announced over the coming months, including championships for mountain biking cross-country, downhill, marathon and cross-country eliminator competitions.

Mr Coupland told the audience hopes were high that the Nevis Range mountain resort outside Fort William would be named as  the venue for the mountain bike downhill competitions, saying there wasn’t a better quality venue anywhere else in Scotland.

The 2016 UCI mountain bike competition broke records for being the busiest yet, attracting more than 20,000 spectators. f 21 bikes crowd 01 no
The 2016 UCI mountain bike competition broke records for being the busiest yet, attracting more than 20,000 spectators. Photograph: Iain Ferguson

But he also flagged up how busy Fort William and Lochaber are in August generally and that such a massive event taking place at Fort William would not be without its challenges..

‘I think we are going to be really, really busy – in fact much busier that in 2007 when we hosted the world championship cross country event,’ he said.

‘Infrastructure like car parking, access, travel – there are a lot of things we will have to overcome in this area as a destination but it is a great opportunity to look at active travel networks, working with the likes of Transport Scotland making sure trains arrive at appropriate times to get people in and out of the area.

‘These are all conversations in the very early stages but which are going to ramp up over the next 18 months. As chamber members we will be trying to put out as much information as we speak to accommodation providers. But it will be a lot easier when it is announced.’

One local accommodation provider said her business was already taking bookings for 2023 and while she would be  delighted to help provide accommodation for those taking part or visiting for the world championships, with every few months that passed without knowing if Lochaber would be involved, saw that window for providing accommodation getting smaller and smaller.

‘I know there’s obviously lots of planning that has to go into something like this, but as a provider the sooner we know the easier it is to be hospitable,’ she said.

Closing the session, Mr Coupland said while there were lots of challenges and issues to deal with, it was still ‘tremendously exciting’ and added: ‘Personally, I think this would be an amazing economic opportunity for the town but it will present some challenges along the way.’