I’ve been writing a mini-series of posts looking at the women’s 2015 and 2016 UCI road cycling calendars – Part 1 looked at how the 2015 season changed since the calendar was first published, and how it compares to 2016, Part 2 looked at the shape of the 2016 season, and previous years’ articles are over on Podium Café. In this post I’m going to look at these changes in the context of the last 11 years, and where the changes have happened. There are some really positive messages about where women’s racing is going, and some areas for development. And as usual, I’m going to start with a colour-coded table!
How has the calendar has changed since 2006?
I’ve been adding to this table every year – it lists the UCI-ranked races that have run each year. Light green are day races, dark green are stage races, red are for the Road World Cup day races, yellow are the new Women’s World Tour day races, and orange are the World Tour stage races. If you want to know more about the classification system, I wrote about that here.
As always, I need to add some caveats. Sometimes when races finish, it’s not a bad thing – for example, the Novilon Eurocup Ronde van Drenthe stage race stopped in 2006 and became 3 separate day races, including the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup – and the GP Elsy Jacobs and GP Nicolas Frantz combined, with the non-UCI TTT, into the Festival Elsy Jacobs stage race, while the Omloop door Middag Humsterland developed into the Energiewacht Tour. And some of the races have been running for longer than it looks, as they started as national-level races, or moved between UCI and national status.
It always interests me to look at the calendar this way, and see what patterns there are. The way that the summer races have been more stable over the last decade, for example, despite the fact they traditionally overlap with other races – and the very real pattern of “pop up” races in Olympic years that I strongly suspect are put on with an aim of getting qualification points for riders in those countries.
It does make me think about longevity, and wonder how important it is for the racing. Cycling mythology is all about history, and even though races can happen on different courses every year, there’s something about knowing that it’s the 100th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen next year that makes it special, and I always used to think that a long history like that was really important. But then the Strade Bianche burst onto the men’s scene and became an instant Classic, and the first women’s edition this year was everything we could have wanted – and the Aviva Women’s Tour is only two years old, but it’s one of the most professional and well-supported races ever. My position now is that older races aren’t necessarily better, better races are better. Of course, name recognition is important for sponsors to know what teams are talking about, but Aviva has had 2 names in 2 years, and I think everyone in women’s cycling would recognise it instantly, and it has the advantage of an amazing website full of videos, photos and other media that shows someone new to the sport that yeah, this is a BIG deal.
Of course, it is bad for the sport when races struggle and limp along, and it can’t be good for sponsors to see that, because it doesn’t make the sport look “pro”, and it makes things harder for teams to plan their seasons, so I wish organisers were more upfront about pop-up races being only for Olympic qualification, or the UCI asked for commitment for at least 2 years, backed up with commitments, rather than let “surprise” races turn up on the calendar 6 weeks before they run…
That table shows us patterns, let’s now look at some numbers.
How has the number of UCI races changed?
These years are a little bit random – when I started in 2011, I picked 2006 as my start year as it’s the first year with records on CQ Ranking, and then I re-analysed in 2013, and then again last year. Please note, the figures for 2016 might change, just as the 2015 calendar changed between being published and being raced.
So that’s good news – not only an increase in the number of races, but after some fluctuation, the increases have been steady over the last three years. But number of races isn’t the full story.
When I started doing calendar analysis, back in 2011, I found that while the number of races had increased between 2006 and 2011, the number of actual racing days had dropped, because although there had been an increase in day races, some big stage races had disappeared, including the Tour de l’Aude 10-day Grand Tour. There’s a trend in women’s racing to have two stages on the same day in a lot of races, but I feel like racing days the better metric to use, as it’s the better comparison. So I’ve been looking at this in terms of race days (obviously caveating that the 2016 races might change).
More good news – and especially so since we lost the Tour of New Zealand, and (as of right now) the Tour de Bretagne and Tour de l’Ardèche, because losing stage races obviously has a bigger impact than losing day races. If the two French races do come back onto the calendar, that’ll be 10 more days. Again, while this had dropped in 2011, it’s very positive indeed that the rise since has been steady.
Now, there are some more caveats here, too. While we’re gaining races, we’re still in a situation where the races we’ve lost have tended to be hilly races, and especially the ones with mountains – and the new races have tended to be flatter. A lot of this comes down to geography, as the racing has been growing in the low countries. So I also like to take a closer look at the calendar in terms of where the changes have happened.
Where are the races?
Let’s start with the Continents – this time I’m using the UCI’s categories.
There’s the traditional increase in races in South America in the Olympic qualification year, but while we’ve gained and lost races in some regions, it’s pretty static, except for in Europe. So let’s have a closer look there.
The big loser is France – and this is a really worrying trend, especially as we keep losing hilly races. It’s a strange thing, the GP de Plouay is really well organised, and of course La Course by Le Tour de France is run by the ASO – but the other races are all run by volunteers, and apparently with a very old average age, which is why they don’t do social media, or good websites. I really hope the UCI works with the French Federation, and the ASO, to try to get more races back in France – especially in the mountains.
Italy seems to have stabilised, but that’s relative to losing a lot of races. It’s strange, the junior scene in Italy is really well-developed, but the elite races have suffered. Again, this is another place the UCI could work with the Federation.
The countries where races are increasing? Well, Belgium had the big uplift in 2011, when the Lotto Belgium Tour races, which had been national-level races, got UCI registration, and the racing there has just getting stronger, with more new races, although of course this doesn’t help the lack of big climbing races. And Great Britain – from no international races at all two years ago, to two World Tour races and another UCI race? That’s a great growth, and one fans have been asking for – after all, with three different road world champions, and Olympic champion and two other Olympic road medallists over the last eight years, it was pretty bad Great Britain wasn’t giving back to the sport by putting up races. If Velothon Wales does follow a similar course to last year, and the Aviva Women’s Tour lives up to the rumours and adds more hills, that could help add more hills, as does the return of UCI racing to Switzerland – but still, the mountain goats really need to UCI to work with organisers and Federations. It is wonderful that there are so many racing in Netherlands, and the scene is growing in Belgium, but you can’t import mountains into the low countries, sadly.
UPDATE! The calendar kept on changing – here’s what happened to it between my writing this in October, and what it looked like just a few months later, in December.
So, that’s the 2016 calendar – thanks for putting up with me geeking out so much, and huge thanks to my Patreon supporters, who funded me last month to geek over Worlds, and this month to get up to my eyebrows in spreadsheets – I love you all!
If you have any questions, insights, or want to tell me I’m wrong, please do leave me a comment, or ask me on twitter. I always love talking women’s cycling – and of course, I’ll be returning to this subject as we see more changes.