Cycling is popular in Europe but more so in some places than others. Here are the key heartlands of the sport.
No country in the world takes cycling so seriously. This doesn’t mean that all 10 million Belgians love cycling, just as all Canadians don’t follow Ice Hockey and all Japanese aren’t into Sumo. But if there is a place on this planet where you will find knowledgeable fans in a café or at the bus stop, it’s Belgium. Cycling is front and back page news and this is almost 365 days a year, thanks to a massive cyclo-cross scene and the likes of the Ghent 6-Day.
The Western part of France that juts out into the Atlantic, Brittany is a special region of France. Some Brétons claim they are Celts, the same stock as the Welsh, Irish and Scots and you’ll often find the bagpipes or “musical horns” screeching somewhere. But come Sunday, you will also find many local bike races. This rural region is the hotspot of French cycling, the region where the most racing licences are to be found. And if you want, visit the GP Plouay in August to see just how popular the sport can be.
The plains around Milan are home to many a pro and amateur rider. Come Sunday morning the roads are full of riders, the sport is massively popular. More races on the Italian calendar take place in the region than anywhere else.
4. Basque Country
The hotspot of Spanish cycling, this region even has its own team, Euskadi. A proud region with a unique language, the Basque country is one of Spain’s wealthiest areas thanks to big industry, including bike companies like BH (Beistegui Hermanos) and Orbea.
It sometimes helps to see Italy not as one country but as several regions under a shared flag. Tuscans are proud and there is often rivalry between their northern neighbours, this takes place equally through cycling. The sport is very popular in this region and you can see why, it has fantastic countryside that offers superb riding and a mild climate.
What do they have in common?
Is their a common thread? In some of these places you will find plenty of heavy industry. I’ve written about how cycling was a sport that offered a way out of a tough life but all the same, money was needed to buy a bike and feed a hungry rider. So perhaps the industrialised regions offered a bit more prosperity than the rural ones? Certainly, Belgium, Lombardy and the Basque country have had their heavy industry and parts of Tuscany contain plenty of small factories and workshops. But whilst the sport may be popular in one region over another, it does not end when you cross from one region to another. One thing to note is that these regions are both prosperous and populated.