The calendar for 2018 is out and there are new races added to the calendar although the World Tour is unchanged. Here’s a closer look at the World Tour events for 2018 to see which are the busiest months and which countries get the most racing.
Here’s the breakdown by month. The season opens with the Tour Down Under and since last year has the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race too before the circus moves to the Abu Dhabi Tour in February. Viewed from the chart above it looks like January and February are covered but once the peloton quits Australia it’s four weeks before the next World Tour race and then a calendar clash with Abu Dhabi overlapping with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Calendar clashes seem unusual in sport, especially for the premium calendar. But pro cycling is unusual for its diversity, one portion of the peloton is at home on the cobbles of Flanders, another much happier to be testing themselves on the dry roads of Abu Dhabi, complete with a summit finish stage. What can confuse more is the later calendar clashes where events are in competition with each other, think Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice; the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland; or the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California. Here it’s hard to know which race to follow but fortunately it’s possible to watch both although it means going from famine to feast in terms of media coverage. These calendar clashes and competition help explain why March is the second busiest month of the year in terms of World Tour race days. We may view this still as early season competition – and for plenty of participants races like Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico are preparation events to hone condition – but there’s a lot at stake in terms of wins and points.
This chart shows where the races are although for the sake of clarity a grand tour counts towards the home country, for example the Giro is Italy rather than any days attributed to Israel in 2018. Having a grand tour means France, Italy and Spain have the most days of racing and in turn the greatest media exposure because these are races of national significance, the kind that feature on the evening news bulletins as well as live coverage for several hours. Switzerland is next thanks to its national tour and Romandie and if the calendar was being redesigned today perhaps this small but prosperous country would have fewer days even if it offers strategic Alpine tests. Next is cycling-crazy Belgium and then things tail off quickly. Stage races count for plenty with 158 days of racing compared to 20 one day races. As we can see the “World Tour” label is a little presumptive, there’s nothing in South America nor Africa and there’s only one Asian event, the new Tour of Guangxi.
The “World Tour” label has gained a status and meaning, riders will use World Tour as a shorthand reference to the major races with the big teams and also for tactical control and fewer opportunities for surprise results. But several of the new events added in 2017 have diluted this, notably the Tour of Turkey which might have a WT label but attracted fewer World Tour teams in 2017 than it did in 2016, although a late calendar switch was partly to blame. But the label itself hides different ranking points and of course different status. Most long term cycling fans will know the implicit difference in the value of a stage win in the Tour de Suisse versus one in the Tour of Guangxi despite their shared World Tour label and this undermines attempts to ensure a harmonious calendar. It’s like a Formula 1 calendar where many teams and top drivers show up for, say, Monaco, but won’t travel to other races. This conservatism does give established events very strong roots and has perhaps allowed the sport to weather its doping storms because the major races are socio-cultural events as well as mere sporting contests but does mean that additions to the calendar still have to prove themselves for years before being accepted as fixtures but this is inevitable too given the time it takes to learn about the subtleties of each event.
Finally if you’re wondering what makes a race World Tour versus other “HC” or “.1” status and so on, it’s a question of history and ambition. Legacy events like the Tour de France or the Tour of Flanders have a status that means they’ve been included since the start while other races can and have applied to join the top calendar and they must meet a range of criteria and pay higher registration fees to the UCI and as well as meeting these regulatory requirements it’s a subjective process where a race in a key target market for pro cycling, be in in California or Guangxi, is more likely to get approved than, say, a new stage race in Spain.
There’s nothing revelatory here but it helps provide some numbers for the coming year. A World Tour? Sort of but this remains the preserve of France, Italy and Spain which share between them well over half of the number of days of racing and an even greater proportion of the TV audience. The calendar now runs from January to October but with peaks and troughs throughout and the status of the new races being unclear to fans, teams and riders it all looks a jumble rather than a consistent package.