Cycling road racing is a category of competitive cycle sport that most have seen before on television, at the local cycling festival, or regional road race and historically dates back to the late 1800’s with it being a part of the Olympics since 1896. Road racing is usually the “gateway drug”, for lack of a better term, to other aspects of cycle sport racing and is where the author first got bit by the cycling bug. This article series will serve to educate the newer competitive rider or cycling fan to better understand the complexity, tactics, and culture of road bike racing.
First though, let us start from the top and work our way down…
Major Sub-Categories of Road Bicycle Racing
- One day races – These are sometimes called “The Classics” with the most famous races being Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, La Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Giro di Lombardia. These races are typically brutal and feature extreme length, winds, cobblestone sectors, gravel/dirt roads, and belgian frites ;-). Riders like Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellera excel at this discipline.
- Stage Races – These feature the “Grand Tours” which are the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a Espana as well as the lesser known (to the general population), but equally exciting elite stage races which include the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphine, and the Tour de Suisse. Stage races, especially the Grand Tours, are considered to be the pinnacle of road bicycle racing and feature the best climbers, sprinters, and time trial specialists in the business with Chris Froome being the most prestiguous stage racer as of yet. Watts per kilogram is king here!
- Time Trials – These include both individual (ITT) and team time trials (TTT).
ITTs tend to be where the best of the best duke it out during stage races and is called the “race of truth” because it is literally just you, your bike, and the road versus your competition. If you enjoy pain, then ITTs are for you! Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Rohan Dennis are the big dogs in this discipline with Aerodynamics and watts/CdA reigning supreme.
TTTs are really cool to watch, but terrifying to participate in! Imagine riding at 25+ mph, in a position you don’t spend much time in, wearing uncomfortable gear and a heavier helmet, riding as close as possible to the wheel in front of you, all while having NO BRAKES in easy reach. Some of the most spectacular cycling crashes I have seen have been while watching TTTs.
- Other – These events can be thought of as single day races or multi-stage events, but have become an event in their own right as the popularity of them has grown and they require very specific training to accomplish or excel at. These include Criteriums, ultraendurance racing (RAAM), and hill climbing events to name a few.
Types of Riders in Road Races and Their Roles
- Sprinter – These riders specialize in, you guessed it, sprinting out of a peloton for stage wins and could have an entire team providing a “lead out train” to deliver them to the line with only 500 meters to go before unleashing their impressive power. Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, and Marcel Kittel make up the premium selection of this pedigree.
- Climber – Think of a bag of bones with quads attached for these riders ;-). Extremely lean, but very high power to weight ratio that enables them to put massive time gains into their rivals while at the same time expending far less energy. As previously stated, these tend to be prolific Grand Tour winners with Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, and Alberto Contador making up the elite of this class.
- Domestique – The working class of the professional ranks. These are the riders who work for their team leader and are tasked with sheltering them from the wind, dropping back to the team car to get bottles and food, switching their wheels or even bikes in an emergency with them, and most importantly protecting their leader from crashing by keeping them towards the front of the peloton. Recently a new term has been coined, “Super Domestique“, and is reserved for the riders who may be able to win the race or Grand Tour themselves, but instead work for the team leader to ensure they place highly. Richie Porte, Chris Froome, and Ivan Basso have been recipients of this title for helping their team leader secure victory.
- Puncheur – This rider performs best over rolling terrain that involves short, but very steep climbs (Mur de Huy). Athletes like Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, and Simon Gerrans have made their names winning these types of races.
- All-rounder – This is where the big bucks are made and entire teams, sometimes entire seasons, are built around providing for this rider. The big names of the sport reside here: Chris Froome (per usual), Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, etc.
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