Observations from Mendrisio

I think three world championships and one Tour de France allows me to label myself a serial volunteer. The attraction for me is not the proximity to yards of Lycra, more my fascination with the organization of major events. Naturally enough, I’m most interested in what works really well, what doesn’t and why. Here’s my take on a few things.

This year, in order to gain access to the start/finish area, spectators had to purchase a pin. This also entitled you to free travel on the local trains and buses. An inspired decision as it sped up the mass movement of spectators. Unfortunately, having encouraged the use of public transport, they then failed to lay on any additional trains and buses – much less good.

The catering facilities in the start/finish and exhibition area could only be described as woeful and an encouragement to bring your own. This may have been why many nationalities chose to hang out at bars in the town. The Dutch, for example, took over a bar on the Acqua Fresca climb while many of the French, Belgians and Italians set up camp around their mobile homes. Missed opportunities, I feel, for local businesses.

Shipping in a load of schoolchildren to fill the stands and provide a wall of sound was a great idea but why so few and why only on Thursday? It would have been much better to fill the tribunes, particularly on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday with OAPs and schoolchildren, rather than leave them empty. Indeed, Swiss TV (RSI) had real problems avoiding shooting the empty tribunes, where there were even seats going spare on Sunday. I was faced with a similar dilemma in Salzburg where I was on guard duty barring entry (to all bar VIPs) to the VIP Tribune for the Men’s TT. Realising this was not going to look good on the big screen, I surreptitiously shipped in a bus load of elderly tourists who were thrilled to have a grandstand seat. They obligingly made plenty of noise each time a competitor came past. 

The Swiss army had been heavily deployed but, since most were not local, had no real idea of where things were situated and many spoke only Swiss-German. It might have been an idea to provide them with detailed maps, a more thorough briefing and put the more linguistically gifted in key areas.

Many of the shop windows in Lugano and Mendrisio had a cycling theme, but not all. This was much better executed last year in Varese where the town totally embraced the championships. But then the Italians are more passionate than the Swiss about most things.

Everything was spread over too wide an area. Accreditation was based at a hotel in Mendrisio well away from the race circuit. The UCI were billeted in Lugano and used the University there for their Congress and other meetings. The start/finish and exhibition area, just outside of Mendrisio, was open air,  set up on agricultural land with no nearby facilities and a good 20 minute (my pace)  walk from the train station. There was no sign of the promised shuttle buses although I did see one or two VIPS clambering inelegantly in and out of army jeeps.

I learned that the Organising Committee had decided not to accept volunteers from outside the region on ecological grounds. Indeed, roles were allocated to volunteers based on where they lived: not on prior experience, linguistic ability or any other rational reason. Many of the volunteers (both Swiss and Italian) had worked at Varese 2008 and they concluded that last year’s Championships had been both better organised and more enjoyable.

Lake Tessin, Ticino
Lake Tessin, Ticino

The cinematography of the race was very disappointing. Far too many overhead shots from afar so no one, including the broadcasters, had any idea what was happening at key points in the race. RSI had plenty of time to prepare for this event. Could they not have learnt from the masters of this, the French? Ticino is a beautiful area with lakes, mountains and charming small towns and villages but all the viewers saw was the roads and industrial estate around Mendrisio. Do you not want to boost tourism in the area? Obviously, not.

Postcards from Mendrisio III

I drove home from Mendrisio yesterday evening having had five very enjoyable days with my most hospitable Swiss friend and his mother. I had watched ALL of the races, ridden the parcours and met up with friends old and new.

Cadel crowned champion
Cadel crowned champion

Local Boy, Cadel Evans (he lives in Ticino), is the nearly man no more. Having ridden away from the other favourites, who were all marking one another,  in a solo attack a few kilometres from the line. He’s the first ever Australian world road race  champion. His team worked tirelessly for him and he’s probably wishing he could avail himself of their services for next year’s Tour de France.

It was a thrilling race, particularly in the final rounds when both Cancellara and Vino launched trademark attacks but failed to  maintain their momentum, probably thanks to their efforts in Thursday’s TT.

I had ridden into Mendrisio on Saturday to watch the Women’s Elite and U23 Road Races. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily in the early hours, giving the girls a few tricky rounds before the roads dried out. I should mention that the GB team were fortunate to even be on the starting line. The previous day, I had followed them down the one technically difficult descent. At a T-junction, our route was suddenly blocked by a policemen.  I yanked on my sometimes suspect Campy brakes and squealed to an abrupt halt, narrowly missing piling into several GB riders. That would have made for an interesting headline.

Saturday I rode to where I had previously enjoyed spectating only to discover an entire UCI Hospitality Village had sprung up overnight. So I retreated to the other side of the track, next to the platform for the handicapped spectators with a good view of the track and TV screen. The Italian ladies proved to be strong, sandwiching a Dutch former world champion, while the French boys more than lived up to their billing.

U23 road race podium
U23 road race podium

Romain Sicard, the recent winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, proved to be the strongest and no doubt will now be hailed by the French Press as a future Tour winner. Truthfully, the entire team were strong which bodes well for the future of French cycling.