Cycling as a sport

Jonas Abel July 4, 2016 Comments Off on Cycling as a sport
Cycling as a sport

Bike riding has always been a hobby, and for some of us, it is a lot more than that, with serious sporting categories that cover a range of environments, each with its own unique skill-set involved. Cycling is a registered Olympic sport, with many other forms of bicycle riding that attract top competitors the world over. Here is a rundown of the current varieties of competitive cycling.

Road racing

Road racing involves both team and individual aspects, and races are contested in different ways. It could be a one-day race, a time trial, or a multi-stage event, such as the Tour De France, the highlight of the road racing tour. Cycling is predominantly a European sport, with countries such as Luxemburg, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, all excelling at this speedy test of endurance. Non-European nations are becoming more competitive, as the sport takes off in their home country, and the younger riders move up the rankings to top-level competition.

The European Tour

There are three long grand tours in Europe, one in Italy, one in Spain, and the third one in France, notably the famous Tour De France, with gruelling mountain stages, and fast sprints, making it a real endurance race. While all three tours are hotly contested, and attract many local spectators, the Tour De France draws crowds from all corners of the globe, making it one of the most viewed sporting events in the world.

The Tour De France

One could not talk about cycling as a sport without mentioning the most famous race of them all, the Tour De France. A multi-stage race, which covers a total distance of approximately 3,500 km, over a 23-day event, this annual race was first organised in 1903 to promote a magazine. While the route changes every year, the format remains the same in the form of time trials, with 21 day-long time trials spread over a 23-day period. There are usually 20 or so teams, with nine riders each, who are competing for the overall team and individual titles. At the end of each stage, the rider with the lowest aggregate time is allowed to wear the coveted yellow jersey, which every rider dreams of wearing.

Several categories

Although most interest lies in the general classification, in which a single rider is declared the winner of the race, there are other classifications, such as the young rider classification for riders under 26, the points classification for the sprinters, and the team classification for the fastest teams, which makes for a hotly contested race in many ways.

Cycling as a sport1

Track cycling

This sport is held on an oval banked track or velodrome. There are a range of events, ranging from individual and team time pursuits, to multi-start team events, with two man sprints, and group racing also contested. This is an Olympic sport, and with the aerodynamic designs of the bikes and the rider’s clothing, the riders can reach speeds of up to 70 mph. The machines do not have brakes and are fixed wheel, which means there is no neutral coasting. The races are time trials, with one competitor starting from the opposite side to the other, and they are each individually timed.

Mountain bike racing

These take place off-road, and involve a medium to high level of technical ability. There are a few varieties, with downhill and cross-country being the most popular, while four racing is also seen at some of the venues.

BMX

This discipline involves racing sprints on custom-made, single lap tracks. The bikes are usually single geared, and the rider must possess a high level of skill, in order to negotiate the track within the allotted time.

Cyclo-cross

This originally evolved as a training exercise for road racers during the off-season, and is typically an autumn and winter sport, which consists of multiple laps of a 2-mile course that features pavement, grass, steep hills, wooded trails, and obstacles that require the rider to dismount, carry the bike, and remount, all in one motion.

Cycle speedway

This is an off-road sport using an oval dirt track that is usually outdoors, and is typically 70 – 90 metres long. The races are contested by individuals and teams, with a maximum of four riders per race, and an event can consist of as many as twenty four races, with points awarded for each position. The riders race anti-clockwise four times around the track, and the winner is the first one to cross the line. The sport is governed by British Cycling, who preside over all cycling sports in the UK today.

The bikes

Racing bicycles are specially designed and constructed to withstand an enormous strain, and put down as much of the rider’s power onto the back wheel. This means comfort must be sacrificed for speed, with the drop handlebars lower than the saddle, making the rider more aerodynamic. The gear ratios are close together, enabling the rider to pedal at optimum speed whatever the gradient. Moulded carbon fibre rims provide the least air resistance, and are favoured by all the top racing teams. There is a governing body that regulates each sport, and the bike manufacturers must stay within stringent guidelines, which limits their ability to make the machine any faster.

The clothing

All riders will wear a team jersey, usually covered with sponsor names, along with the competitor’s number, which can be clearly seen from front and back. The riders wear special Lycra cycling shorts, designed to cause minimum friction and discomfort, especially with longer races that take a few hours to complete.

Worldwide interest

Although cycling as a sport originated in Europe, it is fast becoming popular on other continents. Cycling has become very popular due to the continued focus on a healthy lifestyle, and competitive racing has evolved behind this initial interest, with many international riders competing in the major events.

Non-racing disciplines

There are several cycling sports that do not involve racing, including mountain bike trials, where the rider must negotiate a series of obstacles, without putting their foot on the ground, which is similar to motorcycle trials. Another discipline is freestyle BMX, which is an extreme sport that involves stunt riding.

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