Cycling for Brits and dummies: an introduction

Events like the World Cup or the Olympics unite billions of folk and their passion for sport. Some sports unite only a few nations. Cricket is more or less only enjoyed by the Commonwealth Nations and Rugby, in the Northern hemisphere, is most popular in the Six Nations Countries.

Another one of these curious sports that seems to attract the interest of a handful of European nations is cycling. Its mainland is Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands and most of all Belgium, the latter being a country most of the world forgot about.

However more and more people around the world are becoming cycle enthusiasts and the recent success of the Americans (Lance Armstrong)  and Australians (Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen) have given a huge boost to cycling’s popularity in the ‘New World’.

Events like the Tour of California and the Tour Down Under will never reach the legendary status of the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix (The Hell of the North) but all the sport’s stars are competing in these new races.

The Holy Grail – Tour de France

So why have the British Isles and Ireland stayed immune for the cycling virus? The chairman of the International cycling federation (UCI) is Irishman Pat McQuaid and in recent years the Brits have joined the peloton in the likes of time trial specialist David Millar, Tour de France contender Bradley Wiggens and last but not least, Mark Cavendish, who was the best sprinter of 2010 and has become one of the most popular riders in the peloton.

So in attempt to familiarize you with the Grandeur of cycling, Champions Chat will provide you with ‘Cycling for dummies and Brits’. The highlights of the race calendar and all the stars of the sport will be discussed in the months to come.

Here’s a quick peak for what to expect:

Iconic events like the Hell of the North, Le Grand Boucle, La Primavera and the Race of the Falling Leaves are the stages where athletes become legends and hero’s fall from grace. In the following months I will address the highlights of the cycling calendar and acquaint you with the leading actors in this sporting spectacle.

The year starts with The Spring Classics divided by the cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics. A combination of cold spring winds, rain, mud, broken tarmac and fierce climbs await the riders in one-day races which have an average distance of 260 kilometres.

The Hell of the North

After a tough spring the teams prepare themselves for one-week events such as the Dauphiné Libéré (nick-named the mini Tour de France) and the Tour of Switzerland to test their form for the highlight of the season: the Tour de France

Le Grand Boucle as it is also called is the Holy Grail of the sport. Also, the Giro d’Italia with its epic tales and the Spanish Vuelta with its impressive stages are truly great sporting events worth noticing. Preview, reviews and features on all the three ‘Grand Tours’ will be available on Champions Chat.

But the cycling calendar does not end in July after the Tour. There’s the Vuelta in September, a few weeks later  the World Championships in Copenhagen  after which the autumn classics with the legendary Tour of Lombardy in October will prove another climax in an exciting year of competition.

But sport isn’t just about the location or the events; it’s about the athletes, the hero’s that cycle more than 200 kilometres a day in all-weather conditions and all parts of the world.

It’s about the sprinters who after a whole day of cycling explode into human bullets and race to finish with speeds up to 80 km/h and make Chris Hoy look like a pensioner in a wheelchair. It’s about the nimble climbers who conquer the Alps and the Pyrenees like Sherpa’s (only without oxygen masks and entangled in a fierce battle for victory).

‘Cav’ and the art of sprinting

And it is about the all-rounders who triumph in the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro after three weeks of gruelling challenges. They become part of the cycling legend that produced icons like Fausto Coppi (Il Campionissimo), Eddy Merckx (The Cannibal), Miguel Indurain (Big Mig) and of course Lance Armstrong (The Boss).

In short, cycling’s growing popularity outside its mainland is not without its reasons and if you keep an eye on Champions Chat, you’ll soon find out why!

Stef Meens

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