The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow will be a landmark event. It’s the first time the world championships of almost every discipline will be held in the same place, at the same time, in a rainbow-themed gala of bikes.
Because of that, you might find yourself watching a sport you’ve never seen before – maybe one you didn’t even know existed.
To help you, we’ve put together this overview of every single event that’s happening at Glasgow 2023 this August. Which one are you most excited for?
We start alphabetically with BMX Freestyle, the newest kid on the block: it didn’t become a UCI event until 2016.
BMX Freestyle is a spectacle of acrobatics, skill and style. Each rider is given a set amount of time in which to impress the judges with a routine, or ‘run’: a sequence of tricks such as flips, spins and whips.
A panel of judges gives a score based on the difficulty, originality and style of the run. The highest score takes the win.
At Glasgow 2023, there will be two events within BMX Freestyle.
BMX Freestyle Park is the one Australians are most familiar with, thanks largely to the exploits of Logan Martin, who won Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020. The riders perform tricks on a purpose-built park filled with obstacles such as quarter-pipes, box jumps and ramps. They reach dizzying heights as they pull off incredible aerial stunts that seem to defy gravity.
The other event in Glasgow is BMX Freestyle Flatland, where the riders do their tricks on a flat piece of ground, often spinning around on one wheel. It’s a test of balance, control and prodigious technique. Think of it as break dancing, with a bike.
BMX Racing is a helter-skelter sprint sport not for the faint-hearted.
Up to eight riders race on a snake-like track filled with jumps, bumps and 180-degree banked turns (‘berms’).
Wearing full-faced helmets and plenty of padding, they drop from the start gate, launching down a monstrously steep ramp with the aim of getting first position (the ‘hole shot’) through the first turn.
They spin at high cadences on their single-speed bikes, flying over jumps and bumps to maximise momentum. After a furious flurry, they cross the line, and the race is over within seconds.
To succeed, you need to be consistent – placing well throughout the early races to qualify for the final.
Glasgow 2023 will host two events: BMX Racing Challenge, which is age-group racing with sub-categories for different sizes of bikes; and the BMX Racing Championships for the fastest riders in the world. Australia has produced several world champions in BMX racing, the most recent being Sam Willoughby (2012 and 2014) and Caroline Buchanan (2013).
Cross-country mountain biking sees riders race around an off-road circuit, aiming to be the first across the line. They are ‘mass-start’ events, meaning everybody starts at the same time and has to jostle for position on the course.
The circuits tend to show off a wide variety of features: twisting singletrack in the forest where it’s hard to overtake; bumpy rock gardens that test your handling; uphills, downhills and jumps. Dust, mud, boulders, roots and bumps are all par for the course.
This event rewards a complete rider. You need aerobic fitness to ride hard for a long time; top-class technique to navigate rough terrain; and fearlessness to fly down steep banks.
World championships are awarded in a range of events. There’s Cross-country Olympic (XCO), the classic format where races last about 90 minutes; Cross-country Short Track (XCC) raced on (you guessed it) a shorter circuit for about 20 minutes; and Cross-country Marathon (XCM), a test of endurance over 100km or more, lasting many hours.
Then there’s the Cross-country Team Relay (XCR), raced by teams of six. Each rider completes one lap of the course, handing over the running to their teammate until all six have finished their lap.
Glasgow 2023 will also feature Electric Mountain Bike (E-MTB), which is similar to XCO, but raced with pedal-assisted electric bikes.
Downhill is for thrill seekers. Riders plummet down the side of a mountain without fear, aiming to set the fastest time on the course.
These courses have a mix of super-fast speed sections, tricky twists and turns, and stomach-churning jumps and drops on all manner of rough and rocky ground.
It’s a total test of full-body strength, supreme handling skills, and a daredevil mindset.
A run typically takes about three to four minutes, with maximum speeds touching 80km/h while riders whiz past tree branches within centimetres of their handlebars. One little slip and your run (possibly your season) is over.
At a UCI World Championships, riders have to progress through a qualifying round in order to make the final, where they get one shot at laying down a perfect run to win the rainbow stripes. Only one Australian has ever done that, though he did it three times: Sam Hill won the world title in 2006, 2007 and 2010!
Road cycling is an endurance sport held mostly on paved roads. This is the sport of the Tour de France, of skinny tyres and lightweight bikes.
The classic form of road cycling is the Road Race: where everybody starts together in a bunch called the ‘peloton’, aiming to cross the finish line first. The terrain can differ wildly from pancake-flat motorways to alpine passes. World championships are usually held on multiple laps of a circuit over distances of up to 280km.
Teamwork is essential due to the importance of drafting: you save a lot of energy by riding behind another person, out of the wind, so teams will try to keep their leaders sheltered until late into the race.
Australia's had one world champion in the elite road race: Cadel Evans (2009), who famously went on to win the Tour de France.
The other format of road cycling is the time trial. There’s the Individual Time Trial (ITT), where each rider starts one-by-one in a pre-determined order. They aim to complete the course, usually between 30–40km long, in the shortest time, with no drafting allowed.
Next, there’s the Team Time Trial Mixed Relay, which is contested by teams of six riders – three men and three women. Like the individual time trial, it’s a staggered start – no drafting between teams. The men start first, riding the first half of the course as fast as possible. Once they’re done, the women will complete the second half. The team that sets the quickest time overall is the winner.
Glasgow 2023 will separately host Para-cycling Road Races and Para-cycling Time Trials for athletes who are classified with physical impairments.
There’s also a Para-cycling Mixed Team Relay for teams of three hand-cyclists. The first rider in each team sets off in a mass start. Once they’ve finished their first lap, the next rider sets off to complete their lap, and so on until the third rider has crossed the finish.
Track cycling is the fast (and often furious) form of racing that takes place on a velodrome; an oval-shaped track with steep banking to allow you to carry speed through the turns.
A standard velodrome is 250 metres long and made of timber.
Riders use aerodynamic track bicycles, which are similar to road bikes but with a single, fixed gear and no brakes. (So, no freewheeling and no changing gears during a race).
Eleven different world championships are contested in track cycling. We can roughly categorise them as ‘endurance’ versus ‘sprint’ events (ie long distance versus short distance), and ‘timed’ versus ‘non-timed’ events.
In Glasgow, many of the events will be contested in both able-bodied and para-cycling categories. Here’s a quick overview of all of them.
Scratch Race: an endurance event and the simplest event to understand. All the riders start together in a big bunch. They race over a specified number of laps, usually 40 or 60. At the end, the first rider to cross the finish line wins.
Elimination Race: a nerve-wracking endurance event with constant action. All riders start together. Every second lap, the last rider to cross the line is eliminated from the race. Last rider standing wins.
Points Race: an endurance event where every 10 laps, there’s a sprint for the finish line. Riders are awarded points for placing highly in these sprints. They also score big points if they can gain a lap on the bunch. Most points wins.
Omnium: a multi-leg endurance event where riders compete in a scratch race, elimination race, points race and another event called the ‘tempo race’ on one day. You score points based on how you perform in each event. The rider with the most points after all four events wins.
Madison: a points race, but contested in teams of two riders. Only one rider per team is actively in the race while the other circulates at the top of the track. They tag each other into the race with a handsling. It’s fast, gruelling, and a little chaotic – pure excitement!
Sprint: a one-vs-one race over three laps; first to finish wins. It leads to intriguing tactical battles where riders will stalk each other slowly, before suddenly exploding into a ferocious flurry to the line.
Keirin: a sprint event over six laps. The riders start in a line behind a motorbike (‘derny’), which gradually increases speed before pulling off the track with three laps remaining. From there, it’s a mad dash to cross the line first.
Time Trial: the purest form of sprint event. From a standing start, the rider tries to cover the distance (1km for men, 500m for women) in the shortest time possible. No drafting; just rider against the clock.
Individual Pursuit: a timed endurance event over 4,000m (men) or 3,000m (women). The rider tries to cover the distance as fast as possible from a standing start. But there’s a twist: another rider will start on the opposite side of the track. If one catches the other, they win.
Team Pursuit: like an individual pursuit, but raced by teams of four over 4,000m. To share the workload, the riders will ride in a line, with the front rider taking the wind for a while before swinging up the track and rejoining at the back of the line. A team only need three riders to finish, so usually one rider will empty the tank and drop off completely with a few laps to go.
Team Sprint: contested by teams of three riders. From a standing start, the team aims to cover three laps (750m) in the shortest time possible. At the end of each lap, the first rider in line must peel off, eventually leaving just one rider to complete the full distance.
Mountain bike trials, or observed trials, is a unique sport where riders try to navigate an obstacle course without touching the ground.
The obstacles are grouped into sections. The aim is to cross the obstacles and score a maximum of 10 points at every sector. Points are taken away for touching any part of your body or bike (except the tyres) onto the ground or the obstacles. The rider with the most points wins.
Trials riders are probably the best bike handlers in the world: they’ll pivot, hop and jump their way across pillars, poles, boulders and beams. At times, they’ll leap with explosive power, while at others, they’ll contort their bodies and bikes in ways you didn’t think possible.
World championships are contested in two classes: 20-inch and 26-inch, referring to the wheel sizes allowed.
The event is typically dominated by European nations, but Australia has had one world champion! Janine Jungfels won the women’s title in 2015 and has also won Australia’s only three other medals in trials.
Perhaps the most obscure of the UCI World Championships, two events will take place in an indoor arena at Glasgow 2023.
Cycle-ball is football (soccer) on bikes. Played by teams of two on a small rectangular court, riders must use their wheels, not their feet, to dribble, pass and shoot the ball into the opposition’s goal. Headers are allowed and the goalkeeper can use their hands. Each game lasts 14 minutes.
Artistic Cycling is a bit like gymnastics, synchronised swimming, or figure skating, but on wheels – which leads to some mind-blowing tricks.
With a musical backing track, riders perform a routine of extraordinary tricks (or ‘figures’) such as headstands, out-of-the-saddle no-hands wheelies, or jumping from the saddle to the handlebars while standing upright.
There are categories for singles, pairs, and teams of four. In the team competitions, you’ll sometimes see riders stacked on top of each other while riding the same bike – outrageous stuff!
A panel of judges gives a score based on the degree of difficulty, variety of figures, and execution. The rider (or team) with the highest score wins.
The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships will take in Glasgow from August 3–13. The Australian Cycling Team will be in action across road, track, BMX racing, BMX freestyle, mountain bike, trials and para-cycling, with exclusive coverage from AusCycling.