While the professional bike racing season in Australia has come and gone, the excitement is just getting started across the pond in Europe. In Australia it can be quite hard to follow the professional road racing calendar, due to time zones and varying media coverage.
However, cycling is a beautiful sport, with riders twisting through the idyllic European countryside at high speeds with great tactics and incredible feats of strength. And it's tied together with a lovely narrative that hooks you once you get a taste.
If you’re just getting started following cycling, here is quick summary of the 2020 professional UCI tour and what races you should follow in the next six months that will get you hooked and staying up too late.
A bit of background
Firstly, a little explainer and some context. The professional road cycling calendar consists of a huge number of races over the course of the year, where the professional teams send a number of riders to compete.
The UCI is the governing body of professional road cycling and at the top is the world tour, where the best ranking teams sit. At all the big races these world tour teams are present, usually with a handful of second tier Pro Continental teams.
The races are made up of one-day events, of which there are five classics, weeklong tours, and three grand tours.
Unlike other sports, cycling teams are essentially advertisements for brands, where companies purchase a license to enter a team in UCI races. This is different to established sporting clubs playing in local competitions, which is why you get teams called Quick-Step Floors, rather than Manchester United.
This nature of sponsorship is very fragile, with teams often desperate to find a lead sponsor, which often results in teams folding when they can't find one and riders being left out of contract. It also leads to fans usually having a favourite rider(s), rather than a team which they follow religiously.
Recently, women’s cycling has become far more popular, with the women’s world tour getting more media coverage and interest from fans. Many races now have a women’s event alongside the men’s races. Last year, some of the most gripping viewing was the women’s peloton.
The season ahead
Like other sporting leagues, transfers and moves shake the off-season and followers of cycling are excited for the coming months to see their favourite riders take on the parcours in new kit and on new bikes.
The teams you need to know about are
Ineos (formerly Team Sky)
The team with the money to burn and the stranglehold on the biggest race, the Tour de France. Often seen as the bad guys, this team has dominated grand tours and is usually seen at the front of the peloton with robotic intent, dragging the peloton behind them
Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica-Scott / Greenedge)
The Australian darlings. Going from strength to strength from winning one day races, to being competitive and winning grand tours, this team is enormously popular with fans as they offer a look from behind the bus door and having the rider with the biggest smile of the peloton – Esteban Chavez.
Jumbo-Visma – the new kids on the block
Seen as the team to challenge Ineos’ dominance, this Dutch squad has loaded up its ranks with competitive, powerful riders and is a force at every race they enter.
The consistent Belgians. The team with the most wins who are a challenge at every one-day race they’re at. You’ll often seen their blue and white kit at the top of the podium due to a mix of solid teamwork and an incredibly strong roster.
EF Education First – The trendy Americans
This team in their bright pink kits stand out from the bunch – not only with clothing but also attitude. They’ve pioneered alternative racing, giving fans an opportunity to see their pros take on difference races, with a less traditional approach. But that doesn’t mean that don’t compete, with the team winning some of the biggest races in previous years. Friend of Bicycle Network Simon Clarke will again ride with EF Education First in 2020, his team since 2016.
Races to watch
Strada Bianche – Saturday 7 March 2020
Get the cycling season started with one of the most beautiful races of the calendar. Twisting through the Tuscan countryside and finishing in the medieval walled city of Sienna, this race is seen as a potential sixth classic.
The race meanders along beautiful white gravel roads (where the race gets its name), where if it rains riders must contend with mud alongside the rolling hills. Finishing up with a climb to Sienna, this race will whet your appetite for the season ahead. There’s also a womens race which offers the same level of excitement. See a gallery from last year’s event here.
Tour of Flanders – Sunday 5 April 2020
Also known as Ronde van Vlaanderen, this is arguably the biggest one-day race in cycling. It’s the first of the cobbled classics, meaning riders take on not only hundreds of kilometres and many punchy short climbs, but also many sectors of pavé, brutal cobblestones that will shake the riders bones but also make for great entertainment. It also has women’s race and you can see a gallery here.
Paris-Roubaix – Saturday 11 April 2020
The queen of the classics. Like the Tour of Flanders, this one-day classic is worth staying up for. Australians have stayed up late to watch this race and we were all vindicated when the underdog Mathew Hayman won from the all-day breakaway in 2016, causing grown adults to wake up their children with excited shouting. Featuring kilometers of pave, and the famous Arenberg forest sector which riders enter at over 60 kph. See a gallery from cycling tips here.
Giro d’Italia 9 – 31 May 2020
The Italian grand tour. This three-week race has gained popularity in recent years due to its unpredictability and its fierce Italian flair. With a bright pink leaders jersey, (the maglia rosa) and a wonderfully challenging route, this race takes the viewer on a trip through Italy, from the Dolomites through to the beautiful Mediterranean coast. The Giro d’italia represents the passion and history of cycling.
Tour de France 27 June – 19 July 2020
This is the big one, the race that transfixes cycling fans and Francophiles from all around the world. The three-week long advertisement for the French countryside is a great battle for the yellow jersey in the mountains, in the crosswinds of the countryside and with millions of spectators lining the roads. Tune in for the important stages and fall asleep with the colours of the peloton passing through sunflower fields.
Finishing with the traditional sprint stage in Paris, the tour is a beautiful display of cycling, tradition and all things France. Watch for wonderful discussions about castles you’ve never heard of and advertisements for Skoda. Catch every stage live on SBS.
So that’s it! Pro cycling is a wonderful sport, and any cycling enthusiast should give the races a watch. The tactics, breathtaking speed which the riders tackle climbs and descent make for wonderful watching and cement cycling as a wonderful pursuit.