Cycling is a global sport with many different events. There are major races, which take place at international competitions like the Olympics or the Tour de France, as well as local events. There are also sportives, which are long distance events where cyclists pace themselves against the clock rather than competing against other riders.
Road races are the most popular form of cycling. These events are held on public roads, with the winner being the first to complete the course without being lapped. They require a high level of fitness and excellent handling skills as cyclists must navigate difficult terrain.
There are many kinds of road race, including the Tour de France, which covers 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) across France in three weeks, and the Giro d’Italia, an Italian cycling event that lasts about two weeks. The Giro is known for its mountainous stages, while the Tour offers a challenge to the most skilled road racers.
Track cycling is an exhilarating sport where bikes whizz around in a circular motion at hair-raising speeds. There are various events, from sprints to endurance racing, and there is a discipline called ‘omnium’ which is a series of races of various lengths that combine several events into one race.
Cyclocross, which is a hugely popular sport in Europe and North America, takes racing to the next level with muddy courses and lots of obstacles. These may include low wooden planks (called barriers), stairs, unrideably steep hills and off-camber sections. Riders must dismount and re-mount their bikes many times a lap, requiring a good deal of skill.
Hill sprints are a specific type of time trial where competitors climb a hill that is usually quite steep and short, such as one to two miles. They are not a regular part of cycling competitions, but may be included as an event within another type of race, such as a points race.
The keirin, which is currently an Olympic event, was originally created in Japan for gambling purposes during the second world war. It consists of a series of paced and unpaced laps, with the top five riders being awarded points at certain intervals. The racer with the most points is declared the winner.
For those who want to test their limits without racing, there are gran fondos, which are long-distance cycle events that often have a relaxed atmosphere and a relaxed start time. These are great for those who are not quite ready to push themselves as hard as a full-out road race, but can enjoy the camaraderie of a large group of cyclists and a chance to raise money for charity.
While interest in professional cycling faded in the United States after the depression, Greg LeMond rekindled it in the 1980s with his successes at the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, and the sport is now more popular than ever. There are countless opportunities for amateur cyclists to join in on the fun, with organised rides taking place all over the country and abroad.