The Best of 2023 UCI World Championships in Glasgow

The 2023 UCI World Championships wrapped up last weekend in Glasgow, Scotland, with an action-packed elite women’s road race that saw Lotte Kopecky break a 50-year drought of rainbow stripes for Belgium. Just a week earlier and on the same circuit, Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands won the men’s elite road race despite a crash that left him with a broken shoe, but with enough adrenaline to cross the finish line uncontested. But the excitement went far beyond the performances at the road races. It extended through the record-breaking crowds cheering for cyclists and para-cyclists alike, to the sold-out venues, and a buzzing city that embraced the athletes and visitors that took Glasgow by storm.

The event turned out to be a resounding success, with a total of 653 medals awarded across all competitions, and the UCI estimates that close to 8,000 elite and amateur athletes took part in the events. The winningest nation turned out to be Great Britain, topping both the cycling and para-cycling medal table with 56 and 44 medals, respectively. All notable performances served as an informative preview for the 2023 Olympic Games in Paris.

In short, the eleven days of “Super Worlds” effectively lived up to our expectations, bringing to Scotland as many disciplines as the shades of green seen all the way up north in Fort Williams, where the downhill mountain bike events took place, down to Edingburgh where the road races parted from, followed by the Tweed Valley for more mountain bike racing, and wrapping it all up in the great city of Glasgow, also known as “The World’s Friendliest City.”

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Continue reading for the absolute most memorable moments and features of the Super World Championships in Glasgow.

The 50 corners of the Glasgow city circuit

    After receiving heavy criticism from staff and riders ahead of the race, the 271-kilometer road course turned out to be one of the most exciting parcours in recent World Champs history. Once the riders reached the Glasgow city circuit, the race turned into an “over-sized” criterium, made of 50 corners (per lap) and punchy climbs suited to only the toughest of riders. Hundreds of riders started, but only 51 finished the men’s elite road race, and it was the riders who packed a punch, like van der Poel and Kopecky, that mastered the technical aspects of the parcour.

    96th uci cycling world championships glasgow 2023 – day 4

    Pool//Getty Images

    Climate Activism Group Halts Elite Men’s Road Race

      Five individuals belonging to the group “This Is Rigged” allegedly linked themselves together with chains and glued themselves to the road on the route leading to Glasgow. The protesters organized this action with the intention of obstructing the convoy of support vehicles accompanying the race, allowing cyclists to potentially maneuver through the gaps between them. Contrary to their plans, the race came to a complete standstill for a duration of fifty-five minutes.

      After the incident, This Is Rigged posted a statement to their social media that read in part, “We cannot continue with business as usual while our country burns and our futures are ruined. Time is of the essence and we need to act like it. The Scottish government must stand up to Westminster and oppose all new oil and gas, and implement a fair transition now.”

      Mathieu van der Poel’s two crashes and one dominant win

        Van der Poel earned his first rainbow jersey in the elite road discipline, but not before slipping and crashing on the wet course, which left him with a broken cleat and Boa closure on one of his shoes—which was rumored to be up for sale on eBay. However, the misfortune wouldn’t stop the Dutchman from getting the best out of his powerful riding style and technical ability that allowed him to hold a gap to Belgian Wout van Aert and Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, crossing the finish line uncontested.

        But his luck seemed to leave him once he exited Glasgow for the mountain bike events in Glentress Forest, where he suffered a race-ending crash on the first lap of the cross-country race, repeating the bad luck (or lack of concentration) seen in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he also crashed out of the XCO race in the first lap. Come on, Mathieu, get it together!

        96th uci cycling world championships glasgow 2023 – day 10

        Dean Mouhtaropoulos//Getty Images

        An XCO course worthy of World Cup status

          On the same wet and slippery trails of Glentress, France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot took her fifth championship title in the XCO in dominating fashion just two days after winning the short-track event. The XCO course delivered on the promises of an exhilarating experience for racers and spectators alike, featuring steep climbs through the forest, slick rock gardens, a couple of gap jumps, and twisty descents reminiscent of classic downhill races. The mix of challenging and spectator-friendly features makes Glentress worthy of World Cup consideration by the UCI.

          In the men’s XCO race, Tom Pidcock of Britain, who opted out of the road race to focus solely on this event, cemented his fate as a top-tier mountain bike talent taking a spectacular win in front of home crowds. Shortly after crossing the finish line, the Brit climbed up the accessible-viewing platform to be embraced by fans celebrating his win on home soil.

          With both XCO winners belonging to the same trade team, we can’t help but wonder if INEOS Grenadiers is now a mountain bike team?

          Multi-disciplined riders had more to love

            The Super Worlds event presented awards across 13 different categories, including road, track, para-cycling, MTB downhill, cross-country, cross-country marathon, and BMX events. The combined Worlds made it easier for multi-discipline riders like Filippo Ganna, Chloé Dygert, and Kopecky, who came out with medals in track and road events. Hungarian cyclocross rider Blanka Kata Vas was also able to double up by racing in the U23 cross-country mountain bike race in Glentress, where she finished fifth and then won the U23 title in the women’s road race the following day. Watch out for another multi-discipline superstar in the making!

            Highland “Coos” Mania

              While the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn (I kid you not), it was the Highland Cows (or “coos”) who took center stage as the official mascot of the World Championships. If you caught the men’s road race on TV, you might have also caught a glimpse of Highland Cows wearing made-to-measure UCI jerseys as they grazed the pastures alongside the course. The stuffed versions of the long-haired cow became so popular that they sold out before the event was even over, and pre-orders were set in place with an estimated delivery date of November 2023.

              You can preorder yours here.

              96th uci cycling world championships glasgow 2023 – day 11

              Dean Mouhtaropoulos//Getty Images

              Lotte Kopecky’s rise to multi-discipline stardom

                We may as well call the Belgian phenom Lotte “The Rocket” Kopecky, as her rise to stardom has been nothing short of sensational. Bearing the pressure of being the favorite of fans that had not seen a Belgian win in 50 years, Kopecky tripled up on rainbow jerseys by dominating the elimination and points races at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome just a week before her solo win at the road race in Glasgow.

                She has won Ronde van Vlaanderen and Strade Bianche and finished second in the general classification of this year’s Tour de France Femmes. And don’t forget, the 27-year-old is also the cyclocross national champion of Belgium, rising to the multi-disciplinary caliber of Marianne Vos, van der Poel, van Aert, Pidcock, and Ferrand-Prévot. What a time to be a cycling fan!

                Para cyclists on the spotlight

                  Mixed into the schedule of the road and track cycling events in Glasgow, para-cycling also took the stage at the World Championships showing cycling fans the great ability of these amazing athletes. Perhaps the most notable performance came from paralympic cyclist Ricardo Ten Argilés of Spain, who, at the age of 47, has won his third para-track cycling world title. The double amputee took home the rainbow jersey in the C1 scratch race, where he averaged 27mph over 60 laps of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

                  Solidarity with excluded trans cyclists

                    Last month, the UCI announced a revised transgender policy that bans transgender athletes who have gone through puberty from competition at the highest level. And at the world championships, this decision didn’t go unprotested.

                    Glasgow is actually known to be a welcoming and inclusive city for the LGBTQ+ community and was named by Rough Guides as one of the 5 best European LGBTQ+ destinations this past July. Pride and trans flag pins were seen amongst UCI volunteers and during the women’s elite road race, and it was no surprise that on the final day, the city circuit saw protesters demanding equal rights for transgender women. Protesters waved numerous trans flags and signs that read “Let Trans Women Win.”

                    The People of Glasgow—possibly the nicest on earth!

                      Not only is the city of Glasgow full of beautiful historic buildings, colorful street art, and great cycling venues, but just last year, Glasgow won the title of “World’s Friendliest City.” And as was my experience roaming the streets from one cycling event to the next. Wherever I went, it was easy to strike up a cheerful conversation with a local who was more than happy to give me directions and even buy me a beer. Making Glasgow a truly great tourist destination whether you ride a bike or not. But most interestingly, it wasn’t always that way.

                      Have you ever heard of the “Glasgow Smile”? If you haven’t, look it up, but be warned of the gruesome connotation. In 2005, the Scottish city was named the “Murder Capital of Europe” by the World Health Organization, and more recently became the inspiration behind the popular Netflix show Peaky Blinders. Glasgow’s gang culture, which dates back to the 1880s, was tamed down by a police approach that identified the issue as a public health crisis rather than a criminal one, with the creation of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit founded in 2005 by Strathclyde Police. And despite its dark past, the city quickly turned things around, with homicide rates steadily dropping over the years. In 2022, Glasgow saw a 47 percent drop in homicides from 2012 and won the friendliest city title the same year. Not bad, eh?

                      To sum it all up, this year’s multi-discipline Super Worlds looked very much like a traveling circus showcasing all the fun and variety the cycling world has to offer. However, the 2024 UCI Cycling World Championships, which are set for September 21 to 29 in Zurich, Switzerland, will focus solely on road and para-cycling road competitions.

                      Headshot of Rosael Torres-Davis

                      Features Editor, Bicycling, Runner’s World & Popular Mechanics

                      Rosael is an avid cyclist in the pursuit of getting more people on bikes. All bodies. All bikes. As a features editor, she gets to work on initiatives that further engage our audience and provide additional value to our readership. Lately, she has been dipping her cleats into gravel racing and other off-road adventures.

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