(Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

Scenes from a World Championships road closure

A race route splits the city in two, and Slovenia is on the wrong side of the barriers.

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Wollongong, Australia (CT) – The city is bisected by metal barriers covered in logos, and the Slovenian Cycling Team is on the wrong side of the wall. They’ve travelled from Europe, navigated 24 hours of flights and an hour and a half drive south to Wollongong, conquered the jetlag, and now, just before the first race of the World Championships, they are thwarted by a line of orange witches hats out the front of a stadium a short walk from the starting line.

Urška Žigart sits in the back seat of a Skoda, looking a little anxious. Her team car and the team campervan pull to a stop and disgorge national team staff, who jump out to plead their case. It is a complex negotiation. There are layers of bureaucracy to navigate at this event – local volunteers reporting to paid contractors reporting to UCI staff members – and all that takes time. But time is running out – Žigart’s start slot is less than 30 minutes away and there are already riders rolling down the ramp. 

One of the Slovenians in a black polo shirt asks how to get through. A traffic controller casts a sweeping motion with her arm, points right, swoops it back. But we just need to get over there, he says. He’s right – 100 metres away, on the wrong side of the course across a pedestrian footbridge, is a line of white marquees and the start line. But they are over there, and Slovenia is here.

Radios crackle into life. The driver and passenger of the camper van get out to ask if there is really no other way. It’s not the traffic controller’s call and everyone knows it, but what else can you do but ask? “There’s no signs or anything,” a fourth Slovenian in a black polo shirt says, outlining the team’s defence.

These are the everyday teething problems of a World Championships, here in Australia for the first time in more than a decade. As an event, it’s a big deal for Wollongong, funded to the tune of multiple millions of euros by the city and the state government. As a logistical exercise, it’s a complicated one. It’s very far away from where most of the riders live, it’s expensive to get to, and there are compounding complications in the UCI points battle, the lingering threat of COVID, clawed death from above, and the geography of Wollongong squeezed in a narrow band between the sea and ranges. 

And now, after all that build-up, a week of racing is here, with winners and losers and rainbow jerseys to be awarded. And on the morning of the first day, there will be teething problems.

For the Slovenian Cycling Team, the first win of the week is a small but important one. A radio crackles to life and a more senior traffic coordinator grudgingly approves their passage. Barriers scrape aside and in a relieved rush, four guys in black polo shirts bundle into their vehicles. A relieved-looking Urška Žigart will make the start line, and a World Championships can begin.

Urška Žigart in motion at the World Champs TT. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

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