Use of the bicycle in competitive sport or in recreation. The classic professional races are held mainly in Europe; the first was held in Paris in 1868. There are basically two types of race: road races and track races. The first U.S. cycling competition, a six-day race, was held in 1891. Six-day racing was reintroduced to Europe as a two-man team event in the 20th century, but it has largely died out in the U.S. The first Tour de France, the premier race, was held in 1903. Cycling has been part of the Olympics since the first modern games in 1896. Events include a variety of open-road and circuit races for both men and women.
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Bicycle racing encompasses many forms in which bicycles are used for competition. Bicycle racing includes road bicycle racing, cyclo-cross, mountain bike racing, track cycling, BMX racing and bike trials and cycle speedway.
Road bicycle races typically takes place from spring through to fall. Many riders from the northern hemisphere spend the winter in countries such as Australia, to compete or train. Pro tour races range from the multi-day "Grand Tour" stage races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España to single day "Classics" such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Milan-Sanremo. The longest one-day road race sanctioned by USA Cycling is Lotoja which covers the 206 miles from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming. Criteriums are races based on circuits typically less than a mile in length and sometimes run for a set time (60min, 90min, etc) rather than a specific distance. Criteriums are the most popular form of road racing in North America. In Belgium, kermesses are popular, single-day events of usually 120+km. As well as road races in which all riders start simultaneously, individual time trial and team time trial events are also held on road-based courses.
Cyclo-cross originated as a sport for road racers during the off season, to vary their training during the cold months. Races typically take place in the autumn and winter (the international or World Cup season is September-January), and consists of many laps of a 2–3 km or 1–2 mile course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to dismount, carry the bike and remount in one motion. Races for senior categories are generally between 30 minutes and an hour long, the distance varying depending on the conditions. The sport is strongest in traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium (Flanders in particular) and France.
Mountain bike racing is relatively new. It was popular during the 1990s. Mountain bike races are off-road and usually involve a moderate degree of technical riding. There are several varieties; the main categories are cross-country and downhill but also 4X or four cross racing. Mountain bike racing and riding needs wide knobby tires with a deep tread.
Track cycling encompasses races that take place on banked tracks or velodromes. Events are quite diverse and can range from individual and team pursuits, two-man sprints, to various group and mass start races. Competitors use track bicycles which do not have brakes or freewheels.
BMX racing takes place off-road. BMX races are sprints on purpose-built off-road single-lap tracks typically on single-gear bicycles. Riders navigate a dirt course of jumps and banked and flat corners.
Bike trials is a sport where riders navigate natural and man-made obstacles without putting down their foot, or "dabbing". It is similar to motorcycle trials. Points are awarded for bike handling skills.
Cycle speedway is bicycle racing on short outdoor dirt tracks, 70-90m in length.
All of the above bicycle races involve diamond frame bicycles of two triangles. An alternative is the recumbent, a bicycle on which the rider sits back with the legs horizontal. This puts the body in a position where there is less wind drag. Proponents claim it provides more comfortable riding, with no weight on the wrists. The recumbent is a more aerodynamic design of bicycle, and world speed records were set with them.
Bicycle races are popular all over the world, especially in Europe. The most devoted countries are Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, although the United States has international standing, as does Australia.