The history of professional cycling has, for many years, been the history of men who became professional cyclists. Today, though, women have come to occupy just as prestigious a position in the sport, and many spectators gather to watch those at the top of their field as they compete. Though men's races such as the Tour de France continue to draw the biggest audiences, women's cycling continues to grow, recently enjoyed some of its biggest years yet. As the ladies work just as hard to tackle mountain stages, master their sprints, and achieve the glory of victory, their fans arrive from around the world to watch. With the whole of the 2018 professional cycling season still ahead, now is the perfect time to look at some of the biggest and most anticipated events of the year. Not all these are household names for people who aren't hardcore cycling fans, but for those who love the sport, they're all worth knowing ? and watching! From the USA to locations all around Europe, there's no shortage of beautiful scenery to frame the intense competition. Let's start breaking down the events you should know about and what makes them so special for the women who choose to compete.
The Tour of Flanders - 1 April
First run in 1913 and known as one of the major "cobbled" classic races due to the cobblestones common on many sections of its course, the Tour of Flanders was dominated by men only for nearly a century. Then, in 2004, the Tour of Flanders for Women began and has been running to great success ever since. Why is this event so important? It has reached the point where the women's race has earned enough distinction to merit its inclusion in the UCI Women's World Tour, the most prestigious cycling series for professional women in the sport.
Raced over a course 150 kilometres in length, the Tour of Flanders features its trademark cobbled flats, which provide a unique challenge to the sprinters in the group. From there, the race traverses the hills of the region around Flanders, including the famous hills that provide the riders with challenging climbs and speedy descents. As one of the first major races of the year, it?s an excellent opportunity to look and see which riders will try to establish their dominance on the circuit early in the year.
The Amstel Gold - 15 April
Next on the calendar for 2018 is this race sponsored by Amstel, a famous brewery. Though this is another race with history (its first edition for men ran in 1966), only recently has this route reopened to women as competitors. Before 2017, the competition hadn't been open to women since 2004, when race organisers felt that it was too difficult to run both a men and women's race together. That's changed, though, and the women's race is back on and even a top-tier event. Raced across a course that comes in at almost 250 kilometres, it is a tough and punishing course that features many terrain variations.
The courses often undergo changes from year to year, but the women always have a challenging path ahead ? and with recent changes, the finish line is now at the end of a long flat section. That makes it an exciting game of strategy focused on energy conservation, as a strong finish can help make up for lagging at other points in the race.
The Tour of California - 10 May to 13 May
Now we'll hop a plane from the Netherlands and fly halfway across the world to the sunny state of California, where this prestigious race has taken place every year since 2006; the women joined the race in 2015. While the men tackle a 7-stage race, the women ride through four stages of beautiful Californian terrain over the course of roughly 400 kilometres.
With sites including Lake Tahoe and Elk Grove, there?s plenty of space for spectators to watch as the racers tackle the undulating terrain and battle for position. As one of the biggest races for cyclists in the United States, this event continues to draw more attention from riders around the world.
Not only does it provide an excellent preparatory experience for the tougher, longer races that occur later in the year, but a high finish here is worth some serious bragging rights. With only one hilly section, this race also favours sprinters and fast riders, making for some very intense battles.
The Women's Tour - 13 June to 17 June
One of the newest and fastest growing cycling events, The Women's Tour takes place every June in the United Kingdom. It, too, has found itself a spot on the World Tour thanks to the challenges it throws at its competitors. With five stages of competition covering more than 600 kilometres of ground, women racing in this tour must be in peak condition to stay near the front of the pack. While the first and final stages take place mainly over flat ground, the middle stages all feature very hilly terrain and include the longest stage of the race.
Though no rider has yet won this event twice, many women show up to take their place at the starting line in hopes of taking home the top prize. For spectators, this tour also offers the opportunity to watch some of the best teams in women's cycling competing. As they balance their strengths and weaknesses between stages, you'll see some of the most interesting strategising in cycling on display.
La Course by Le Tour de France - 17 July
Unfortunately, the world's most renowned cycling event remains largely closed off to women, though they do have the main UCI championship to compete for instead. However, the Tour de France organisers put on a special race for women each year, with the first race occurring back in 2014.
To avoid disrupting the main race, this edition occurs before the 18th stage of the men's race and covers just 90 kilometres over two stages. While this race is short, it does provide women an opportunity to race on some of the same exciting portions of the course that the men experience. The format for this race continues to change; currently, only the fastest winners of the first stage can proceed to compete in the second stage.
Even so, it takes place on some of France's toughest terrain, which offers viewers some thrilling scenes. Hopefully, at some point in the coming years, we'll see the birth of a bigger cycling event for women in France to rival the Tour itself.
2018 UCI Road World Championships - 22 September to 30 September
Here it is: the capstone event for the year in women's cycling. All year long, riders compete to stake out their eventual place in the championships, and it's during these races that legends are born. Slated to be held this year in Austria just before the autumn chill settles over Europe, there are a wide variety of events for cycling lovers to watch. From road races and time trials for women in the "elite" category to team time trials and races for youth competitors, there is a flurry of activity all throughout this week of high-level competition.
While the Tour de France might be the hallmark of the men's season, the women come to Austria to take their gloves off and throw down in the fiercest competition. Whether you prefer to watch short, fast races or your preference is in watching teams battle it out across multiple stages; there's something here for every fan and racer.
Make 2018 the year you watch women's cycling
Though the men in the cycling world often receive many of the accolades for their riding, all it takes is one race to recognise that the women fight just as hard for their victories. In fact, you can find some of the best cycling in the world in these races. After all, they're at the top of their game just like any other professional athlete! The fact that many of these races take place over only one or two days also means it is far easier to spectate. Not everyone has time for more than 20 stages of cycling, after all! Which event on this list will capture the most of your attention?
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