Maybe we’re spoiled for choice. Classics season gives way to Grand Tour time. In between there are a veritable panoply of small, interesting races that drag the world’s fastest cyclists all over the globe. Our sport is steeped in history and tradition, and yet remains ripe for innovation, for new races like the Strade Bianche to take hold of our collective imagination.
Increasingly lost in the churn of the season is the World Championship.
Born on the track in the 1890s, cycling’s World Championships have taken myriad forms, been run by multiple governing bodies and been slotted into the calendar haphazardly for more than a century. At times, the race has been the pinnacle of the season, at others it has been what it seems to be now, an afterthought.
This is not to say there is no prestige to wearing the rainbow jersey, nor that some of the best riders of this generation will make it one of their primary objectives for the season. Despite the relative truth that the World Champ almost always has a crap season in the multi-colored top (see this bit from Philippe Gilbert), it’s hard for a bunch of go-fast lunatics not to want to be crowned World Champion.
But sitting where it does in the schedule, stuck on the end like a spare tire, it doesn’t lend itself to high prestige or fan excitement or even the intrigue of the world’s best going at it in their mid-season form. Instead, the top contenders have dragged themselves to the four corners, looking for competitive races to tune up their finishing speed rather than springing off the back of some more logical and high profile one-day racing earlier in the year.
Of course, this is also a marketing problem, and the UCI has shown itself to be mediocre at race promotion, at least when compared to the 800-pound gorilla in the cycloverse, the Amaury Sports Organtization, owner of the Tour de France among many, many others, or even an upstart sports agitator like Red Bull. Maybe the diminution of the World Championships is one more reason to change leadership atop the UCI.
The whole circus starts this weekend with the team time trial and carries on through the week, culminating in next weekend’s individual time trials and road races.
This week’s Group Ride asks, are these races important to YOU? If not, why not? Has your attention wandered since the Vuelta? Or even before that? Do you hope your favorite rider wins in Florence, or do you hope they avoid the rainbow stripes, the better to compete in the coming season’s more important races? Predictions are allowed, too, but no one gets any credit for picking Marianne Vos for anything.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti