Bicycle racing has been around for a long time – since the mid nineteenth century. However, it didn’t take the form it has today until around the beginning of the twentieth. Now, some of the first races that were established for cyclists are still among the most prestigious. In general, the world’s most famous bicycle races include the Grand Tours, races at the Olympics, and professional races under the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI. These are road bicycle races. Other types of bike racing that aren’t as well known include mountain bike racing (first recognized in 1990) and cyclo-cross racing (originally developed for road racers in the off season).
There are three Grand Tours of cycling, of which the most famous is the Tour de France. This multi-stage race takes three weeks, and passes through France, ending up in Paris traditionally. Founded in 1903, this bike race covers almost two thousand miles, and consists of twenty different stages between specific towns. The winner is the person with the shortest times in each stage. The other Grand Tours are the Giro d’Italia (sometimes just Giro), which was founded in 1909, and inspired by the Tour de France. In Spain, a similar race is the Vuelta a Espana.
Cycling has been a part of the Olympics since the 1896 games, in which a 12 hour race was attempted. Many Olympic cycling events of the past have now been forgotten, including 1908’s 660 yard bicycle sprint. Today, bike competitors in the Olympic games compete in track cycling, road cycling, mountain bike races, and BMX or off-road competitions. The races are divided by gender, and in some cases are done in teams.
The UCI ProTour was created in 2005, to replace the older UCI World Cup. The World Cup was made up of only races lasting a single day. The ProTour, however, contains the famous Grand Tours, as well as the Tour de Suisse, Criterium de Dauphine Libere, Paris-Nice, and other well-known multi-day races. It also still contains all the one day races that made up the World Cup: Belgium’s Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, Italy’s Milan-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia, France’s Paris-Tours and Paris-Roubaix, the Zuri-Metzgete in Switzerland, Spain’s Clasica de San Sebastian, the HEW Cyclassics in Germany, and the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands. Some races are spring only. Others are held in the fall. In general, cycling is a sport for summer, this definition is often stretched so that the season really begins in early spring, and ends in autumn.