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Bicycle racers at the 2005 Rund um den Henninger-Turm in Germany

Road bicycle racing is a popular bicycle racing sport held on roads, using racing bicycles. The term "road racing" is usually applied to events where competing riders start simultaneously (unless riding a handicap event) with the winner being the first to the line at the end of the course (individual and team time trials are another form of cycle racing on roads).

Road racing is popular all over the world, but especially in Europe. The most competitive and devoted countries are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, although the sport is also popular in Australia, Denmark, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Road bicycle racing began as an organized sport in 1868.[1] The first world championship was in 1893 and cycling has been part of the Olympic Games since the modern sequence started in Athens in 1896.

Road racing in its modern form originated in the late 19th century. The sport was popular in the western European countries of France, Spain, Belgium, and Italy. Some of Europe's earliest road bicycle races remain among the sport's biggest events. These early races include Liège-Bastogne-Liège (established 1892), Paris-Roubaix (1896), the Tour de France (1903), the Milan-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia (1905), the Giro d'Italia (1909) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (1913). They provided a template for other races around the world. While the sport has spread throughout the world, these historic races remain the most prestigious for a cyclist to win.

Contents

Road race types

The Tour of Gippsland – a stage race in Australia– climbing through the scenic area of the Omeo Shire
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Single-day races

  • Criterium – short course (usually under 5 km); mass start
  • Circuit race – medium course (5–10 km); mass start
  • Road race – long course (usually over 60 km) can be several laps or a single lap; mass start
  • Time trial – medium course (usually 20–50 km); solo start. Also known as the "Race of truth."

The first competitor to cross the finish line after completing the prescribed course is declared the winner. Race distances vary from a few kilometres to more than 200 km. Courses may run from place to place or comprise one or more laps of a circuit; some courses combine both, i.e., taking the riders from a starting place and then finishing with several laps of a circuit (usually to ensure a good spectacle for spectators at the finish). Races over short circuits, often in town or city centres, are known as criteriums. Some races, known as handicaps, are designed to match riders of different abilities and/or ages; groups of slower riders start first, with the fastest riders starting last and so having to race harder and faster to catch other competitors.

Single-day nocturnal races

Nocturnal (night) races are held in an attempt to bring in larger crowds. A good example of this is the Shropshire Star Newport Nocturne.

Stage races

Stage races consist of several races, or stages, ridden consecutively. The competitor with the lowest cumulative time to complete all stages is declared the overall, or general classification (GC), winner. Stage races may also have other classifications and awards, such as individual stage winners, the points classification winner, and the "King of the Mountains" (or mountains classification) winner. A stage race can also be a series of road races and individual time trials (some events include team time trials). The stage winner is the first person to cross the finish line that day or the time trial rider (or team) with the lowest time on the course. The overall winner of a stage race is the rider who takes the lowest aggregate time to complete all stages (accordingly, a rider does not have to win all or any of the individual stages to win overall).

Ultra Marathon

These races are very long single stage events, usually lasting several days. Among the best-known ultra marathons is the Race Across America (RAAM), a coast to coast non-stop, single-stage race in which riders cover approximately 3,000 miles in about a week. The race is sanctioned by the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA).

Tactics

A team of riders draft behind one another, forming a paceline

Though the objective of a race is quite simple – to be the first rider to cross the finish line – a number of tactics are employed. Tactics are based on the aerodynamic benefit of drafting, whereby a rider can significantly reduce the required pedal effort by closely following in the slipstream of the rider in front. Riding in the main field, or peloton, can save as much as 40% of the energy employed in forward motion when compared to riding alone.[2] Some teams designate a leader, whom the rest of the team is charged with keeping out of the wind and in good position until a critical section of the race. This can be used as a strength or a weakness by competitors; riders can cooperate and draft each other to ride at high speed (a paceline or echelon), or one rider can sit on a competitor's wheel, forcing him to do a greater share of the work in maintaining the pace and to potentially tire earlier. Drafting may not be employed in a time trial, unless it is a team time trial.

A group of riders that "breaks away" (a "break") from the peloton has more space and freedom, and can therefore be at an advantage in certain situations. Working together smoothly and efficiently, a small group can maintain a higher speed than the peloton, in which the remaining riders may not be as motivated or organized to chase effectively. Usually a rider or group of riders will try to break from the peloton by attacking and riding ahead to reduce the number of contenders for the win. If the break does not succeed and the body of cyclists comes back together, a sprinter will often win by overpowering competitors in the final stretch. Teamwork between riders, both pre-arranged and ad-hoc, is important in many aspects: in preventing or helping a successful break, and sometimes in delivering a sprinter to the front of the field.

To make the course more selective, races often feature difficult sections such as tough climbs, fast descents, and sometimes technical surfaces (such as the cobbled pavé used in the Paris-Roubaix race). Stronger riders are able to drop weaker riders during such sections, reducing the number of direct competitors able to take the win. Successful riders must develop excellent bike handling skills in order to ride at high speeds in close quarters with other riders. Individual riders can approach speeds of 110 km/h while descending winding mountain roads and may reach 60–80 km/h during the final sprint to the finish line.

In more organized races, a SAG waggon ("Support And Gear") or Broom waggon follows the race to pick up stragglers.

Teams

Levi Leipheimer, American professional, wearing his team Astana colors

While the principle remains that the winner is the first to cross the line, many riders are grouped together in teams, usually with commercial sponsors. On professional and semi-professional teams, team names are typically synonymous with the primary sponsors. As an example, some prominent professional teams of the last 30 years have been Team Telekom, Rabobank, ONCE, Mapei and Lampre.[3] The size of the team varies, from three in an amateur event for club riders to a dozen in professional races. Team riders decide between themselves, before and during the race, who has the best chance of winning. The choice will depend on hills, the chances that the whole field will finish together in a sprint, and other factors. The rest of the team will devote itself to promoting its leader's chances, taking turns in the wind for him, refusing to chase with the peloton when he escapes, and so on.

In professional races, team coordination is often performed by radio communication between the riders and the team director, who travels in a team car behind the race and monitors the overall situation. The influence of radios on race tactics is a topic of discussion amongst the cycling community, with some arguing that the introduction of radios in the 1990s has devalued the tactical knowledge of individual riders and has led to less exciting racing.[4] In September 2009, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of pro cycling, voted to phase in a ban on the use of team radios in men`s elite road racing.[5]

Types of riders

Within the discipline of road racing, different cyclists have different (relative) strengths and weaknesses. Depending on these, riders tend to prefer different events over particular courses, and perform different tactical roles within a team.

The main specialities in road bicycle racing are:

Notable bicycle races

Grand Tours

The most famous cycling race is the Tour de France, a multi-stage tour over three weeks nominally through France, traditionally ending in Paris. Similar long, multi-stage tours are held in Italy (the Giro D'Italia) and Spain (the Vuelta a España). These three races make up the "Grand Tours".

Olympic games

The historian Wlodzimierz Golebiewski says: "Cycling has become a major event on the Olympic programme ... Like many other sports it has undergone several changes over the years. Just as there used to be track and field events such as the standing high jump or throwing the javelin with both hands, cyclists, too, used to compete for medals in events which today have been forgotten; for example in Athens in 1896, they attempted a 12-hour race, and in London, in 1908, one of the events was a sprint for 603.49 metres (660 yards)." [6] The Olympic Games has never been as important in road cycling as in other sports. Until the distinction ended, the best riders were professionals rather than amateurs and so did not take part.[6]

UCI ProTour events

Professional racing is governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale. In 2005 it instituted the UCI ProTour to replace the UCI Road World Cup series. While the World Cup contained only one-day races, the ProTour includes the Grand Tours and other large stage races such as Tour Down Under, Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice and the Critérium de Dauphiné Libéré.

The former UCI Road World Cup one-day races – which include all five Classic cycle races or "Monuments" – are also part of the ProTour: Milan-Sanremo (Italy), Ronde van Vlaanderen (Belgium), Paris-Roubaix (France), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Belgium) and Amstel Gold Race (Netherlands) in the spring, and Clásica de San Sebastián (Spain), HEW Cyclassics (Germany), Züri-Metzgete (Switzerland), Paris-Tours (France) and Giro di Lombardia (Italy) in the autumn season.

Paris-Rouen

The success of the races in the Parc de St-Cloud inspired the Compagnie Parisienne and the magazine Le Vélocipède Illustré to run a race from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the cathedral in Rouen on 7 November 1869. It was the world's first long-distance road race and also won by Moore, who took 10 hours and 25 minutes to cover 134 km. The runners-up were the Count André Castéra, who had come second to Moore at St-Cloud, and Jean Bobillier, riding a farm bike that weighed 35 kg. The only woman to finish within 24 hours was the self-styled Miss America, in reality an unknown English woman who, like several in the field, had preferred not to compete under her real name.

International development

The growth of organised cycle racing led to the development of national administrative bodies, in Britain in 1878, France 1881, the Netherlands 1883, Germany 1884 and Sweden 1900. Sometimes, as in Britain, cycling was originally administered as part of athletics, since cyclists often used the tracks used by runners. This could, says historian James McGurn, lead to disputes within countries and internationally.

The Bicycle Union [of Britain], having quarrelled with the Amateur Athletic Association over cycle race jurisdiction on AAA premises, took issue with the Union Vélocipèdique de France over the French body's willingness to allows its "amateurs" to compete for prizes of up to 2,000 francs, the equivalent of about sixteen months' pay for a French manual worker.[1]

The first international body was the International Cycling Association (ICA), established by an English schoolteacher named Henry Sturmey (the founder of Sturmey-Archer). It opened in 1893 and held its first world championship in Chicago, USA, the same year. A new organisation, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), was set up on 15 April 1900 during the Olympic Games in Paris. Britain was not initially a member, but joined in 1903. The UCI, based in Switzerland, has run the sport ever since.

Season

In its home in Europe and in the United States, cycle racing on the road is a summer sport, although the season can start in early spring and end in autumn. The months of the season depend on the hemisphere. A racing year is divided between lesser races, single-day classics and stage races. The classics include the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix and Milan-Sanremo. The other important one-day race is the World Championships. Unlike other classics, the World Championships is held on a different course each year and ridden by national rather than sponsored teams. The winner wears a white jersey with coloured bands (often called "rainbow bands") around the chest.

In Australia, due to the relatively mild winters and hot summers, the amateur road racing season runs from autumn to spring, through the winter months, while criterium races are held in the mornings or late afternoons during the summer. Some professional events, including the Tour Down Under, are held in the southern summer, mainly to avoid clashing with the major northern hemisphere races and allowing top professionals to compete.

Bicycle championships

References

  1. ^ a b On Your Bicycle, James McGurn, John Murray 1987
  2. ^ Edmund Burke, High-Tech Cycling, 2003
  3. ^ cycling ranking
  4. ^ http://www.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/blog-article/109155/Radio-killed-the-tactical-star
  5. ^ Andrew Hood, "Directors: UCI out of tune on race-radio ban", Velonews.com (Sep. 27, 2009). Retrieved 3.06.2010
  6. ^ a b "The Olympic Games", ed: Killanin, Rodda, Collier Books, New York

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