Road racing is a form of bicycle racing held on paved surfaces. It includes both massed-start and time trial events. Road racing is the most widely practiced professional sport in the world. Professional road racing has been most popular in Europe, especially in France, Spain, Italy and Belgium, although the sport has had significant popularity in the United States and Australia. Road racing's international governing body is the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
What is Road Racing?
Early Road Racing
The first organized road race took place in 1869 between the cities of Paris and Rouen in France. The race was inspired by the success of the first ever professional road race, a event which was held the previous year between the cities of Lyon and Marseille. The Paris-Rouen race was organized by Pierre Giffard, the editor of the French newspaper Le Petit Journal. The race was open to amateurs and professionals and attracted a field of nine riders, including some of the top French racers of the day. The race was held over a distance of 127 miles (204 km) and was won by the Englishman, George Pilkington Mills.
Race Course Evolution
The early years of road racing saw a lot of experimentation with the race format and the rules. In the first few years, races were held over various distances, with the longest being the 1200 km Bordeaux-Paris race which was held in 1891. The race was won by the Frenchman, Maurice Garin. The format of road races changed radically in the early years, with races often being held over multiple days and sometimes even weeks. The first ever multi-day road race was the 1891 Tour de France, which was won by the Frenchman, Henri Desgrange.
The format of road races began to settle down in the early 1900s, with most races being held over one day and a distance of around 200 km. The most important race in professional road racing is still the Tour de France, which was first held in 1903. The Tour de France is a multi-stage race held over three weeks in July of each year. The race covers a distance of around 3500 km and is contested by teams of riders from all over the world.
The years after World War II saw a boom in professional road racing, with many new races being created all over Europe. The most important race of this period was the Tour de France, which grew in popularity and prestige in the post-war years. Other important races of this period include the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, which were both first held in 1909. The classics also grew in importance in this period, with races such as Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège becoming established as some of the most prestigious one-day races in the sport.
Racing Hazards and Safety
Road racing is a dangerous sport, with riders often crashing at high speeds on narrow roads. This danger was highlighted in 1967 when Tom Simpson died during the Tour de France after collapsing from exhaustion and dehydration on the climb of Mont Ventoux. Simpson's death led to calls for improved safety standards in professional road racing and this resulted in a number of changes being made to both races and equipment.
One of the most important safety improvements in road racing was the introduction of team cars, which followed behind the riders and could offer assistance if necessary. Another important change was the introduction of medical teams at races, which could offer immediate assistance to riders who crashed or suffered from other medical problems. These changes helped to reduce the number of fatalities in professional road racing but it is still a dangerous sport and crashes are commonplace.
Modern Road Racing on Public Roads
Road racing on public roads is now practiced all over the world and there are races of all distances and formats. The sport is governed by the UCI, which oversees both professional and amateur road racing. Professional road racing is divided into four main categories: single-day races, stage races, time trials, and randonneuring events.
Single-day road races are the most common type of professional road race and include classics such as Milan-San Remo andLiège-Bastogne-Liège. These races are typically held over a distance of around 200 km and last between five and six hours.
2. Time Trial
Time trials are another common type of professional road race and are typically held over shorter distances than single-day races. Time trials are raced against the clock rather than against other riders and are often used as a way to decide stage winners in stage races.
3. Stage Races
Stage races are multi-day events that typically last between two and three weeks. The most famous stage race is the Tour de France, which is held every July.
4. Randonneuring and Ultra-Distance
Randonneuring events are long-distance endurance events that are typically held over one or two days. These events originated in France in the early 1900s and are now held all over the world. Ultra-distance events are even longer than randonneuring events and can last for several days or even weeks.
In modern road racing, draftiing is often used as a way to conserve energy during long races. Drafting occurs when riders ride close behind each other to shelter from wind resistance. This allows riders to ride at a higher speed with less effort.
6. Grand Tours
The three grand tours are the biggest stage races on the professional road racing calendar. They are the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a España.
7. UCI World Tour
The UCI World Tour is a season-long competition that consists of some of the biggest road races in the world.
8. Olympic Games
Road racing has been included in every edition of the Olympic Games since 1896.
Road races are mass-start events which typically feature a field of 150-180 riders. Teams are generally made up of eight to 10 riders, however at the Olympic Games, team sizes are limited to a maximum of five for men and four for women. The race leader's teammates help in any way possible from fetching food and water to giving up a wheel or their bicycle in the event of a crash or mechanical failure. A team mechanic also sits in the caravan car, ready to service a rider with equipment if he or she suffers a flat tire, a crash or any other mechanical failure.
Most prestigious single-day road races other than the Olympic Games
UCI World Championships, the USA Cycling Professional National Championships and European Classics like Paris-Roubaix (FRA), the Tour of Flanders (BEL), the Amstel Gold Race (NED), Liege-Bastonge-Liege (BEL), and Milan-San Remo (ITA).
Diffrent Types of Road Race
Individual Time Trials
The time trial is a cycling race against the clock. Riders start one-by-one at specific intervals, usually one minute, by descending down a small start ramp onto the course. The race is simple: the athlete with the fastest time over a given distance is the winner. Riders seek out every aerodynamic advantage they can to get ahead. The time trial is a prestigious event and can be a point-to-point race or multiple laps of a circuit.
Stage races are multi-day road cycling events in which one rider is declared the winner after the completion of the final stage. The rider with the lowest cumulative time over all stages is declared the winner. In the event of a tie, the rider with the lowest time on the final stage is declared the winner.
The most prestigious stage race is the Tour de France, which is held annually in July. Other notable stage races include the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España.
The UCI WorldTour is a series of road cycling races which are part of the UCI World Ranking system. The UCI WorldTour calendar includes some of the most prestigious stage races in the world, such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a España.
Although not an internationally-recognized discipline, criteriums are very popular in the United States. A criterium, or crit, is a bike race on a short course, usually less than 1 kilometer in length, and often run on closed-off city streets. Criteriums are characterized by their fast speeds, tight turns, and frequent sprinting.