Competitive cycling at the highest level is dominated by European based professional teams, complete with masseurs, coaches, cycling managers, directors, PR officials and of course highly conditioned cyclists who earn their living racing for a team sponsor.
The managers run the business aspects of the team, while the director sportif handles the riders during training and racing. Seasons are planned out according to targeted races and according to the strengths of the team. Often a sponsor will determine where a team races, as it is the aim of exposure to a target market that the sponsor is driving toward. This is done through winning races, or showing prominence as a team in front of the media and fans.
Road cycling has often been compared to chess in that it is a highly tactical sport, with many scenarios to be encountered and dealt with during the course of a race. Slipstreaming, bunch riding, solo attacks, teamwork and the ability to read a race all come into play when a race unfolds. Of course the physical fitness or condition of the cyclists plays a massive role in determining the outcome of a race, however the strongest climber cannot win on top of a mountain if he is not at the front of the race (or at least close enough to the front) when the road goes up. Often a weaker rider can outfox the stronger by escaping the bunch when the strong teams are not concentrating, or they simply underestimate the danger of a break away rider or group.
Indeed the yellow cycling jersey of the Tour de France has become one of the most famous symbols within cycle sport, however, cycling the Tour de France only constitutes one month of a professional cyclist’s calendar. Of course the event is the biggest race, and to the sponsor it is the most important, but many riders concentrate their efforts on the spring and autumn classicsa series of one day races which award points towards the cycling world cup.
Late in the season the World Championships serve to find a pair of shoulders worthy of baring the rainbow stripes of the world champion cycling jersey. The deciding race is usually held on a circuit which makes for a spectator friendly event. A world champion reigns for one year, and there are titles awarded for the winners of the road race and time trail respectively.
The time trial, often referred to as the race of truth, is an individual test of a rider’s strength, speed and concentration. Each rider sets out alone on the course, with 2-3 minute gaps separating riders’ start times. The fastest time of the day determines the world time trial champion.
Professional cycling is governed by the International Cycling Union, the UCI, which awards points to riders according to their performance in UCI ranked events. There are many races around the world which make up the UCI calendar.