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Articles: Road cycling

Road Cycling

Road Cycling is predominantly an individual sport but the competitors may also race as part of a team. The races normally take place on public roads on a variety of surfaces including tarmac, paving and cobbles. The object of road cycling is to win a race by being first over the line or to win a series of races, or a time trial race, by setting the quickest time overall. Road cycling can take place over very long distances and requires a combination of speed and endurance.

The first competitive cycling race was held in France 1868 and this was soon followed by the first world championship in 1893; and inclusion as an Olympic sport in 1896. Cycling’s most famous race - the Tour de France - was first held in 1903 and is now televised to audiences all over the world.

Historically, cycling has been most popular in France, Spain, Belgium and Italy but its reach has now spread worldwide. In recent years, the number of spectators and participants in road cycling has continued to grow despite the high profile doping scandal involving American cyclist Lance Armstrong.

A road cycle race

A cycle race consists of individual riders who race against each other for overall first position in a race. Despite the individual nature of the sport, road cyclists are often part of a team and team tactics can be an important factor in the success of an individual rider.

Road cycling courses can vary in length with longer races split into stages and held over many days or weeks. Every course or stage is different and can be a single point to point race or a circuit race involving one or more laps. The terrain can vary from completely flat to mountainous or a combination of both.

Competitors ride specially-made lightweight bicycles and wear aerodynamic clothing, including distinctively-shaped helmets, to reduce drag and improve speed during races.

How a road cycle race begins

In longer tour events, a rolling start is used to begin the race. All the riders start together in a large group and ride slowly until a white flag is waved to signal the official start of the competition. In time trials, the riders start separately in ranking order with the lowest ranked rider going first.

Main rules and tactics

Some time trial races can last under an hour while major tour events can be last up to three weeks. Whether a race (or stage) is point-to-point or a circuit, the same principle applies - the quickest overall time wins. In tour races, there are individual stage winners as well as an overall winner.

Some stages also contain sub-sections where riders can compete for places by travelling between two points in the fastest time. Typically these sub-races are on flat or mountainous sections and will suit different riders. A rider that wins the mountain race sections is known as “King of the Mountains”.

To win tours and stages of tours, riders will often rely on team tactics to help guide them to victory. The principle rider will often travel in the slipstream of their teammates to conserve energy and then make a charge for the line in the latter stages of the race. In fact, whole teams will often be set up to benefit just one star rider.

Occasionally, a group of riders from different teams will break away from the pack. This group will sometimes work together to maintain their advantage before finally racing each other to the finishing line.

The tour leaders - and the winners of certain stages and sub-races - are presented with particular coloured jerseys to wear. For example, in the Tour de France the overall leader wears a yellow jersey, the point’s leader wears a green jersey, the mountain leader wears a polka dot jersey and the youth leader wears a white jersey.

Races are adjudicated by officials known as commissaries that also act as race controllers and administrators. The commissaries operate either from a moving vehicle or from the side of the course.

Competing in road cycling

Most professional cyclists start at a young age by joining a local club and taking part in junior races. Successful racers can progress to national sub-categories and eventually to elite level. To achieve this, some kind of financial backing or sponsorship is important.

Riders at the elite level can compete in up to 29 main UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) tour races, three Grand Tours and a World Championship. They can also be selected for their national team to compete at the Olympic Games. Road cycling tour events are held on a weekly basis from February through to October. The events are split in categories according to their importance.

Of the many events in the UCI cycling calendar, the oldest and most prestigious one-day races are known as the “classics”. This includes events such as Milan – San Remo in Italy, Tour of Flanders in Belgium, Paris–Roubaix in France and Giro di Lombardia in Italy.

The Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana are three-week-long events known as the Grand Tours. The Tour de France is the oldest race of the three and is recognised as the pinnacle of the sport.

The main UCI cycling races including the World Championships and Grand Tours are held annually while the Olympic Games are held every four years.

Site reference: Road Cycling: Competitions and organisers

Betting on road cycling

With multiple tour events all year round, there is a good range of betting options available in road cycling. The one-day Classics and Grand Tours tend to attract to very best riders and also the most betting interest.

Popular road cycling betting markets include the overall tour champion (Overall UCI Tour winner) and the individual Grand Tour winners (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana Winners) as well as the stage winners and jersey winners for the main tour events.