The Hotbeds of European Cycling

Monday, 12 April 2010

Cycling is popular in Europe but more so in some places than others. Here are the key heartlands of the sport.

1. Belgium
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.

2. Brittany


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.

3. Lombardy

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.

5. Tuscany

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.

David N. Welton April 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm

What's the distribution of cyclists like in France? Here in Italy there is a massive disparity between north and south, and even here in the north, there are, as you note hotspots, which makes me wonder about other places like France and Spain. It'd be fascinating to see a map with the last 20 years of pro licenses for various countries.

By the way, the Veneto here in Italy is not bad for cycling either. Between Campagnolo, and the saddle and shoe clusters up by Bassano, and tons of bike manufacturers, you could probably put together a bicycle made entirely in the Veneto. In terms of pros, Pozzato and Ballan come to mind. Hopefully the cloud hanging over the latter's head will be resolved one way or the other soon.

TheInnerRing April 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Less disparity between north and south. Britanny is a hotspot but the area around Paris has plenty of cyclists – by virtue of a large population – and by racing licence numbers, the largest single region is the Midi-Pyrenees region although this region is itself a big area. So Britanny / Paris region and South-West France although it is equally popular everywhere.

For the French it's less a question of regions, more of age: fewer young people are coming through, you are very likely to meet guys aged 50+ on the roads, few under 40.

Owen April 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

My inlaws are from Brittany and I'd love to race there, for the experience and to show off (although I'd probably get a kicking) more than anything else.

Do you know of any Breton forums or info sites that might show the race calendar?

Any idea if a British Cycling license holder (cat4) would be able to purchase a day license?

Owen April 12, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Additional- although Brittany doesn't have a lot of heavy industry, it does have lots and lots of farms. I think many of the racers coming out of Breizh were farm boys, so the point that cycling was used to 'get out' still rings true, albeit from a different background.

TheInnerRing April 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Owen, there are three main Federations in France. The FFC is the main one but its races are hard, the lower level category (3) is not for beginners but if you can ride in a bunch, give it a go.

The FSGT and UFOLEP offer easier racing more suited to lower categories.

Often the local press shows the races, in the past I have bought a local paper on a Friday or Saturday and found the race details.

See the FSGT calendar at http://www.fsgt.org/IMG/pdf/CalendrierROUTE_VTT2009_de_Bretagne.pdf and note the phone numbers, you could call up in the week and get your name down. Normally they will be delighted to have foreign riders and might make a fuss of you!

Bonne chance…

michele April 13, 2010 at 8:47 pm

As mentioned above, usually as main cycling regions in Italy it's usually named Tuscany and Veneto, compared to Lombardy.

Nice blog!

TheInnerRing April 13, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Grazie Michele… I enjoyed your blog at http://www.ciclismo-espresso.com/

I have family in Lombardia (between Bergamo and Milan) and so they all say it is the biggest region for cycling in Italy. But you are right that Veneto is an important region too, and there are many champions from this region.

owenp April 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Just checked back in to this discussion. Thanks for that Inner. I will have a go.

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