Memories from World Championships past: Part I

I’ve been fortunate to attend ten consecutive UCI Road World Championships. I worked as a volunteer at the first few which gave me an opportunity to make a number of friends whom I continue to meet up with at various cycling events. My first WC was Salzburg 2006 and my last was Richmond 2015. I ducked out of Qatar and Bergen, and was due to attend this week’s in Innsbruck but work intervened! So I’m having a bit of a gander down memory lane revisiting the highlights of championships past with my dear friend Ute who’s manning the reception Desk in the Press Centre in Innsbruck this week.

Salzburg 2006

We first met in Salzburg when we both worked as volunteers. She assisted with the podium ceremony – flags, anthems, flowers etcetera – while I dished out packed lunches to the 2,000 or so volunteers, army, police and municipal workers. Now I appreciate that hers sounds the more glamorous job but mine afforded me the opportunity to see all the racing and catch the action on the podium. Let me explain.

Valeria – another friendship cemented in Salzburg – and I were billeted in a large tent at the back of the press area right next to the all important television chow wagon. That’s right, no packed lunches for us – we were royally fed all week. Most of the volunteers dropped by to collect the lunches for their team but a few had to be delivered giving us an opportunity to get out and about and check on the action.

Super Mario

In Salzburg all the races took place on the same circuit. We watched the race unfold on the adjacent big screen, emerging only to watch the riders pass by from the specially adapted platform for handicapped fans. Now this is going to sound a bit callous but it was a) in a great spot right by the finish and b) they weren’t going to leap up from their wheelchairs and spoil our view. We weren’t the only fans who shared this opportunity. Guess who we met? I have to confess both Valeria and I went a bit weak at the knees, he drips sex-appeal.

Salzburg wins the award for being the best volunteer experience. Largely I think because everything was pretty much in one place, the atmosphere was terrific and, of course, it was our first. You never forget your first anything, do you?

Stuttgart 2007

18 months post-Puerto, the Germans were reluctant hosts and it showed. This time Valeria and I were working in the luxurious surrounding of the UCI’s Congress Hotel in the centre of Stuttgart manning their VIP welcome desk where we provided, and I’m quoting a high-ranking UCI official here, “the best service ever …”

Bert and Me

This was where we first met Bert,who used to attend the Congress on behalf of New Zealand and whose lengthy service to the world of cycling had been recognised by the UCI, Queen and country. He was an old charmer, everyone knew and loved him. I’ve lost count of the number of World Championships he attended but it must be close to 80! (That total includes a few on the track, MTB etc.) He’d seen Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali race and had a whole raft of interesting tales to tell, if only you took the time to sit and listen.

 

Valeria and I both agreed our favourite moment was meeting the incredibly humble, but oh so charming, Miguel Indurain who signed what seemed like hundreds of autographs at our behest for other volunteers. I do believe Valeria still has the photo I took of her snuggled up to Miguel wearing that rather Bet Lynch-ish low-necked leopard print top!

Stuttgart stands alone in not winning any prizes whatsoever, rather we’ve awarded it a big fat raspberry.

Varese 2008

Drawn by Nathalie and signed by Tom

Home to the Mapei centre, the town of Varese embraced and celebrated the World Championships with a style not seen before or since, by me at least. I was staying in a small guest house not far from the town centre where I was working in the accreditation centre: more long but enjoyable days.

Mine hosts served breakfast whenever I wanted and would rush to comfort me when I arrived back from a long day’s work with herbal tea and home-made cake. I never wanted to leave, have remained in touch and visited many times since. Ute was again manning the flagpoles. I worked with a great crowd of largely local students and bonded with fellow fan Nathalie. We’ve kept in touch and frequently meet up at Italian races.

Varese wins my prize for the nicest volunteer outfit by a street mile. Grey trousers, light blue polo shirt, navy blue v-necked sweater and quite my favourite backpack which I still use. Sadly, the trousers had matchstick legs, they probably only fitted the hostesses and podium girls.

Mendrisio 2009

Swiss boys: Fabian with my friend

Again I’d volunteered but as it was only 10km up the road from the previous year’s event, the organisers were swamped with applications and decided not to take anyone from outside the region. Ute threw a wobbly and, fearful of an international incident, the organisers wisely gave her a position in the Press Centre. I stayed with my friend in Lugano, helped out on the Santini stand, saw all of the racing and rode my bike on the road race circuit. My friend Nathalie was a hostess in the VIP stand where, with the exception of Sunday, staff outnumbered guests. We chatted using sign language as I was camped out on the 50m to go line opposite.

My favourite moment came when I was riding along the flatter part of the circuit and seemed to be drawing a fair amount of excited interest from the fans on the roadside. I looked around to find none other than Fabian Cancellara sucking my wheel. I flicked my elbow and he obligingly came through. I stayed on his wheel for another five or so kilometres, admiring his fluid pedal stroke, until the road turned upwards and I slid off said wheel.

Mendrisio wins my prize for the most exciting racing. You may recall Cancellara won the time trial so easily he was celebrating 100m from the line and Cadel Evans won the men’s road race having demonstrated he was indeed an attacking rider.

Should you wish to know more about my trip and the racing, here’s the links to the posts I wrote back in 2009, the year I started the blog:-

Observations from Mendrisio

Postcards from Mendrisio I

Postcards from Mendrisio II

Postcards from Mendrisio III

Melbourne 2010


This wins my prize for the best organised and most fan-friendly event despite it being staged some 70-odd kilometres from Melbourne in Geelong. Fans had access to both sides of the finish line while the UCI’s guests and sponsors tents were at the base of the final drag. Viewing spots with refreshments and a big screen were dotted all over the course and given different nationalities. I was again camped out on the 50m line next to the hard-core Tom Boonen fan club that had turned up even though their hero hadn’t. Shame, really, the course would’ve suited him.

I again rode the course, this time on a hired mountain bike. I was glad of the lower gearing on both of those strenuous climbs. One moment sticks in my memory from Melbourne. I was enjoying a coffee in the Spanish team hotel when they found out about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. They were shocked, devastated and extremely upset. That news effectively killed off the Spanish challenge.

Again, here are the links to some of the posts I wrote about the racing:-

Postcards from Melbourne III

Postcards from Melbourne IV

Postcards from Melbourne V

Memories of Melbourne I

Memories of Melbourne II

You’ll find my thoughts on the UCI Road World Championships from Copenhagen 2011 to Richmond 2015 in Part II.

Spoilt

My regular reader(s) knows of my obsession in planning as much as possible, as far ahead as possible. I’ve volunteered to help out at the World Road Race Championships in Melbourne 2010, and I’ll be going irrespective of whether or not they avail themselves of my services. The challenge is to find the lowest club class fare. Yes, I know economy would be way cheaper but I don’t do long-haul steerage. When I get on the plane for a long-haul flight I want to either go upstairs or turn left, never right.

I confess to having been spoilt many years ago while working in the internal audit department of an American bank. At short notice, they needed someone to fly over to Hong Kong to conduct an audit of the loans department. Bizarrely, I was the only volunteer and, even as a fairly junior member of staff, I got to travel FIRST CLASS.

I flew first class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, cocooned in the lap of luxury, where I had a truly fantastic time, largely because I was on my lonesome and could do what I wanted, when I wanted; always my preferred state of affairs. I would travel to the office each morning in the (free) air-conditioned, hotel limousine as far as the Star Ferry and then board the ferry. Evenings were spent wandering around Hong Kong’s different districts and visiting lots of wonderful restaurants, which included having  afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel, something of an institution or rite of passage. I also visited China and Macau.

I was then asked to fly down to the Singapore office which was having problems accounting for futures and options. I flew there on Singapore Airlines, again first class and similarly luxurious. Regrettably, I had to fly back to Blighty on British Airways.

This was in the early eighties before Lords King and Marshal had worked their magic on the airline. Suffice to say that the difference between the oriental airlines and BA was so marked that I was moved to write a letter to Lord King with a few constructive criticisms as to how he might bridge the yawning chasm, which stretched over 5 pages. I firmly believe you get what you’re prepared to put up with. So, if you’re not happy, speak up! I received a delightful, hand-written note from Lord King thanking me for my thoughts and advising that they would be taken into consideration in the forthcoming re-launch of BA. And, so they were.

On the other hand, Richard Branson, oft-cited as a business guru, could not find the time to respond to my letter outlining my dissatisfaction with Virgin Atlantic, as a consequence, I have never darkened his door again. Plus, I shudder to think how many people I have told about my dire experiences on his airline.

Contrast this, if you will, with my experience of Easyjet who refunded the cost of my flight, after a delay of in excess of 4 hours, before I had time to apply finger to keyboard . So, while I’m happy to support both Easyjet and BA, neither of these are going to get me a cheap, business class fare to Melbourne. We had planned to use our Airmiles with Lufthansa but this took us on a round the world odyssey going out via LA and back via Bangkok. The best deal I’ve found to date is on Qatar airlines, via Doha from Milan. Of course, I’ve already booked the hotels.

Postscript: Booked two club class return tickets to Melbourne on Qatar Airlines for Euros 5,224 – bargain!

Conflicted

When I worked as a volunteer at the World Road Cycling Championships in Stuttgart 2007, manning the UCI’s VIP Welcome Desk, I met the guys responsible for Melbourne 2010. My friend Valeria and I had a bit of a running joke with them on account of our accommodation problems. Let me explain.

Initially, Stuttgart had asked if we could work for two weeks, the week before and the week of the Championships. We both consented and I found us a handily placed, inexpensive, small family-run hotel. The month before, Stuttgart decided they only needed our services for 10 days. So I changed my flights and the hotel booking.

I arrived at the hotel before Valeria, checked in and the owner asked me if I’d like to pay for the night’s accommodation in advance. A strange question I thought, given we were staying for 10 days. But no, it appears she had totally mis-read my email, painstakingly written in German, and thought we were now only staying for one night. When Valeria arrived, I had to break the bad news to her: the WiFi wasn’t working. Then, the really bad news, we only had one night’s accommodation.

Fortunately, the hotel-owner could also accommodate us on Sunday but thereafter, we were on our own. Not a problem, or so you would think in a large town like Stuttgart – wrong! Not only were the World Championships in town, being held at the old Exhibition Centre, but there was also an exhibition being held at the brand, spanking new Exhibition Centre. No room at any of the inns, hotels, pensions, hostels or doss houses according to the Tourist Office. Suddenly, those two sofas in the reception of the Hotel Meridien, where we were working (also fully booked), were beginning to look tempting. We starting scanning the UCI guest list to see who had single occupancy of a double room: one, Miguel Indurain. Dream on, Valeria.

Thanks to my beloved’s Accor loyalty card, we managed to find rooms in some of their hotels. It became a bit of a joke, each morning the Australians would stop by and enquire whether we’d got beds for that evening. In the event that we hadn’t, they offered to share so that we could have one of their rooms.    

So, having pre-registered my interest in volunteering for Melbourne 2010 back in July 2009, an email inviting me to complete the relevant documentation recently popped into my in-box. Trouble is I’d had such a good time at Mendrisio 2009 not being a volunteer, that I was now conflicted. What should I do?

In the end I volunteered. But in completing the documentation was advised that it was obligatory for all volunteers to attend a training session being held the month before the Championships. Cunning move on the part of the organisers to validly eliminate any overseas volunteers. However, my conscience was clear. I had promised to volunteer, and I had.

Old friends

Catching up with old friends is one of the more enjoyable aspects of attending the Championships. I first met the gentleman below in  Stuttgart (2007). He’s first and foremost a passionate and knowledgable supporter of cycling and has been to more world championships (road, track, masters juniors) than I’ve had hot dinners.

Bert and Me
Bert and Me

 I understand he was a keen cyclist in his youth and spent time in London after the war learing his trade before returning to New Zealand and taking up a number of key roles in NZ cycling. Nowadays, he’s NZ’s UCI representative and still does some media liaison work.

Bert is a real charmer, everybody knows and loves him.  Many years ago he danced with a young Princess Elizabeth. Maybe, he reminded her of this in 2007 when he received his NZ Order of Merit for services to cycling. Among his many other awards, he also received a special merit one from the UCI in 2005. 

We generally keep in touch via email and telephone but when we meet up I love listening to his tales of former riders. He’s seen just about everyone and I particularly enjoy hearing about Coppi and Bartali. As you can see below, he has an extensive archive on NZ cycling and a large library of cycling books.

Bert and his archives
Bert and his archives

It’s a challenge to know what to get him as a gift but so far have struck lucky with one of Rapha’s beautiful annual photo albums and, the most recent, a charming tale about Louison Bobet written by his brother and translated into English. I trust he had an uneventful trip back to NZ and I’ll be thinking of him on October 25 as he’s currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Here’s hoping and praying I get to see him in Melbourne.

Unwanted

I have worked as a volunteer at the last three Road World Cycling Championships making lots of new friends and much enjoying the experience. I volunteered this year for Mendrisio, offering, as requested, to work once again in Accreditations where my prior experience, multiple languages and knowledge of the cycling world was deemed to be a big advantage.

Having applied, I received confirmation of my application and then an email in mid-May advising that I would know my role by the end of July. I’m in regular contact with a number of those that I met last year in Varese, 10km down the road from Mendrisio, and they told me at the end of June that they would once again be working in Accreditations. Prior experience being much sought after. When I still hadn’t heard anything in early August, I sent a gentle and politely worded reminder to one of the organizers. I heard nothing.

Meanwhile, one of my German friends Ute, a veteran of volunteering, heard that her services would not be required. Having already booked her vacation, paid for her travel and accommodation, she successfully threw herself on the mercy of the organizing committee, who relented and gave her a job on the Press Centre Welcome Desk. She advised me to do the same.  I did, but was advised that the Committee had made an executive decision not to take any volunteers from outside the region.

To some extent, I can sympathise and understand. They already had plenty of volunteers with prior experience on their doorstep. Looking again at their mid-May email, I see all the addressees were from outside the area, so why not let us know early on, not 6-weeks before the start? Who knows?  Anyway, today I received official confirmation that I would not be required in a letter addressed to “Signor Sheree”. Shows how much notice they took of

Mendrisio 2009 pin
Mendrisio 2009 pin

 my application! To soften the blow they sent me a pin which would grant me free transport on the regional buses during the Championships. I shall of course still go and, to be honest, am now looking forward to having time to catch up with all the people I know who will be attending and, more importantly,  having both the time and the opportunity to ride the course.

Of course, this has not dented my enthusiasm for volunteering. Indeed, I have already pre-registered as a volunteer for Melbourne 2010.