March 2006

By Graham Jones
Cycling Historian















The Compleat Cyclist

Izaak Walton's famous book The Compleat Angler is recognized as the first book to be written about a sport or pastime. First published in 1653 it is filled with advice on the catching and cooking of fish and to this day remains an invaluable guide. The book encompasses so much more than advice on fishing; it provides an eloquent portrait of 17th Century England . No book, other than the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, has been reprinted more often than The Compleat Angler.

Walton's ‘Compleat' view of his sport and environment is a wonderful model for cycling. In our high tech world we live on sound bites and focus almost exclusively on high profile events. Great sporting occasions like the Olympics, Wimbledon , Superbowl and our own Tour de France rivet global attention on the event through intense media coverage and hype.

While as cyclists we should be proud of the attention that the Tour provides we should also be concerned that the sport is slowly losing many famous races that comprise its great history and tradition. All year great races are contested across Europe , many of which have their own individual pedigrees going back almost 100 years. The latest casualty is the Spanish Setmana Catalana. A five day stage race normally run in March and boasted names like Raymond Poulidor, Loius Ocana, Eddy Merckx and Sean Kelly on its winner's role of honor. This year lack of sponsorship and lack of interest from live TV are blamed as a direct backlash from the UCI's ProTour program.

While the UCI is being roundly criticized for creating a sort of tunnel vision with its ProTour concept, it is also the responsibility of the cycling community at large to look beyond the Tour and a few other elite races. If you question the average cycling fan, they know little about the sport beyond Le Tour. Yet the same teams and riders that contest these great events also do battle throughout the season in races that resonate with history. More importantly these contests are often to be found on the same roads as those used by the big name races. These ‘local' races are injected with the same passion and racing aggression as the more famous races to produce truly worthy spectacles. A reason for this is that such races provide proving grounds for upcoming riders and teams trying to make it into the big league. Also mature pros often need to confirm their value to their own teams with ongoing quality race results.

TV viewer ratings are perhaps one of the biggest barometers used today to monitor popular appeal. In the USA , OLN television was, for a few glorious years, providing daily live coverage of all three Grand Tours. Unfortunately TV viewership numbers for the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana were dramatically lower than the Tour. With Lance Armstrong now retired we may see the Tour going the same way and like the Giro and Vuelta may be consigned to a short race summary once per week (if that).

For knowledgeable race fans the 2005 Giro was arguably the best stage race of the year. A dramatic high point was reached when the race ascended the Colle del Finestre . The race up this extremely long and difficult climb was made even more dramatic by the fact that much of the climb was on unmade roads (old time dirt road). The chief protagonists put on a race superior to the Tour. In Izaak Walton's world, the Compleat Cyclist would know these facts, sponsors and TV companies would see the effects in their market research numbers. The fiscal wealth now limited to a thin upper crust, would be spread deeper and more evenly across the sport.

Unlike ‘stadium sports', cycling offers a relatively unique opportunity to sporting fans in that road races traverse the open countryside. So in the spirit of Izaak Walton, the Compleat Cycle Racing Fan can take in the spectacle of the sport while enjoying the local culture and geography. This wonderful cocktail draws race fans from across the world to Europe 's premier races.

To put our words into living reality CyclingRevealed has collaborated with Destination Cycling to create cycling tours that penetrate the very heart of cycling and European culture. The Grand Tour organizers often take their races beyond the borders of their home countries. These occasions offer a unique experience to the cycling enthusiast. A good example of this is our 2006 Giro d'Italia: Belgium Prologue Trip which takes in the opening stages of the Giro in the racing Mecca of Belgium. The region being visited is well known as home to generations of Italians who work in the factories and mines of Northern France and Southern Belgium . Our tour takes in great cities and roads made famous by the Tour of Flanders and you can experience culinary delights that are special to Belgium . With the CyclingRevealed ‘ride guides' you will not only discover a beautiful region of Belgium but you will also learn about the Giro and the races normally associated with this part of the world.

Become a Compleat Cyclist and embrace the sport as a whole. Here at CyclingRevealed we bring you the stories and together with Destination Cycling we take you into those stories. Like it or not, Le Tour is the face of our sport but behind it is an incredible wealth of elite racing heritage that plays out over some of the best geography in the world. We visit the three Grand Tours, most of the major European countries and cater to every level of rider. Once you have tasted the atmosphere of ‘cycling' Europe you will gain an intimate knowledge that will enrich your future cycling life. Saddle up and join us for the ride of a lifetime and become a Compleat Cyclist .

Read our special feature: Rides for the ‘Compleat Cyclist'; A Premier Vacation to Remember

Find out more about CyclingRevealed and Destination Cycling vacations here: www.destinationcycling.com/

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