âIn Copenhagen, you are not an environmental activist if you ride your bike to work â you are simply commuting.â These are the words of Pia Allerslev, Culture and Leisure Mayor of Copenhagen since January 2008. The Danish capital was the first city to be awarded the label UCI Bike City, and in the five years since her appointment, Mayor Allerslev has ensured that it has lived up to its reputation: as well as advocating cycling as a means of transport and leisure activity, she has overseen the organisation of two UCI World Cups (BMX and track) and three UCI World Championships, for track cycling, BMX and road.
âLooking back, it actually didnât feel that overwhelming because it was a pleasure to host each and every one,â she says. âWhen attracting international sports events to Copenhagen we play to our strength and cycling is one of them. Having the competitions in Copenhagen felt quite natural and I have no doubt that they have been a key element in our efforts to develop cycling in Copenhagen.â
More than half the population rides to work
She is talking about developing cycling in a city that is already one of the most bicycle-oriented in the world. Some 55% of the cityâs population cycles to work every day, covering 1.17 million kilometres daily.
âBiking is a natural part of the Danish culture and we have actively invested in being a bicycle friendly city. We have built more than 346km of bike lanes that separate cyclists from traffic. Despite being a city of hectic traffic, we have succeeded in making it safe for parents to let their children bike to school.â
For Pia Allerslev, organising world class events goes hand in hand with the cityâs policy. How could anyone fail to be touched by these momentous occasions?
The âWOWâ feeling
âI can only describe the fantastic atmosphere that I felt standing in the crowds as a âWOW-feelingâ. I really hope that all the other spectators went home with the same smile on their faces and the same good feeling as I did.
When you are used to seeing most of these big races on television it is something special to watch them live. And when they take place in the very same streets you bike yourselves every day, it is unbelievable.
âOne of the best things during the preparation period (of the 2011 UCI Road World Championships) was having the opportunity to ride the very same route that was used for the time trial competition together with so many other enthusiastic amateur riders.â
Riding the Champs ElysÃ©es
For Pia Allerslev has herself been bitten by the cycling bug. If she has a chance to ride, she grabs it. Although her commitments as Culture and Leisure Mayor mean she has little time to train, she has twice taken part in a 1200km cancer charity ride to Paris, riding between 150km and 220km every day.
âI still get goose bumps just thinking about riding on the Champs ElysÃ©es. And it makes me feel good to think of the millions we collected for charity and the fight against cancer â just by riding a bicycle to Paris!â
Although part of the amateur peloton, Pia Allerslevâs experience riding the Alpe dâHuez shows she has the self-confessed âstubbornâ character of a true champion. She was so disappointed with her âlousyâ time on the climb that she made an unscheduled return to the mythic mountain the next day and improved her performance by nearly 20 minutes... and only just had time to catch her plane back to Copenhagen.
âThe Alpe dâHuez is no ordinary mountain climb. It is perhaps one of the most fantastic experiences you can have on a bike.â
Copenhagen Gran Fondo joins UCI World Cycling Tour
It is that sort of pleasure, of an amateur rider getting a chance to âride like a proâ that hundreds of people will get to experience in Copenhagenâs next major international cycling event: the Copenhagen Gran Fondo in May, which is part of the UCI World Cycling Tour.
For those who do not want to compete, even at an amateur level, Copenhagenâs Culture and Leisure Mayor is a huge advocate of cycling as a means of transport or as a leisure activity. Her enthusiasm is infectious.
âIt is never too late to get your body moving, and riding is a wonderful way to do so. And donât forget the social relations you have with others when you go out there to freshen your mind and get some wind in your face.â
Photo: Pia Allerslev, Mayor, cyclist and fan....
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