Spectators and cyclists enjoying World Championships

Despite complaints about traffic restrictions, Rådhuspladsen buzzes on first day of races

“Totally idiotic to trouble thousands of people for a bicycle race.” That was the verdict of Hans Lembøl when Politiken newspaper asked whether the UCI Road World Championships was worth the bother. Copenhagen might be a global leader in bicycle culture, but asking its residents to change their routine for a week to cater to the world’s second most important bicycle road race was never going to go down well.

Politiken is one of a number of newspapers to question the event. Why choose to hold it when the city is a construction site? We are hardly presenting Copenhagen at its best. And would the public transportation networks be able to cope with the extra numbers?

But this Monday, on the first day of racing, it was surprisingly difficult to find discontented Copenhageners. There were no protest groups with banners and chants at RÃ¥dhuspladsen, where all the time trials start and finish. Instead, thousands of spectators stood there, lining the course and watching the enormous television images of the riders at their various positions on the course.

And theyÂ’re not all curious passer-bys either. Many are wearing lycra and holding expensive racing bikes, eyes glued to the screen. As Danish under-23 rider Rasmus Quaade crosses the line after the first lap in first place, Poul Hansen raises his fists and shouts encouragement at the young rider.

“It’s really exciting!” he said. “I think it’s great that we have this event. I don’t care about the effect on the traffic.”

Hansen used to be a cyclist in Amager when he was younger, but has now taken to spectating. Wearing a red ‘Post Danmark’ cycling cap (the Danish national team’s sponsor) and waving a plastic rattle made of two plastic ‘hands’, he seemed possessed, shouting and waving his arms whenever Quaade was shown on the big screen.

Anthony Pringle was also watching the screen with his girlfriend Nanna Bolund. Pringle is from the UK and sells bicycles in Copenhagen. Kitted out in a racing jersey, bicycle cap and orange sunglasses, he certainly looked like a bicycle enthusiast.

“It’s the first time such a big event has come to Copenhagen, a lot of people are excited about it,” Pringle said. “There’s always going to be people who complain. But it’s only a few days that people get affected so what’s the problem?”

His Danish girlfriend can sympathise with those who have had to change their travel plans however.

“I can understand why people are upset. There are so many offices in the city centre, so if you want to get into town now it’s much more difficult,” Bolund said, but added that she wasn’t surprised by the negative publicity.

“It’s typically Danish to find it annoying. Denmark is the biggest village in the world – we’re just not geared up for this.”

On Tuesday Politiken wrote that so far the World Championship had not, in fact, resulted in traffic Armageddon. The City Council and the Danish Road Directorate both reported that traffic was moving smoothly while, according to DSB, the public transportation network was dealing with the increased passenger numbers.

But while drivers might complain, cyclists have been making the most of the open streets. Only certain vehicles are allowed within the city centre, leaving the streets eerily quiet and strangely peaceful. Copenhagen resident and cyclist Mads Terkelsen summed up the feeling quite well on Facebook.

“I think it’s exciting that a city can be transformed so much simply by closing it to cars. It’s also quite exciting when we cyclists, now unrestrained by the imminent threat of death from steel beasts, can ride even more wild and free.”