Norwegian sports fans are known for being enthusiastic – waving flags, ringing cow bells, painting their faces and cheering loudly. Those turning out for the cycling world championships in Bergen this week have outdone themselves, creating such pandemonium that police felt compelled to step in.
“I’ve never experienced anything wilder,” Norwegian cycling star Edvald Boasson Hagen told newspaper Aftenposten after Wednesday’s uphill “Individual Tempo” race in the men’s elite class. “I don’t think the foreigners have either.”
He was right. Tom Dumoulin from the Netherlands, who won the tough race, was thrilled with his victory and clearly impressed by the thousands of fans cheering along the entire route. “Thank you, Norway,” Dumoulin said in a direct address to the fans. “Even when it began to rain and during the last kilometers up to the top (of Fløyen, one of Bergen’s popular peaks and look-out points), there was this completely fantastic atmosphere around me.”
Some of the fans camped out in the rain all night to secure the best spots along the route. Others hung hammocks high up in the trees along the course. The crowd was estimated at around 12,000, with more in the city down below.
“I’ve never seen Bergen like this,” shouted one young woman to Aftenposten, ecstatic over what Norwegians like to call a folkefest (literally, people’s party). All the earlier complaints and concerns about blocked streets, heavy traffic, crowds and the sheer expense of hosting what’s officially called the UCI 2017 Road World Championships (simply Sykkel-VM in Norwegian) seemed forgotten. By mid-week, the party that began with opening ceremonies on Saturday and preliminary races on Sunday was well underway.
It was to run through this weekend and Norwegian cyclists weren’t even doing very well. Boasson Hagen failed to seize a spot on the winners platform on Wednesday (he ended up 17th), there’s been some internal squabbling within the men’s team and a young Norwegian cyclist lost out earlier in the week when organizers and his own coach “misunderstood” the course. That did not dampen the spirits of the fans in Bergen, who filled the streets with flags, cheers and song.
Amazingly enough, after one of the wettest summers in a city known for its rain, the sun was even shining and the skies clear and blue when the world championships kicked off last weekend. “Hey, it’s not raining!” exclaimed cyclist Geraint Thomas of Team Sky to Aftenposten as he and his teammates tested the course last Friday. “I had heard that it normally rains in this town, so this is just super!”
And fans were already showing up even then, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of other star cyclists like Chris Froome. “This is lovely!” they told Aftenposten when asked what they thought about Bergen.
The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful and that continued for the first few days. Tourism promoters in Bergen, a city surrounded by mountains and the sea, couldn’t have hoped for better TV images to be broadcast worldwide. Rain eventually set in, but neither cyclists nor spectators seemed to mind.
“Thank you, Bergen, for cheering on our riders,” tweeted the Canadian national team along with a video they’d made of the scene on Wednesday. Several others compared last year’s near-empty arena in Qatar to the cheerful madness in Bergen and let photos speak for themselves.
Police had challenges keeping control of the crowds, and a video of some officers forcibly moving overly enthusiastic fans off the course was picked up by international media. Norwegian police, however, tend to be as good-natured as the fans and the incident blew over.
Friday’s events included the main races for young men and women on a course downtown and Saturday would find young men racing further afield with the “elite women” started downtown. Sunday’s finale would start at 10am, with the main road race in the men’s elite class running from Øygarden to Fjell and back to downtown Bergen.