I’ve got an sporadic series looking at how the women’s road cycling calendar changes over time, because it’s something that really fascinates me. The bottom-line conclusions are that women’s road racing is definitely improving year-on-year, with more UCI races in more countries, and there are really positive trends. One of these has been fewer major clashes, and the return of UCI racing to Australia, which really make me happy to report.
However there are still ongoing areas for improvement, like “pop-up” races being added late to the calendar, and various changes that happen during the series that can make things really difficult for teams to plan their season (find out more about that, in my 2015 interviews with two DSs last year about this – ORICA-AIS’ Marv Barras, for the big team perspective, and Matrix Procycling’s Stefan Wyman for the small team PoV).
This year, I’ve decided to look into when the changes happen during the season as well – I wrote about what was planned for 2016 when the calendar was announced, in October, and then changes that had been made between October and December, and now the season’s up and running, I’ve taken another look – and found we’ve got both new races, and races that have disappeared since the end of 2015 (although not all of that is bad). Let’s start with some colour-coded charts – click on them to make them bigger.
Races that have left the calendar since December
Let’s start with the bad news – races that have gone. I’m splitting these into existing races that have gone; those that were new to the calendar when it was published in October; and those that were added later.
Races that ran before
These are always the saddest, because they represent a more tangible loss. We start with the Coupe de France series races: Cholet-Pays du Loire, (planned for 20th March), a long-running race which moved from National status to UCI in 2011, but the website looks like there’s only a men’s race this year, and the Classique Morbihan, on 28th May, which was new for 2015, but looks like national-status only (it’s part of a huge weekend of racing). France is one of the spiritual homes of bike racing, so any races we lose there is sad.
The German Sparkassen Giro has had ups and down – first raced as UCI in 2004, it was a tough sprinters race, part of a fantastic festival of cycling, but went from UCI to national-ranked in 2012, back to UCI in 2013, then part of the Road World Cup in 2014 and 2015. It was back down to 1.1 this year on the original UCI calendar, planned for 2nd August, so it’s very sad to see it gone again – I hope it comes back, though the website still showing 2015 is not a good sign.
Also gone from the UCI calendar are the GP Maykop in Russia (1st June), which ran since 2012, and the Swiss GP Gippingen, which has had a men’s race for over 50 years, and a women’s race which was UCI in 2014 and 2015 (I can’t tell if anything’s running at all for women this year).
Loss of races that were new to the 2016 calendar in October
These are always unfortunate, and usually indicate that the race organisers were ambitious, but just couldn’t match that with reality. The GP Isola in Slovenia was meant to be on 27th February, but wasn’t raced, I was really looking forward to the women’s Velothon Wales race, because that is gorgeous riding country, but it’s not on the UCI calendar any more, though I had heard rumours that the organisers have had difficulties, since it first appeared. I’m always going to regret that I don’t get a wonderful racing day so close to where I live, and I’m definitely regretting the women having the chance to race on hills that include The Tumble…
Races that were added after October, were on the calendar in December, and are now gone
I talk a lot about “pop up” races, and these, to me, are races that appear late on in the calendar, especially during the Olympic qualifying period. There can be cynical purposes behind these, especially races that are non-UCI for 3 year cycles, then go UCI just when it helps nations get points. Although they frustrate me, I can’t really blame Cycling Federations that exploit the loophole that means if they appear late, most big teams won’t have the budget/space to race them, so more Olympic points are likely to go to home-nations riders. Even if they’re not planned for this purpose, they’re not good for the calendar, so it’s not necessarily a problem these are gone. The loss of two races in Russia, the Moscow Cup and the GP of Moscow (1st & 2nd May), that appeared very late, then went again, may not necessarily be a bad thing.
Races we’ve gained
Sometimes races come onto the calendar late for positive reasons – usually because the national Federation or the UCI have had questions or concerns that they’ve asked the races to sort out before they approve them, or maybe because the race has been finding the final sponsors that are needed. These could be why Tour de l’Ardèche wasn’t on the calendar when it was first published, or in December, but it’s good news it’s back from 1st-6th September – it’ll be the 14th edition of the hilly stage race that teams and riders really seem to enjoy. Check out the new race website, and videos from last year by Petitesreines.
Another new race, the 4.NEA aka International Women’s Stage Race in Finland (13-15 May), has been running at national level for 3 years, and the website says there’ll be live streaming, with commentary hopefully in Finnish and English (the Scandinavians are one of the world leaders for livestreaming women’s races) and doesn’t clash with anything, which is very positive.
The Women’s Tour de Yorkshire in Great Britain, on 30th April, which is stepping up from last year’s 70km national-ranked race, on the other hand, clashes with Gracia-Orlová and the Festival Elsy Jacobs, so between that and arriving late, I can’t expect a big international field this year. The fact they don’t have a website yet won’t help to attract teams (there’s this route announcement on the men’s Tour de Yorkshire website), but I think this isn’t ‘pop-up’ because I’d heard rumours they’ve been pushing to be World Tour, but didn’t have support British Cycling support to be that, or even UCI-ranked, so I’m happy they got that agreeed. Maybe next year there’ll be more of a lead-in, and it’ll be the huge, awesome race the area deserves?
We’ve had various races move spots since December, which isn’t ideal for teams – the Costa Rican and once-every-four-year Venezuelan races have shifted, presumably to accommodate the Pan-American Championships, which moved – while the Silver City Tour of the Gila has moved back a week or so, and the Tour de Pologne (19-20 July) has moved from clashing with the Giro Rosa to clashing with the BeNe Ladies Tour and the poor, beleaguered Thüringen Rundfahrt, which is such a brilliant race, but just can’t catch a break in terms of other races taking over its traditional calendar slot. That’s the sort of clash we’d been reducing recently, so it’s sad to have a new one.
The biggest moves are the Basque races, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, and the Euskal Emakumeen Bira, relocating from June to April, and with TV highlights and the whole final Emakumeen Bira being streamed live, it’s wonderful to see them flourishing, after they were threatening to fold last year .
And in good news, the 2016 European Road Championships now have elite races, which bring them in line with all the other Continental Championships – in bad news, while the men keep the traditional u23 European Champs, the women don’t have a separate u23 race, but instead an u23 jersey is given from a joint elite and u23 race. Such a shame, because it was always a wonderful showcase for young riders – and moving from summer to September means it misses Olympic qualification, and more importantly, the chance for young riders to shine, and get stagiare roles for August and September racing, and the chance to negotiate for better contracts in the following year off the back of great racing. We don’t have much at all for u23 women – unlike the men, they step straight from Juniors into the full-on Elite racing, so losing this is a bigger deal than it should be.
So what does this mean for the overall calendar? Well, although we’ve lost day races, gaining the two stage races means we’re still overall ahead – while the day races dropped from 63 to 59 since December, it’s still more than the 57 on the original October calendar, and the gain in stage races means we’re up to 150 stage racing days in total, compared to 129 in October – meaning we got a net gain of 23 racing days, which is excellent, and makes the trend in recent years look even better. As always, it’s important to look at both number of races and actual racing days, and things are positive on both fronts.
Of course, we still have the ongoing issue that the sport has been losing races in mountainous areas and in general, gaining them in flatter areas, so it’s sad to see another Swiss race go, and the very hilly Velothon not happen – but that needs some real work over time to change – and it’s great that l’Ardèche, which is full of tough hills, is back on the calendar.
I’ll have another look at this all later in the year, around June/July, and then do my now-traditional full analysis at the end of the season. If you want the previous articles, check out the other 2016 calendar posts and podcast, and the previous years’ articles over on Podium Café.
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