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Stage Racing guide

Stage racing is exciting and different. After writing a guide for new fans on the classics, I have had a stab at the intricacies of multi day events.

Our social cycling group has a lot of people new into the sport and keen to learn about the unfolding cycling season. 

I had a stab at writing a guide to the classics (which if you missed you can read here

This is my attempt and the complicated world of stage racing... hope its not too difficult to understand 

Stage race guide.

After our recent guide to one day racing. Here is the lowdown on the multi day stage races.

Definition – Stage races are run over a number of days with the riders time each day being added together. The rider with the lowest aggregate time at the end of each day is the leader.

This rider is generally identified by a jersey which is almost always yellow, although in the Giro D’Italia its pink and the Vuelta Espana is red.

There are other classifications within a stage race as there are usually not more than 10 riders who have the ability over all terrains and the support of a team to be able to win the race overall.

Mark Cavendish will never win the Tour de France due to his limitations when climbing the high alpine peaks, but he is the best sprinter and will use that ability in the points classification of a Tour where the order over the finishing line determines the order .

Other competitions such as the king of the mountains exist in many races with points on offer for the first riders over top of a peak.

When you see mountain passes described as first category, second category etc. the number of points is different graded on difficulty.

Week long Tours

Paris Nice kicks off the single week tours in Europe and is known as the “Race to the Sun”. Starting in the chilly north of France it works its way down the country before arriving at Mount Faron in Nice.

Sometimes, as when Bradley Wiggins won in 2012, it finishes with a time trial up the mountain, but it has been known to conclude on the sea front in Nice itself.

Starting just after is the Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy. Literally the “Race of the two seas” it cuts straight across the country.

Riders using the stage races to get form for the classics seasons tend to migrate to the same one of these races each year. For a period Paris –Nice was en vogue, now though Tirreno gets a large number of the big hitters.

In truth it would take too long to go through all of the single week races but there are a number that have key points in the calendar.

Here is a brief list.

·         Tour of Catalonia – brilliant preparation for the later phase of spring classics with a mountainous route around Girona. Ideal as many of the pros live locally and can stay in their own homes.

·         Three days of De Panne – Lots of street furniture in the low countries and some cobbles. Usually a good indicator of who is going well and will win big in the single day races.

·         Tour of Romanie – Coming in May this one is usually the first proper flexing of legs for the Tour de France candidates.

·         Dauphine – The last warm up before the Tour de France, based around the alps it gives some decent climbing practice on the alpine passes before the main event of the summer starts in July.


Three week stages races.

The jewel in the crown of any cycling season. The big three have moved around in the calendar a bit in the last 20 years but we seem to have settled into a pattern.

The “Grand” Tours of Italy, France and Spain are the true test of any bike rider and to finish one of them in a career is a guarantee of notoriety. Sir Chris Boardman is alleged to have said that each Tour de France he rode was that tough it probably shaved a year off his life span.

Most follow a reasonably consistent formula of a short time trial to establish a race leader and classification before flatter stages to ease the contenders in and give sprinters a chance to contest the points competition, before tactics would dictate whether their presence in a breakaway would be counterproductive.

We then see a range of mountains traversed, before a mid race rest day and time trial. The middle week usually sees what are known as transitional stages with small climbs and plenty of opportunity for riders well down overall after the first mountains to go stage hunting.

Think David Millar in recent Tours de France and you get the picture.

The final week of a grand tour usually has back loaded mountain top finishes, especially in the Giro and Vuelta before a time trial and ceremonial final stage earmarked as a sprint finish.

Of course this formula is changed on occasion to freshen up the races in question but a traditional tour would look pretty similar to the layout described above.

Each of the big three stage races has its own ambience. Of course the Tour de France is the most famous and popular. It’s ideal for summer holiday makers to pitch up at a roadside and enjoy a nice picnic before the race passes.

The Giro though is probably seen more as the one for purists to enjoy as the racing is a little less predictable and the terrain in Italy always makes it unpredictable. There are plenty of fortified hill top towns with steep ramps through the streets which make up the finishes. See Matera in 2013 for a good example.

The Tour is the Tour and we will probably do a piece on that race on its own so on to the Vuelta which is seen as the poor cousin to the other  two. Although since moving from the spring time it has become strategically important timing wise coming close to the world championships.

It is typified by long straight roads through parched vegetation and is littered with breakaways and crazy mountains which decide the overall classification.

One day races get the glitz and glamour. Multi day stage racing is more for the endurance rider as opposed to one who can peak on a single day and get it all out on the road. Energy preservation is the key to success, even in a week long competition.

So are you a single day or multi stage fan?



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