What it takes to organise a World Championship race in 22 days

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On September second the UCI announced that the Elite World Championships would take place in Imola, Italy. It was only one day before this public announcement that Marco Pavarini, the President of the Organising Committee of Imola 2020, learned the news. A mere 22 days later the first rider rolled off the start ramp in the Individual Time Trial. It was quite the journey to get a World Championships happening in a year when no racing was a very real prospect.

“We heard mid-August that the UCI had asked the Italian Federation for options for the World Championships. It was a suggestion to bring it to this region, not yet a real plan,” Pavarini says straight after the podium ceremony of the elite women’s road race.

“There were more options in Italy. It was on the first of September we heard it would be in the region of Emilia-Romagna. That made me proud because this is my region. I am from Parma.”

The most difficult part was to getting started. That is, getting to know the relevant parties involved and beginning the meetings. Course design, contacts with all the relevant authorities, logistics, signage, media design and many other aspects. There was also one extra task for the organisation that most races haven’t dealt with before – a Covid-safe plan. All of this crammed into an incredibly busy three weeks for Pavarini and his team.

“On top of all the things you already have to do to organise an event like this, we had the Covid-19 situation. We first and foremost wanted to take good care of our guests which are the riders of course, but also the teams, the officials, the staff and our invited guests. We all wear masks, naturally, and have sanitary regulations on the course that are strict. The local police see to that. But we also made sure we have a test drive-thru where everyone could get tested and didn’t have to worry to find a laboratory with test capacity. We took care of the whole process.”

This wasn’t the case with the early Italian races like Strade Bianche where teams were responsible for their own testing. They had to find laboratories and test kits in Italy before taking part in the race.

“There was a lot of decision-making to be done and sometimes you have to force decisions. We didn’t have the time to wait. Thankfully the region was hugely supportive in everything we did. We also found a partner in the Imola Formula 1-circuit. Their F1 race is next month and they are completely ready for that. The asphalt and all the onsite facilities were prepared so we could just move in, so to say.”

Maianne Vos, starting her 13th World elite championship, found it extraordinary that the organisers managed to organise such a monumental event in such a short period of time.

“For us riders it was a World Championship as any other. You couldn’t tell the difference. The course was challenging. The road surface was fantastic, all new asphalt. It was a wonderful event. The circuit at Imola was really a great choice because we could have our separate areas [in the times of Covid-19]. Yes, it was quiet on the circuit itself but that would probably have been the case too if there were fans allowed. It’s just so big anyway. No, for me as rider it was absolutely perfect,” Vos concludes.

I had the same perceptions myself being here. If you didn’t know, you could never tell that there was only a vague suggestion of a World Championships on these roads three weeks ago. The road surfaces are all completely new, the volunteers know what to do and the local and regional police forces are friendly but strict. No mask? Then you are not watching the race on the side of the road.

“The region promised us and assured the UCI that all the road surfaces would be new or improved before the race. That was finished in time and I must say it looks great. It was a really big effort by all the towns involved. For all the events we organise we need the help of the local police and authorities so we built on experience in that regard.”

Despite all his experience organising events [Pavarini is also in charge of the Giro d’Italia Under 23], he admits that he was a bit daunted by the task at hand.

“I had many questions at the start and was a bit afraid. The team I work with work in a fully reactive manner. You can’t predict nor prevent everything that might happen. The thing you can do is react adequately to whatever happens like the finish arch collapsing on Friday. After three days of racing I am happy with how things are going and I think the UCI are too. It’s a big responsibility we took on.”

Flemish radio commentator Christophe Vandegoor works from a Formula 1 booth this week, providing live reports on his 14th World Championships.

“It’s amazing that they pulled this off in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of atmosphere around the race. Around Imola you don’t notice it, no banners or billboards announcing the race. Working on the circuit was a great experience though. I walked the course and stepped through the Tamburello turn, the Ayrton Sienna turn. We are working in a place where sports history was made. That is pretty special.”

The World Championships are a way to showcase a region. Emilia-Romagna, in the northeast of Italy, is the centre of the cycling world for four days. The president of the region Stefano Bonaccini likes to advertise his region as a place to ride bikes so the World Championships were a great fit.

“Here, people ride their bike twice as many times, i.e., 10%, in comparison to the national average 5%, and we have 1,400 kilometres of cycle paths. It’s green mobility on which we have invested over 30 million euros. Hosting this edition of the UCI Road World Championships makes us extremely proud,” he said at the press launch of the event.

“This is the result we have achieved with determination together with the local authorities, aiming at one goal: to turn the World Championships 2020 into a great edition.”

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