Ponferrada, Spain. September of 2014 will mark its entry into the pantheon of cities that have hosted cycling's UCI Road World Championships.
Zurich, Copenhagen, Montreal, Barcelona, Lisbon, Budapest, Rome and now, Ponferrada. Ponferrada? Yes, that little town with a gentle microclimate tucked within the harsh hills of León, Spain. September of 2014 will mark its entry into the pantheon of cities that have hosted cycling's UCI Road World Championships.
This week long event will see crowned the world champions in time trial, individual time trial and road race in courses that are located in the streets in and around Ponferrada. The winners will then be able to wear the coveted rainbow jersey for the year until the next championship.
History of the UCI Road World Championship
1921 is the year the first world championship took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that race only amateurs participated and it wasn’t until 1927 that professionals began to take part when it was held in the Nürburgring in Germany. 1927 would also mark the beginning of the awarding of gold, silver and bronze medals as well as the concession of the easily identifiable rainbow jersey that only the world champions are permitted to wear. The first winner was Italian Alfredo Binda and some other notable winners have been Greg Lemond (USA), Eddy Merckx (BEL), Bernard Hinault (FRA) and Miguel Indurain (SPA) among others.
The race is exciting since the courses are relatively short and the multiple laps must be completed for the individual road events. This offers the crowd an opportunity to appreciate the world's best cyclist more than a normal road race would. Also, because of the different categories of racing (currently 12 categories) there is no shortage of excitement for the duration of this week-long cycling event.
Spain in the Championship
Spain has been always been a country involved in cycling, you only have to hear the names Bahamontes and Ocaña, but the real "boom" in Spanish cycling came with the arrival of Miguel Indurain. This five consecutive Tour de France winner launched Spanish cycling to the front of the cycling world, which also coincided with a resurgent post-dictatorship Spain. In some ways, Miguel Indurain embodied Spain and its resurgence as a country on the world stage. Although Indurain never won the individual road race championship he did place second in 1995, the same year he won the rainbow jersey for the time trial. He also placed second in 1993 and third in 1992. It should also be noted that Spaniard Abraham Olano won the individual road race that year.
Since then, Oscar Freire has won three world championships (1999, 2001 and 2004) tying him with Binda, Merckx and Van Steenbergen for the most championships won. Igor Astarloa won in 2003 adding to the exceptional success of Spain in the world championships over the last 30 years. Spain today occupies fifth place in the medal count with a total of 22 medals won.
Beating out competing cities Chihuahua in Mexico, Vendee in France and Hooglede-Gits in Belgium, Ponferrada was chosen in 2011 to host the world championships. Over 1000 volunteers will participate in the event demonstrating the local support given to hosting this unique and exciting sporting event. Over 42 broadcasters will go to Ponferrada to televise this event which will be shown around the world.
The races will start and finish next to the El Toralín football stadium in the northern part of the city. There are different courses for each time trial category and these are only raced over one lap only. The men's time trial course is 35.5 miles (57 km) and winds through the fields and vineyards of the Bierzo. (The region that Ponferrada pertains to) The women's time trial course 22.5 miles (36 km) and circles around the city of Ponferrada.
The road race course is the same for all the different categories with the only difference being the number of laps. Miguel Indurain has said of the course in Ponferrada that "it isn't especially difficult but it is complicated". He says this because with this course there is an excellent combination of city streets and tight country roads. It will be particularly difficult for riders to eat and maintain their strength during the race. Normally, to be able to eat while riding a certain amount of road without complications is necessary—something easy to find on a long tour stage. The difference here is that the city of Ponferrada is full of traffic circles and tight turns. There are no big long boulevards to be found in this small city. Also, the roads that wind outside of the city are narrow and technical, requiring the rider's concentration and skill to keep from going off or going into somebody. We shouldn't be surprised to see some riders "bonk" which happens when the body runs out of fuel.
An unlikely city to host a grand world championship but, with its castle built by the Knights Templar overlooking the River Sil, this wonderfully charming city will be the focus of the cycling world for 7 days and join likes of Prague, Madrid and Oslo in having hosted a UCI Road World Championships.