Cycling is a collective term for sports and competitions that are carried out on a bicycle.
The origins of cycling
Cycling has a long tradition. Races and other events have been held since the mid-19th century. In the beginning, the bicycle was even used entirely as a piece of sports equipment and not as a means of transport. The races known today as classics or monuments of cycling, such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo, also date from the turn of the century. Cycling has always been part of the Olympic Games in modern times. Stage races have also been common for a long time. The first Tour de France already took place in 1906, but at that time with only six, but much longer stages.
Nowadays, cycling distinguishes many different disciplines and types of riders. In addition to road racing and mountain biking, there is also track cycling, cyclocross, trials, BMX and downhill, as well as the variations of artistic cycling, cycle ball and cycle polo. The rules as well as the organisation of the different disciplines are subject to the umbrella organisation UCI.
Over time, cycling has gone through some changes. As before, the winner in most disciplines is the one who crosses the finish line first (in the shortest time). Exceptions are the track disciplines points race, Madison and the speed race. In multi-day stage races, the finish times of the individual stages are added together to determine the overall winner (shortest total time of all stages). Often, additional points are awarded to the strongest sprinters and mountain riders, who collect points at various intermediate classifications.
Cycling in the 21st century
Nowadays, men’s road bike races are usually between 150 and 250 kilometers long. The longest race of the year is traditionally Milan-San Remo, usually just under 300 kilometres. For women, the distance is often somewhat shorter and ranges between 100 and 200 kilometres. In track cycling, a distinction is made between sprint and endurance disciplines, with race lengths ranging from a few seconds to an hour. A particularly spectacular competition is the hour world record, where a single rider tries to go as far as possible.
The UCI organises world championships in various disciplines of cycling. For example, in road racing, time trials, cyclocross, cross-country MTB and downhill. The well-known rainbow jersey will also be awarded for BMX as well as the various track sports. Cyclists who win the world championship are allowed to wear the white jersey with the world champion stripes in their discipline for the next year (until the next world championship). After that, they may keep the stripes on the jersey collar as well as the hem of the sleeves until the end of their career. In most cycling disciplines, the World Championships are held by age group for juniors, U23s, and elites, for both men and women.
Sponsorship is a very established method of funding in cycling. On the one hand, the support of various companies enables many athletes and teams to finance their equipment. Many industry-specific companies such as wheel and component manufacturers also support teams by providing materials. Other companies support the sport by organizing and financing races.
In cycling, the weather often plays a decisive role. Rain, wind, enormous heat or sometimes even snow – the athletes and their equipment have to be prepared for all of these. Especially with the spring classics, it can often get messy. So the riders have to bring along not only physical fitness but also mental fitness and sufficient assertiveness and willpower to decide such a race in their favour. Especially in Belgium and the Netherlands many cyclists swear not to fly to a training camp, but to train and prepare in exactly these conditions. Thus, many road professionals also used a cyclocrosser or a mountain bike in winter training. Other athletes, however, use training camps, a track, or the roller trainer. In cycling, this is also intended to prevent colds and thus guarantee consistent basic training in preparation for the season.
Nowadays you can get bicycles from numerous manufacturers and for every purpose. Downhill, trial, enduro, cross-country, gravel, cyclocross, road, time trial or touring bike – of course also almost everything as an e-bike. Matched to the respective application and with suitable material. For competitive sports equipped with powermeter, bike computer and carbon wheels offer many possibilities.
Performance-oriented cycling and competitions
When cycling is practiced as a competitive sport, training, recovery, and competition preparation must be considered in close balance, so the athlete is usually assisted by at least one coach who provides planning and direction while the athlete focuses on the essential – riding. Performance managers are also not uncommon today. These are, in addition to training, especially familiar with material issues. They compare different components and manufacturers (e.g. two similar wheelsets from Hunt and Zipp) and weigh their advantages and disadvantages for the athlete and competition. This way, the athlete can be sure to start the race under the best conditions and to deliver his best performance.