Bicycle racing is a fascinating and heart-pounding sport. The strategy required to move up in a multi-stage race, the pure power of an all-out sprint, or the grit of a time trial: in every case, bike racing is a beautiful example of competition at its best.
Today we are going to list the top road races in the world. While you might never be able to participate in these yourself (although who knows; keep on training!), you can participate through watching. Spectating the world’s top bike races is a phenomenal experience, especially with the breathtaking camera work that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the pack.
So, without further ado, here they are:
The Tour de France
No list of top cycling races would be complete without mention of the Tour de France, the most famous race in cycling. Originally held in 1903, the race now consists of 21 days of racing (with two rest days) and covers more than 2,000 miles every year, usually through the AlPs and Pyrenees mountains centering in France. The tour finishes in Paris each year on the Champs-Ulysses.
The overall winner of the Tour is the cyclist who finishes with the lowest time on the clock. This leader wears the yellow jersey at any given time in the race. There are other competitions within the Tour de France, such as the points classification which ranks sprinting performance throughout the tour, the King of The Mountains classification for climbing specialists, the fastest team, and a special category for young riders under the age of 26.
The Tour de France is one of the so-called “Grand Tours.” Each of these events, all of which take place in Europe, are three weeks in length with daily stages. Few cyclists compete in each of the Grand Tours in a given year, let alone finish all three; only 32 riders have ever completed all three tours in the same year. They are all long, grueling races.
The Giro d’Italia
The second most famous cycling race is likely the Tour of Italy. This race, another of the Grand Tours trio, takes place in Italy. Like the Tour de France, the tour consists of 21 days of racing. The overall winner is chosen by time, and other classifications are the same as in the Tour de France.
The first Tour of Italy took place in 1909. Since then, the format of the race has remained relatively stable. Most of the stages in the Giro d’Italia are massed start stages, where all the riders start together at the same time and are timed to the finish line. Like in the other grand tours, there are also individual time trials, in which each competitor rides alone against the clock on a set course, and team time trials, which are completed in the same manner but ridden as a team.
The Vuelta a España
The third of the Grand Tours is the Vuelta a España — the Tour of Spain. Like the other Grand Tours, the Vuelta consists of 21 stages through the landscape of Spain (and sometimes neighboring countries; the 2013 race was notable for starting in Ireland). The overall time leader wears the red jersey, and other classifications exist for sprinting, mountains, teams and young riders like the other Grand Tour races listed here.
The Vuelta a España began in 1935, and like the other Grand Tours, endured a number of years when the race could not take place due to World War II. The Vuelta is infamous for the climb known as the Alto de L’Angliru, which climbs almost a vertical mile (5,160 feet) in only 8 miles, making it one of the most grueling climbs in cycle racing.
No mention of the top cycling races would be complete without mention of the Olympic Games.
Bike racing has been part of every modern Olympics since 1896. Current events include road cycling races (both team and individual) for men and women, as well as team and individual time-trials. Cross country mountain bike races have been held at the Olympics since 1996, and BMX racing was introduced in 2008.
The modern Olympic games feature events in track cycling prominently, such as sprints, team sprints, the omnium (a series of 6 events scored by points), keirin (a Japanese style of motor-paced racing followed by a sprint finish), and the team pursuit (in which two teams of cyclists start on opposite sides of an indoor track and race 16 laps for time).