The top cycle races in the world of road bike racing are now all part of the Union Cycliste Internationale Pro Tour Races. There are quite a few of them and the major professional road bike riders take part in the most important cycle races plus as many of the others that they think highly of. They are grouped together into the UCI Pro Tour.
All of the currently 19 Pro Tour teams have to ride the big road bike events along with other teams invited by the organisers who are usually local teams or the best of the lower ranked Continental Tour teams.
The Pro Tour Races are split into five sections but there are also the other important but not so famous races which are named ‘Other Races’ at the bottom of this article.
The Major Tours
The big 3: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España are all three weeks long and are the hardest races on the calendar. These are the top road bike races of the year. All three go over the biggest mountains in each of their countries and venture into neighbouring ones, sometimes for a few days. Until recently all bike racers rode the big three now they specialise and choose which they prefer.
The Spring Classics
The Spring Classics are the finest of the one day races and all are held in the more northern European countries, apart from the first one, Milan-San Remo which is in the north of Italy in March. It can still suffer bad weather just like the others. The Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix are all ridden over the worst road conditions possible with short sharp hills and cobbled surfaces. When it rains, these roads turn into very slippy mud baths. The others are more hilly and more suited to Tour riders and the better climbers. However, all these road bike races are a must-see as they are extremely unpredictable. It’s always a tough person who wins an important cycle race in the spring!
The Autumn Classics
The Autumn Classics start just after the Tour de France, before and after the Vuelta a España and around the World Championships. Each of these races has its own characteristics and they are are held in different countries around Europe. The best known are the Clásica de San Sebastián in Spain which is hard and hilly, the Paris-Tours which is mostly flat and to round off the season, the Giro di Lombardia, which is the last big bike race of the Pro Tour and is held, like Milan-San Remo, in the north of Italy.
The Shorter Stage Races
These shorter stage races are spread throughout the season and in various parts of Europe. Some are used as training races for the top road bike riders to tune their form for the big stage races but all are very important and carry much honour for those taking part. Paris-Nice is the first and is always a useful indicator of a rider’s form for the Spring Classics or the Giro d’Italia. The more hilly races like Itzulia Basque Country, Tour de Romandie, Tour de Suisse and the Critérium du Dauphiné provide a great build up for the Tour de France. Past winners have fought hard and all of these events are challenging.
The World Championships
The World Championships are held very late in the season (September) and the big stars of the Tour de France don’t usually ride but for the single day specialists it’s still the race to win and never won easily. The acclaimed rainbow jersey is the jersey all riders dream of wearing for a year and will try their utmost to win it. It’s noteworthy that the Worlds are the only road bike races in which riders compete for their country and not for their sponsors.
There are other races on the Pro Tour calendar that are very key but not so well known – they are also highly prized and in the end a win is a win. The Pro Tour teams can also ride in the lower Continental Tour races. Some of these are quite prominent and very respected and, although they carry less UCI points, finishing in 1st position is still nevertheless very hard-earned by these cyclists.
There isn’t one of these top road bikes cycle races that provides for a straightforward win!