The Vuelta a España is an annual multi-stage bicycle race held mainly in Spain, but in other European countries from time to time. Along with the well-known Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, the Vuelta is one of cycling’s prestigious Grand Tours lasting three weeks. While it was initially mainly Spanish riders participating in the race, Vuelta a España achieved such popularity around the globe, that teams from countries wide and far are now taking part every year. With the 73rd edition of this world-renowned race currently underway, bicycle racing enthusiasts from all over the world are keeping a close watch on how their favourite riders are performing.
To the uninitiated, a cycling road race is a large cluster of indiscernible riders clattering along city and country roads towards a finish line. For cycling enthusiasts, it's a tactical game of chess coupled with team strategy and (most of the time) etiquette.
The Basics of Road Racing
Learn to ride in a pack. Before getting into road racing it’s important to become used to drafting, maneuvering in a pack and dealing with the close proximity of other riders. Forget about strategy if you’re in your first road race, just try to reach the finish line while staying attached to the peloton without getting 'dropped'. If you're wondering, the Peloton is the main group or pack of riders.
Be Predictable. Do your best not to change speed suddenly or move erratically. Try to ride foreseeable lines, especially if you’re new. Being responsible for your front wheel is a rule in cycling, much like not crashing into the person in front of you when driving a car. Erring on the side of caution and predicting what the rider in front will do can help cyclists avoid collision, instead of reacting rashly and causing a crash.
Cycling has a reputation problem. Systematic drug abuse has tainted the sport and its image and although the world’s great tours are eagerly awaited events, the drug aspect always looms over them. However, cycling now has a new form of ‘doping’ to contend with, and it isn't drug related.
The Science of Speed - Olympic Track Bikes Unveiled
The Rio Olympics track cycling revealed a lot about developments in the science of speed. Riding in a velodrome is unique. It is indoors, so there are no abnormal conditions to deal with, like wind or an uneven surface. This means that riders' times can be close to identical race after race. Teams pour all their effort into getting every ounce of extra speed and performance from the bike setup because of this. Materials, clothing, weight, and aerodynamics all work together in the pursuit of tiny gains.
At Rio this year, Great Britain had their most successful performance at an Olympic games, and much of that success was built on the extraordinary performance of their cycling team. Team GB completely dominated the men’s and women’s track cycling, winning 6 gold metals out of 11. Everyone in the squad returned home with at least one medal. Their performance was so comprehensive that rival nations have questioned their methods. So how did a team that hasn’t been on the world stage since London 2012 do so well?
Funding and Support
The GB cycling team was the highest funded of all nations, receiving US$39.4 million for a four year period, which is almost twice as much as other teams. Australia was second highest at US$23.5 million. This level of funding has received criticism in the UK for favoritism ahead of other sports, however the results have been telling. The funding served as the catalyst for the most cutting-edge research across any sport. Cyclists rode on US$13,000 bikes developed in secret at Cambridge University by former Jaguar F1 team boss, Tony Purnell. They wore skin-suits that analysts predict add five per cent performance gains, and their activities on and off the track were poured over in pursuit of the smallest gains. Nothing was overlooked, from square vs. rectangular pillows and seat angles to shaving body hair
Cycling was a great success story at the Rio Olympics on a number of fronts. Track, road and off-road cycling got some fantastic coverage and the athletes that work so hard behind the scenes won some well deserved recognition. The medalists have been celebrated, we already covered the British track cycling team’s success in Rio, however it was one of cycling's less traditional cousins that won a lot of media attention thanks to some US success and a format made for TV viewing.
BMX - the Surprise Package at Rio
It wasn’t BMX’s debut at the Olympics, it first appeared in Beijing in 2008, however the peculiar sport gained more US media coverage this year thanks a US men's gold and women’s silver. Connor Fields won gold in the hotly contested men’s final, securing the USA’s first ever gold in BMX, while Alise Post won silver behind defending champion Mariana Pajon of Colombia.
Cycling to work is not a mainstream option in the US for a variety of reasons, many habitual and others cultural. Pollution and congestion on the roads are the obvious side effects, however it is not something that cannot change. Cars are not the way of the future, and cycling as a practical means of transport needs to be made more viable for everyone.
Track cycling provides a whole new dynamic for cycling fans and spectators to enjoy. Unlike road races, where fans can only catch a passing glimpse of competitors as they fly by, the track (or velodrome) offers a close quarter and fast paced dynamic that is entirely unique. Fixed-gear cyclists compete on a steeply sloped track, 42 degrees at the ends and 32 on the sides. In fact, the ends are so steep that there is usually no seating there as the angle is so severe that it prohibits spectators' views.
In Rio, there will be many individual and team track events. One of the lesser known, and most fascinating of them all, is Keirin. Along with Judo, Keirin is the only other Olympic sport to have originated from Japan. There, it is a highly competitive and highly regulated sport that requires unique dedication unlike any other cycling event.
How Critical Mass Built Global Momentum for Cycling
In 1992 some San Francisco cyclists met up on Market Street for the inaugural Critical Mass. Their group ride became a monthly event, and over time metamorphosed into a movement that spread around the world. Critical Mass is a celebration of pedal power, rediscovering urban areas, safety in numbers, and the social aspect of people from all walks mixing together on bikes. The monthly rides provide a regular reminder of clean transport alternatives, and challenges thought around access for bikes on city streets.