January 2005

Part 1
Part 2



A Calendar Dictated by History, Tradition and Legend (Part I)

In this two-part article we look at the 2005 elite pro racing calendar with a brief look back at how we got here. For your convenience a Pro-Tour calendar summary is provided here: Schedule Click Here

Modern day elite racing is a sporting art form continually evolving with the latest technological advances in equipment, training techniques and nutrition. In this respect the sport is very much in tune with the 21st Century. Big money, big teams and very serious sponsors embark on each new season with corporate style planning to target very specific objectives. Very much part of this environment is the all pervasive media. They pursue the winners, losers, gossip and scandals with unashamed enthusiasm. The riders in the big races cannot even take a nature break without the chance of being spotted by a camera high up in a helicopter.

However as technology drives forward, the sport itself is rooted in history, tradition and legends. Many of the prestigious races have a lineage stretching back 100 years or more. Lance Armstrong proudly recognizes the Tour de France as his only objective. For him the Tour is the pinnacle of the sport. If Henri Desgranges (founder of the Tour) and Maurice Garin (first GC winner in 1903) were with us today they would have no trouble identifying with the modern Tour. As time has marched forward these great races have seen World Wars and societal changes in ways unthinkable at the dawn of the 20th Century. The races have adapted to these changes yet retained their original concepts and character.

The concept of Man and Machine on the open road remains the central theme today. The most consistent aspect of the sport is that, just like their forbears, the riders put in extensive hours of suffering in the saddle over all types of terrain and through every conceivable type of weather. Lining the roads, fans are as passionate now about their sport as they were 100 years ago.

Today the annual elite racing calendar is dominated by race names that our grandparents and great-grandparents would recognize. There is no question what races really count. In single day racing it is the “Five Monuments of Cycling” and in stage racing it is the three “Grand National Tours”. These events make or break riders, teams and reputations.

Dig into the pages of cycling history to find heroes and legends, names like Anquetil, Coppi, Bartali, Merckx and Hinault generate memorable images. Spectacular mountain climbs like Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Tourmalet and the grand Galibier have provided a natural theater for heroic accomplishments. Flat cobbled stretches like the Wallers-Arenberg forest in Paris-Roubaix and murderous cobbled climbs such as the Koppenberg and Mur van Grammont in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen strike fear into the hearts of riders. Millions of fans flock to the roadside stadiums every year to witness the next legend. Every year new stories are added to cycling’s lexicon of fabulous tales chronicling these great races.

Yet there is so much more to the race schedule. All season long many history rich races also pepper the calendar. Single day events like the Het Volk, Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold, San Sebastian or the Paris-Tours are identified as traditional ‘classics’ or ‘semi-classics’. Tours such as Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Basque Country, Castilla y Leon and Switzerland are significant events of themselves. For many riders these single day events and tours will deliver them to the peak of their career. To the select few such races represent the final stepping-stone to the very top of the sport.

When the UCI plans its annual calendar and reward system, it is this rich history that always dictates the coming season. The fans and the media know very well where their interest will be. Before each event, the courses, the riders and race history are analyzed with great detail. Every year these great races never fail to deliver a new and fabulous story.

At the end of 2004 Paolo Bettini claimed his third overall UCI World Cup victory. This unique achievement will never be bettered, as the UCI Pro-Tour will replace the World Cup in 2005. The Pro-Tour is designed to usher cycle racing into the 21st Century with strategies that address our modern high-tech global village. In particular the sport must be aligned with the demands of powerful sponsors, the media, the needs of teams and individual riders, and yet retain the incredible character of the races built over more than a century of cycle racing.

No matter how the UCI addresses it, the Pro-Tour calendar is driven by history, tradition and legend. The five monuments are all there and at the time of year that we expect them. So too are the Grand Tours and many other lesser tours and classics. Flanders, Roubaix and Liege belong to April. Usually impacted by the harsh weather of the north, these spring classics (monuments) each have a specific character driven by terrain, weather and status. July simply belongs to the Tour de France. Likewise it is inconceivable to have the Tour of Lombardy at any other time (or place) than the middle of October when leaves are falling.

The first umbrella competition to embrace the professional cycling calendar was the Challenge Desgranges Colombo. This ran from 1948 to 1958 and incorporated the Grand Tours and Classics. Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet are two of the great names that spring from the list of Challenge winners.

In 1961 the Super Prestige Pernod competition took over from the Challenge and was a central feature of the pro scene up until 1987 when the UCI World Cup came into being. The Pernod winners list is a veritable who’s who of cycling history. Merckx (7 wins), Anquetil and Hinault (4 wins each), Kelly (3 wins), Moser and LeMond.

When the Super Prestige Pernod gave way to the UCI World Cup there was great debate about the logjam of classics in April. The media then called for a more rational approach towards the race calendar. Happily for the fans (and nearly two decades later), tradition has prevailed and with the first Pro-Tour we will see our familiar three spring monuments run off in April.

The 1987 UCI World Cup initially comprised only a team competition. It was not until 1989 that the UCI added the individual category, which was won by the great Sean Kelly. However, unlike its predecessors, the World Cup was limited to single day races only. Since then the World Cup has been dominated by the cream of the crop of one-day riders - Museeuw, Bartoli, Tchmil, Zabel, Dekker and Bettini.

At the business level the Pro-Tour is addressing complex issues designed to ensure that our great sport continues to prosper. There is still considerable refinement required to come up with a formula that suits all parties. It is hoped that this will largely be achieved through 2005. Meanwhile the integrity and character of the sport will continue to thrive from the strength of its daunting history.

In part 2 our look at the 2005 racing season.


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