Public transportation was changed forever in the mid-19th century with the revolutionary bicycle design from French engineer Pierre Michaux. Although, in the last few centuries we have evolved the means of transport from horseback riding to the widespread use of bicycles. The act of riding a bike is probably as simple as walking itself but the sport of cycling requires a lot of endurance as cyclists are now crossing continents against the clock with just their bike and some essentials in tow.
Cycling as a sport consists of professional and amateur races. As the bicycles evolved its various forms, different racing formats developed over time involving both team and individual competition ranging from one-day road races to criterium (cycling race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit) to multi-stage events like the Tour de France.
Cycling as a sport officially began on May 31, 1868, with a 1,200-metre (1,312-yard) race between the fountains and the entrance of Saint-Cloud Park (near Paris). The winner was James Moore, an 18-year-old expatriate Englishman from Paris. Large races became popular during the 1890s and the time is often termed as the “Golden Age of Cycling”. From then on, cycling has been a major worldwide sport across Europe, and in the U.S and Asia as well.
Not all events are created equally though, so “XploreSports” have rounded up the top 5 toughest and the biggest professional road cycling events that stand above all other races in prestige, history and brutality in the world.
The Grand Tours consists of the three major European professional cycling stages that are made up of three major events, the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana and all three races are similar in format being multi-week races with daily stages, cyclists riding up to 4,000km over 21 or 22 days.
1. Tour de France (6th to 28th July 2019)
It is the most famous multi-stage race in the world and one of the three European Grand Tours. The one race that, without fail, is contested by all of the world’s top cyclists and is the largest annual sporting event which takes place in France. It consists of 21 day-long stages over the course of 23 days and the competition was established in 1903, this event has been held annually since its first edition in 1903. There are usually between 20 and 22 teams, with eight riders in each. All of the stages are timed to the finish; the riders’ times are compounded with their previous stage times. The rider with the lowest cumulative finishing time is the leader of the race and wears the yellow jersey and is the most sought after trophy in the world of cycling. Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain are the only cyclists to win the Tour de France 5 times.
2. Giro d’Italia (11th May to 2nd June 2019)
Giro d’Itlaia is a highly respected European multi-staged race regarded as the second most difficult to win only behind Tour de France. It is primarily held in Italy and also passes through the nearby countries with merciless strings of climbs through the Dolomites and Alps with more than a few fearsome dirt roads in Tuscany and a generous dose of mountaintop finishes. This race has no fixed route, but it is usually held in late May or early June over a period of 23 days and still has a very “Italian” feel to the event. The first winner of Giro D’Italia was Luigi Ganna, while record holders with 5 wins are Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx.
3. Vuelta a España (24th August to 15th September 2019)
La Vuelta a Espana has a place in the calendar towards the end of the summer and always has a more interesting and original route composition than the other two Grand Tours, sometimes focusing on certain regions of Spain or taking in new fearsome climbs. It’s become the de facto consolation tour for injured stars and a training ride for the World Championships. All of the stages are timed to the finish, after finishing the riders’ times are compounded with their previous stage times. The rider with the lowest aggregate time is the leader of the race and gets to don Red Jersey. The third famous European Grand Tour was established in 1935 after initial successes of the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia. The first winner of this event was Belgian cyclist Gustaaf Deloor, while Spanish cyclist Roberto Heras holds the record of most wins (4).
4. UCI Road World Championships (22 and 29 September 2019)
The UCI World Championships takes place in a different location each year over a different type of route. It is the annual world championship organised by UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and the competition consists of events for road race and individual time trial. All the world championship events, except team time trials, are ridden by national teams. The winner of each category is entitled to wear the rainbow jersey. The Road Elite Worlds is the prestige event of a week-long series of competitions and over the year it has been the Italians who have triumphed more than any other country. UCI World Championship is a single day event and the 2019 race is scheduled to be held between 22 and 29 September 2019 in Harrogate, United Kingdom.
The Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the UCI World Road Race Championship constitute to denote the achievement of winning three major titles in the same season. The cyclist who wins all these 3 grand competitions is awarded Triple Crown of Cycling and is considered by many fans of the sport to be the greatest ‘single’ achievement in cycling. The victory in the Giro d’Italia can be exchanged for the Vuelta a Espana but hat-trick which did not include the Tour de France and the World title would not generally be considered as the Triple Crown. So far, the triple crown of cycling has been achieved by only two cyclists Eddy Merckx and Stephen Roche.
5. Paris-Roubaix (14th April 2019)
The Paris–Roubaix is a one-day professional men’s competition which starts from northern Paris and ends at the border of Belgium. It is one of the oldest cycling events and is listed as one of the monuments (classic races that are considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events) or in simple words classics of the European calendar that contributes points towards the UCI World Rankings. It is recognised by names such as the “Hell of the north” or the “Queen of the Classics” as it is famous for rough terrain and cobblestones.
The weather always determines the nature of the race, as much of the riding is across dirty cobbles roads, so if it rains the race can be muddy if it is dry, it will be dusty. Typically over 20 sections of cobbles will be included in the route and some of the most famous are the Trouee d’Arenberg and the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Belgian cyclists Tom Boonen and Roger de Vlaeminck hold the record for the most wins of Paris Roubaix.
The most recent edition was held on 14 April 2019 and Philippe Gilbert from Belgium won the race.