For the last few years I’ve been doing some analysis of how the UCI women’s road calendar changes. You can see my posts from previous years in the Podium Café series, and you can look up the UCI calendars on their site using their drop-down menus.
Bike races can seem complicated for new fans, so I’m starting this mini-series with a post for newbies, or non-obsessives. I’ll try to keep this simple, so women’s racing über-fans, if you’re feeling nit-picky, please do just bear with me – and if you have any questions, or can explain things more simply, please do leave me a comment or tell me on twitter.
Women’s cycling teams and levels of races
While men’s cycling has separate levels of UCI rankings for teams (World Tour, Pro-Continental, Continental) and equivalent race categories, the women currently only have one level of ranking – either a team is a UCI team, or it’s a domestic team.
In 2015, there were four levels of UCI racing for the women:
- World, Continental and National Championships are all run once a year, so we won’t be looking at those, as they’re (hopefully) relatively self-explanatory
- “UCI races”, which give riders and teams the UCI points that are used to rank their performances, and for teams and riders to qualify towards World Championships, the Olympic Games, and to getting to race the top races. These are, more or less, the day-to-day racing calendar.
Of course the National/Continental and World Champs count to rankings too – the World Championships are the most important races, and give successful nations automatic spots for the Olympics – for example, Lizzie Armitstead‘s win in the 2015 Road Race Worlds gives her an automatic start in Rio, making her Olympic campaign more relaxed already
In theory, UCI ranking comes with guarantees of both the quality of racing, and rider safety. This isn’t always the case, but there are lots of rules about how UCI races should be run, and the UCI sends commissaires to each race to make sure they’re upheld.
Below the UCI level, there are domestic races all over the world, but they are run on a country-by-country basis, and don’t count towards the UCI rankings. This doesn’t mean they aren’t great races – there are fantastically vibrant racing scenes in places like North America and Australia, with wonderful overall competitions whose races aren’t ranked, and this could be because they don’t have the funding for the UCI fees, or the races are designed around criteriums (aka, crits 45-60 minute long, fast and furious racing lots of laps of a very short circuit) which are spectator-friendly, but (generally) crits can’t be UCI races by themselves, and UCI stage races can’t have more than one crit stage.
Other factors could include races specifically wanting to be for home riders from that country, and so not wanting to have to invite international teams over, or, like the Dutch domestic scene, being specifically aimed at club and developing riders, so not wanting pro riders turning up and dominating. Of course, there are some that just aren’t run to UCI standards, but it’s cycling, of course there are complications!
The UCI level of races
Within the UCI level of races, there are further subdivisions.
Day races v stage races
As I’m sure you know, bike races are divided into day races, where the fastest across the line on the day wins, and stage races, which take place over two or more days, and the time it takes each rider to complete each stage is recorded, added up, and the person with the lowest cumulative time (the General Classification) wins. Within stage races there’s always more than one competition going on at a time, with the major fights being for the GC and then stage wins, and then for the other jerseys like Sprint, Points and Queen of the Mountains, which are judged at certain points along the routes, where the first riders can win points that are added up throughout the race. Then there’s the Best Young Rider competition, which looks at the GC results for riders under 23. This is why you’ll get a huge number of riders on the podium at bike races, and it’s one of the things that can make cycling bewildering, but also fascinating to follow once you have the hang of it, especially when races have a mix of different kinds of stages that suit different riders, and the situation changes every day.
Women’s stage races are currently limited by the UCI to maximum seven days racing, with special permission needed to be longer – the longest, and most prestigious stage race on the women’s calendar is the Giro Rosa, the only women’s ‘Grand Tour’, which is ten days long.
If you’re looking at the calendar, you can easily tell the races by the category – most UCI day races start with 1 – 1.1 or 1.2 – while UCI stage races start with 2 – 2.1 or 2.2.
Category .1 or .2?
The second part of the ranking will tell you what level the races are. .1 races are more prestigious, they come with more points for riders and teams, and very generally they should be tougher competitions, with bigger prizes, and things like all team accommodation and food paid for by the race.
The top-ranked trade teams and national teams get automatic invites to the .1 races, so technically these should have the top riders racing them – however teams can say no, because it doesn’t fit their programme, it’s too far to travel, their riders are resting etc etc, so there is an annoying set of nuances on top of the .1 ranking. And then you have races that are ranked .2, but have the most incredible fields, and can be much harder than a lot of .1s because of where they are on the calendar – eg they combine easily with a prestigious race, they’re good preparation for the Giro, they’re important to the ‘big’ cycling nations, or teams and riders just like racing them! And when there’s a .1 race that’s flat and sprinty clashing with a hilly .2 race, you might find the biggest names heading for the hills as there are fewer hilly races on the women’s calendar.
The Road World Cup and Road World Tour
Of course, because this is cycling, things don’t stop there. From 1998 to 2015, the women have also had the Road World Cup, a series of day races that include some of the most iconic, and toughest races out there. These are ranked CDM on the calendar, and in 2015 there were ten, running across the whole year. These give the most points of any of the UCI one-day races, and also have separate points that are added up for the overall World Cup series win, along with a Queen of the Mountains and Best Young Rider competition.
The World Cup races were also very exciting, and could be races run alongside men’s races, like the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Flèche Wallonne, Strade Bianche and GP Plouay, races that are part of cycling festivals, like Ronde van Drenthe and Sparkassen Giro, where the World Cups are the most prestigious of a whole set of races for women and men, or women’s stand-alone races like Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Crescent Vårgårda races. They’re tough as hell, and the UCI was committed to promoting them, with highlights videos on their youtube.
I say “was” and “were”, because 2015 was the last year of the Road World Cup. From 2016 there’ll be a new level of women’s racing, the Women’s World Tour, ranked WWT, to bring the women’s branding alongside the men. The series has been expanded to include more day races and some stage races, and I’ll talk about that more when I look ahead to the 2016 calendar.
Confused? Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it! But that’s the background… Up next in this mini-series, I’ll look at what happened to the 2015 calendar, and what will be happening in 2016, and put it in the context of how the calendar’s been changing over the last ten years. Anything you especially want me to talk about, let me know. It’s always exciting, imagining the season, and we’re in a really exciting moment for the sport,