The Week Ahead: An entirely different kind of Arctic race

By Kevin McGwin, Arctic Now - January 8, 2018

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please contact us

Mention the terms ‘Arctic’ and ‘race’ in the same breath, and, depending on your inclination, it will conjure up thoughts of the emerging political and economic interest in the region.

For the more sporting-minded, it will likely be traditional wintry events the likes of the Iditarod dog sled race, or perhaps more recent inventions, such as the North Pole Marathon, that come to mind.

Even for those who take an interest in cycling, the Arctic Race of Norway, a four-day race being held for the sixth time this August, is not a household name. That, however, has not stopped the sport’s Norwegian fans and residents of the country’s three northernmost counties from turning the race into an annual spectacle. Such is their enthusiasm that Le Parisien, a French news outlet, ran a 2014 article overflowing with admiration for the passion that Norwegians displayed during the event.

This year’s course, unveiled Monday, emphasizes the Arctic in the Arctic Race. Starting in Kirkenes, on the Russian border, on Aug. 16, passing through Hammerfest, and ending in Alta, on Aug. 19, this 2018 edition is one of the most northerly in the race’s history.

Like many second-tier cycling events (below the sport’s three annual grand tours a handful of other prestigious recurring races), the Arctic Race of Norway, which is owned by the same firm that owns the Tour de France brand, is more a platform for national riders and teams to gain international exposure than it is an event in which the sport’s marquee names choose to compete.

Still, even though cyclists who have the capacity to win the sport’s most demanding races steer clear of the Arctic Race of Norway, the riders who do enter consider it to be a significant challenge.

This year’s route, according to the organizers, is “tough and spectacular.” While the first adjective will elicit groans from entrants, the second will please tourism boosters, who see the event less for its value as a sporting event than as an opportunity to promote the region.

Local firms apparently do well off the event, ringing up additional 54 million kroner ($6 million) in sales related to the race, according to the organizer’s own statistics.

Those looking for the throngs of spectators that line the courses of the largest cycling events will find Arctic Race of Norway underwhelming: 180,000 spectators dot the 800-kilometer course, most of them congregated around the start and finish lines. And, enthusiastic as locals may be about the race, those from away seem less enthused: 30,000 people travelled to northern Norway to watch the race.

More important, then, is the role the Arctic Race of Norway plays in promoting the region. During the four days the race is held, images of Tromsø, Finnmark and Nordland counties are beamed onto screens in over 190 countries, at an advertisement with an estimated value of 231 million kroner. The nearly 3,000 articles written about the race, were worth an additional 112 million kroner, organizers reckon.

Figures about what it costs to run the race are hard to pin down, but the figures that are available indicate the money is well invested. In 2016 and 2017, the national government contributed 15 million kroner to hold the event, and will do so again in 2018. County governments also contribute; last year, Tromsø County spent 2 million kroner, though this was to the irritation of some residents, who believe the money is poorly spent.

That the race appears to be a financial winner that draws the world’s eyes to an important region for Oslo is perhaps part of the reason why national lawmakers are keen to be associated with it. Last year, no less than three cabinet members, including Erna Solberg, the prime minister, attended race stages.

Solberg was on hand during the race’s final stage, in Tromsø. Unfortunately for the organizers, the payoff was not complete: Dylan Teuns, a Belgian rider, came away the race’s overall winner, beating Norway’s August Jensen by a margin of just six seconds. Close but no klippfisk.

Also this week:

An open relationship

Leading members of Greenland’s cabinet call on Copenhagen this week to exchange New Year’s greetings with the queen, the prime minister and their counterparts in the Danish government. The meetings have become something a tradition, and underscore that although the two countries may not always see eye-to-eye on issues, Nuuk sees the value in maintaining its special relationship with Copenhagen.

As in previous years, cabinet members will also brief representatives from the press on issues facing Greenland. In past years, these meetings were generally held at Greenland’s de facto embassy in Copenhagen and were primarily attended by Danish journalists. This year, as with last, the venue has been moved to the International Press Center, which caters to foreign correspondents – an indication that even though it maintains a special relationship Denmark, Greenland wants to be free to have other countries in its life.

When Donald met Erna

President Donald Trump holds his first official meeting with Erna Solberg, Norway’s prime minister, on Jan. 10.

An anodyne press statement on December 27 announcing the meeting indicates the two will discuss economic and security issues, including NATO. Arctic issues are not explicitly stated, though a number of topics, such as offshore oil and gas exploration and America’s rotating deployment of 300 marines to Norway at Oslo’s request, relate to the two countries’ role in the region.

Solberg has also promised she will explain her country’s position on climate change, and America’s decision this past June to withdraw from the Paris agreement. “It’s only natural for me to bring the matter up,” Solberg told the Norwegian media in December.

Arctic Council Workshop on Ecosystem Approach Guidelines and Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

The Joint Ecosystem Approach Expert Group, an Arctic Council body made up of representatives from four of its six working groups, meets in Seattle from Jan. 9-11 for its sixth workshop. The group is seeking to draw up practical guidelines for implementing an ecosystem approach to management of maritime areas.

More information and background documents are available on the meeting’s website.