Major new event aims to revive sports tourism around Harrogate
Last updated Sep 19, 2023
Runners finish on a red carpet.

Nine years ago there was the Tour de France; then there was the UCI Road World Championships in 2019.

Now the Harrogate district has another major sports tourism event heading its way — the Long Course Weekend.

The three-day event is less well known, which is little surprise given that it’s never been held in England before.

But the annual Long Course Weekend in Wales has grown to attract 11,000 athletes and 35,000 supporters from 56 nations to Pembrokeshire.

North Yorkshire Council, which has agreed to host the event annually for the next three years in Pateley Bridge, has estimated it will bring £2 million to the local economy.

The council has paid a £25,000 hosting fee to the event organisers.

Matthew Evans, the founder and chief executive of Long Course Weekend, was at Nidderdale Showground yesterday for a media event to announce the venue will be the centrepiece of next year’s inaugural event from September 6 to 8.

Mr Evans pledged to bring to Nidderdale “a different sports event to anything you have had here before”. He joked:

“Pateley Bridge will be turned into a bit of a Lycra-clad community for a few days.”

But what is Long Course Weekend and what will it mean to local people and businesses?

Mike Holr of Nidderdale Plus, Cllr Derek Bastimam, Harrogate GB triathlete Emma Robinson and Matthew Evans, founder of Long Course Weekend.

(from left) Mike Holt, Cllr Derek Bastiman, Emma Robinson and Matthew Evans at yesterday’s launch.

What is Long Course Weekend?

The Long Course Weekend caters for swimmers, cyclists, runners and triathletes of all abilities over one weekend.

But unlike triathlon, in which competitors perform all three disciplines in succession, a day is dedicated to each activity.

Friday will feature swimming in a Nidderdale reservoir; Saturday will feature a cycle ride around North Yorkshire and Sunday will see a run ending on a red carpet in Nidderdale Showground.

Competitors can participate in one discipline or all three.

The swim distances range from 1.2 miles to 2.4 miles, cycling routes will be from 56 miles to 112 miles and the run will start at five kilometres to a full marathon. There will also be a children’s running event.

The number of swimmers and cyclists is expected to be capped at 1,000 each for the first year at Pateley Bridge, although no figure has yet been given for the maximum number of runners.

Where is it being held?

Nidderdale Showground.

Nidderdale Showground

Nidderdale Showground will become ‘event village’ — the centrepiece of the three days. A red carpet will be laid out in the showground.

The full 112-mile cycle ride is expected to take in most of North Yorkshire and finish at the showground. The swim will be in a yet-to-be-finalised Nidderdale reservoir — not the River Nidd.

The exact details have yet to be finalised and applications for competitors are due to be opened later this year.

Why is it being held in Pateley Bridge?

Gemma Rio, Harrogate Borough Council's new head of destination marketing

Gemma Rio

Yesterday’s announcement was the culmination of years of discussions between Gemma Rio, head of council-owned tourist body Destination Harrogate and Mr Evans.

Ms Rio said she hopes it will “become a significant annual event like the Great Yorkshire Show” that will boost the wider local economy. She added:

“There will be a festival feel at the showground and the benefits of the event will extend to multiple Nidderdale villages and dales.”

Will Pateley Bridge cope with the crowds?

Between 18,000 to 25,000 people are expected to visit for the event, according to the council.

Cllr Derek Bastiman. the Conservative-run council’s executive member for open to business, said it was an ideal opportunity to improve the post-covid Nidderdale economy.

He said accommodation providers and hospitality businesses for miles around would benefit and although there were likely to be road closures and some disruption the benefits would outweigh any problems.

Pateley Bridge-based voluntary organisation Nidderdale Plus will help to mobilise volunteers for the event.

Asked whether Pateley’s infrastructure could cope, Mr Evans acknowledged each Long Course Weekend “comes with challenges” but pledged to work with organisations to ensure the area could cope.

According to the council, North Yorkshire’s visitor economy brings in more than £1.5 billion a year from domestic visits alone. Tourism accounts for 10 per cent of the county’s overall economy, and 41,200 workers are employed in the sector.

What they say about it

Emma Robinson

Yesterday’s announcement at the showground included representatives from the council, tourism and sport.

Emma Robinson, 43, a mum-of-three and member of Harrogate Triathlon Club who has competed for Great Britain in the 35 to 39 age group, said:

“The beauty of the Long Course Weekend is the chance to take part in the individual disciplines. As a triathlete I will probably take part in all three, but it’s great that others can choose to just take part in the swim, the cycle or the run.”

Former Pateley Bridge mayor Mike Holt, a volunteer with the Nidderdale Plus community support organisation, said:

“Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale are such wonderful places, and we do attract a lot of visitors from around the country and from abroad already.

“But to have such a successful internationally-recognised event coming here will broaden our appeal to an even wider audience.”

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Matthew Evans, the Long Course Weekend’s founder and chief executive,  said:

“We have wanted to bring the Long Course Weekend to England for a long time now, and North Yorkshire is the perfect location as the county has a proven track record of staging major sporting events, such as the Tour de France’s Grand Départ.

“It is one of only a few sporting events that encompasses swimmers, cyclists, runners and triathletes of all abilities over one weekend.”

Cllr Bastiman said: “To host such a well-respected and internationally-renowned sporting event is a real coup for us.

“The Long Course Weekend has become a very popular date in the sporting calendar in countries across the world, and it will be a privilege for North Yorkshire to host an event next year. It will give us the chance to showcase to a global audience what we can offer here in what is one of the most beautiful and diverse parts of the country.”

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