BIKE City, Pietermaritzburg, is preparing to host the UCI African Cycling Forum from July 30 to August 6. The meeting is set to be hugely significant and a massive opportunity for local businesses, city officials and sports administrators to network with a remarkable collection of heavy hitters from the International Cycling Union (UCI), who have confirmed their attendance.
In recent years, it has been Bike City that has put Pietermaritzburg on the world map. Apart from numerous World Cup events in a number of different cycling disciplines, the city has been home to a sizeable list of world championships, including for BMX in 2010, the 2012 Masters Road World Champs, the 2013 Masters and Elite MTB Worlds, the 2014 Marathon Worlds, and, coming up in 2017, the Para-Cycling World Champs. It will be preceded by Para-Cycling World Cup events in 2015 (September) and 2016.
“We welcome the Bike City concept and the whole cycling fraternity that is coming to our city, the City of Choice. This event is of international standards and reinforces the good name that we have been building for ourselves as a city of events,” Mayor Chris Ndlela told The Witness.
“It’s not only the big cycling events that are of international standards. We also have the Comrades Marathon, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Midmar Mile and other big events.
“The positives that they bring include the economic spend from visitors: Bandamp;Bs and hotels benefit from this, as well as retailers and tourism-related sites.
“These major competitions put us out there as a city that is capable of hosting big events. We can no longer call ourselves a small city because we are able to host events of such stature and magnitude. We appreciate them because they put us on the map and they help us to develop as a city.”
President of the UCI Brian Cookson will be at the forum, where he will be joined by three vice-presidents — Dr Wagih Azzam, who heads up the African Confederation; David Lappartient, president of European Confederation; and Tracey Gaudrey, president of the Australasian Confederation.
In addition, Martin Gibbs, the director-general of the UCI; James Carr, the head of the organisation’s international relations; Fred Magne, the director of the World Cycling Centre; and Laurent Bezault, the UCI Africa Tour co-ordinator, will be in attendance. Joining them will be Mohamed Belmahi, the president of the UCI Para-Cycling Commission; Tom van Damme, who is head of the UCI’s Road Commission; and Emin Muftuoglu, the president of the UCI’s Mountain Bike Commission.
“We have all the main role players of the main bodies coming,” event organiser Alec Lenferna said. He also shared a list of 32 African countries that have confirmed their participation.
The UCI African Sharing Platform, on the last day of the forum, will allow for the African participants to engage directly with the UCI. That’s why so many important members of the UCI will be in attendance, Lenferna said.
“It’s about building these relationships and being able to work this thing here.”
One of the biggest supporters of Bike City, since it was introduced, has been Dr Clive Coetzee, the general manager of infrastructure management and economic services in the KZN Treasury.
“The good thing about these cycling events compared to the Fifa World Cup, for instance, is that they are not once-off, flash-in-the-pan, talk-of-the-month things. There are a continuous, recurring number of events, and every year it gets better. It means people are now becoming familiar with Pietermaritzburg. The fact that there are more and more international people coming for events suggests they are becoming happy and familiar, and Pietermaritzburg is becoming an attractive destination.”
For all its success — and Pietermaritzburg is one of only three Bike Cities in the world recognised by the UCI, along with Melbourne for Australasia and Copenhagen for Europe — Coetzee believes the city should be leveraging its cycling successes to a far greater degree, and excellent opportunities to do so will present themselves at the African Cycling Forum.
“We still have a long way to go for these things to play themselves out,” Coetzee stated. “We would love a big industry to develop around them: 20, 30, 50 bike manufacturers, testing facilities, and that is where the indoor centre/velodrome idea comes into play. We would like this to become a centre where people don’t just come and ride for a weekend. We would like to see them come and test for three, four, five months. We would like Pietermaritzburg to be the headquarters of the Confederation of African Cycling. All of these things are possible. We have set up the first steps and we have built the platform for all these things to happen.
“We’ve reached 30% of our potential. We still have 70% to go. When this is recognised as a summer testing facility, with international federations coming and setting up camps, and the African Confederation’s offices are here, then you can say there is now an industry for KZN and Pietermaritzburg.
“It is up to Pietermaritzburg to say we want to make this work. We want to create an interest. We want to create a new economy. Let’s make all these things happen,” Coetzee added.
Under the auspices of, and running concurrently with, the forum will be coaches’ and commissaires’ courses, run and paid for by the UCI, and presented in English and French for 20 people on each of the courses.
“The coaching course is a level two UCI course,” Lenferna explained. “It allows you to coach professional teams, to work with national federations as a coach.
“There is a UCI National Elite Commissaires Course, which is one level below an International Commissaires Course. You would be able to work as a commissaire on the national tour, on various events, like the Argus. If it is an event registered on the national calendar, you can work on it.”
Beyond the African Cycling Forum, however, Lenferna said it is important to look at the big picture and what it means for Pietermaritzburg. The forum is an opportunity to create further opportunities for the city in the field of cycling, but, he said, the KwaZulu-Natal capital needs to look beyond that, to consider what its identity is. He suggested it should clearly be as an events destination.
“If we are going to make the claim that we are the events capital, then let’s be the events capital,” he said. He also suggested that being the events capital would be a good focus for the Msunduzi Investment and Development Initiative (Midi).
Citing the examples of Gothenburg in Sweden and Melbourne in Australia, Lenferna suggested that is the way to go. Gothernburg, he said, is exclusively oriented towards events and hosts 300 of them a year. The Melbourne Events Agency, meanwhile, he rated as the best in the world, naming a host of major events the city hosts, including the Australian Formula One Grand Prix, the Australian Open tennis tournament and horse-racing’s Melbourne Cup.
“How do we get more for Pietermaritzburg?” he asked. “We bring people here.”
Coetzee agreed with Lenferna, but said there are some challenges that are currently being worked on. “There is a shortage of finance available, and that is what we want to create now,” he explained.
“We want to package these events that we host in Pietermaritzburg — the Midmar Mile, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Comrades Marathon and the bike events — we want to package them collectively and go and sell them. We are working with a number of event organisers in Pietermaritzburg. Let’s get together, put these events together, and then you get the exponential effect … Then we need to sponsor the event company or entity, which would be housed within the Pietermaritzburg Chamber [of Business]. We need to market and leverage these events.
“We have approached a number of companies and potential sponsors with this idea. So far, we haven’t heard ‘yes’, but we haven’t heard ‘no’. If we can get that going, we can set up a creative events destination.
“Once-off events, if you look at them — Olympic, World Cup, swimming, whatever — seldom come with economic benefits. They mostly create lasting liabilities, so focusing on once-off events is counter-productive. Focusing on recurring, growth-related events is what we need to focus on.”
Acknowledging the support that Bike City has received from the authorities, Lenferna concluded: “The foresight of the KZN government to back programmes like the Bike City project is commendable. Pietermaritzburg needs to be positioned nationally and internationally for growth and job development.”
• Brad Morgan is a sports reporter at The Witness