When Does The Season Start?

Tour of Oman

It’s hard to know where to look this week with racing on so many fronts. Almost all the stars of the pro peloton will be visible this week whether in Oman, Andalucia or the Algarve plus more racing in Italy and France too.

There’s a regular refrain that the season only starts with the Het Nieuwsblad, Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice. Reality, snobbism or just different viewpoints?

The obvious answer is that the season starts in January with the Tour Down Under and the Tour of San Luis. But it’s not so simple because only a proportion of the pro peloton gets going in January. There are 474 riders on World Tour teams but only 119 started the Tour Down Under so if the season had started, many had not started their season.

It’s what makes this week so interesting. We’ll see Chris Froome and Alberto Contador in Andalucia. Vincenzo Nibali, Fabian Cancellara, Tejay van Garderen and Rafał Majka race in Oman. In Portugal Michał Kwiatkowski, Jurgen Roelandts and Sep Vanmarcke are among those pinning numbers on for the first time in 2015.

The more we explore the topic, the more philosophical it gets. Many say the season only gets going once we get to the first big rendez-vous. For pavé pounders this is the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday 28 February. As fierce as the early season racing in Australian and Qatar can be these days there’s still talk of riders learning to work as a team, the language of those who are beaten isn’t of loss and humiliation, more tales of practice and preparation that are expected to come good. For others, notably the climbers and stage race specialists, Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico fulfil the same function. Perhaps there is some snobbism at the nouveau entrants on the calendar, but cycling trades on tradition, it values races for their longevity, celebrating the centennial and recounting the exploits from golden eras.

Two seconds after winning, questions turn to the Ronde-Roubaix double

Few dead ends and cliff edges
If the past is a factor, the future is another one too: the sport is always looking to the next thing. It’s hard to see a race by itself because there’s always something else approaching. The Tour of Oman is a step on the way to Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico. But win a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and immediately a rider’s odds change for Milan-Sanremo, win Paris-Nice overall and that’s nice but what does it really mean for your chances in July? This year even the Giro will be viewed by some as a chapter of the Tour de France as Alberto Contador dares the double. Meanwhile an element of the pre-race PR for Paris-Roubaix and the Flèche Walloone sees them touted as Tour de France previews, the idea that the Flèche will be better if it features the stars of the Tour de France.

This “there’s always something else coming up” means there are few definitive races. Winning the Tour of Flanders is as big as you can get in the spring classics but if it didn’t work out participants have Paris-Roubaix, the French classic is arguably one of the few races of the year that ends with nothing else the next day or week: all or nothing. The same with the Tour de France where you can make amends for failure at the Vuelta but it’s not the same. The World Championships are a unique event but riders who miss out on their rainbow dreams can find their pot of gold a week or two later in Lombardia.

“What will the result on Green Mountain mean for July?”

The Talleyrand Conundrum
When 19th century French diplomat Charles de Talleyrand heard of the death of a Turkish ambassador, Talleyrand is supposed to have said: “I wonder what he meant by that?” as if there was a meaning to it all, a significance beyond the deed. We’re the same with pro cycling, no sooner does someone win a race than a legion of Talleyrands asks what it means for the next race (this website pleads guilty) rather than enjoying the race that has just passed. We project, extrapolate and speculate rather than review, enjoy and digest. Of course we can do both, enjoy the race we’ve just seen and wonder what it means for an upcoming event too.

Rouleur’s Andy McGrath makes the point that we can spend too long observing results through the prism of the Tour de France. He’s right, apply hindsight to 2014 and the Dauphiné was a great race but at the time it was easy to view as a prologue to the Tour de France, the resumption of the Contador-Froome duel. Sadly their only contest was through convalescence as each sought to recover in time for the Vuelta.

Instant gratification
Wisdom says some things are worth waiting for but there’s a lot to be said for dropping the Talleyrand approach and enjoying what we see before us. Otherwise the season can never quite get going until Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France are on.

The season starts in January and builds to more important events. If some started racing in January, many start their season this week with races in Oman, the Algarve and Andalucia. Yet these races too are seen as building towards something else, a cycle that gets repeated all the time as it’s too easy to see some of the best races on the calendar was mere warm-ups for the next race. Only a handful of events sit on a calendar cliff-edge with nothing beyond them.

54 thoughts on “When Does The Season Start?”

  1. INRNG, I love you – but you can’t keep repeating the Talleyrand-passage ad infitium. Your writing is intellectual enough to stand on it’s own feet.

  2. GP Marseille, Etoile de Bessages are your gentle introduction, Omloop is when the real racing starts.

    I have no interest whatsoever in the UCI chasing petrodollars and conferring legitimacy on states that still use slave labour and keep their populations in check with Theocracy.

  3. DG – you need to get off your high-horse and have a long , hard look at your Euro-centric self. Every nation has its shortcomings, some more dramatic than others.

    Inrg: disagree with your view of Lombardy as a consolation for the Worlds. Great race, monument and all – but its not the world championship. I understand your point; but I disagree. Different riders phase and plan their season in different ways. One riders goal is another’s training program.

  4. PT- I agree that all states have their shortcomings, but corporal punishment, slavery and crazy gender inequality enshrined in law are beyond the pale for me. I dont think it’s especially Eurocentric to hold that view and if it is, well call me Eurocentric.

    Where I will wear the badge is that cycling is, in its history, a European sport. I can respect the Australian races as the nation has a history in the sport and produces a lot of great talent, they just happen to come too early in the year and be broadcast at too unsociable an hour for me to get too excited about. The total lack of a cycling culture within Oman, Qatar and Dubai is another cause for me, personally, to disregard these races as junkets and PR for their rulers.

    • “disregard these races as junkets and PR for their rulers.”

      Errrr, as INRNG has pointed out many times before, that European race that I’m sure you do deign to get excited about, the Tour de France no less, was established as a junket. An opportunity to sell newspapers and show off the country.

      Cycling is ‘a European sport’? Oh come on. Let’s send Quintana home then and not allow him to race in ‘our races’. You’re only welcome to ride in Cali, Tee Jay. It was fun Cadel, but I’m glad you’re back in your box now…

      • You may want to try reading what I wrote rather than what you would like to think I wrote

        “that European race that I’m sure you do deign to get excited about, the Tour de France no less, was established as a junket”

        Correct. But it wasn’t established as a junket to promote a nation that by the standards of it’s peers was autocratic and repressive. France wasn’t ruled by an absolute monarchy who could revoke journalists credentials or arrest for criticising it or that outlawed protest against it’s government.

        “Cycling is ‘a European sport’? Oh come on. Let’s send Quintana home then and not allow him to race in ‘our races’. You’re only welcome to ride in Cali, Tee Jay. It was fun Cadel, but I’m glad you’re back in your box now…”

        I refer you to the bit where I said cycling is historically a European sport and that I, and I quote, “respect the Australian races as the nation has a history in the sport and produces a lot of great talent, they just happen to come too early in the year and be broadcast at too unsociable an hour for me to get too excited about.”

      • Quintana sounds like a Spanish name to me. Spain is in Europe and Colombia is a country colonised by Spaniards. I find myself in basic agreement with DG. His most salient point is that Middle Eastern dictatorships, which is what they are, have no history in pretty much all of the sports their wealth in natural resources allows them to put on events for – be that F1, football (Qatar 2022) or, yes, cycling. The races there are of little value past training in race conditions and mean little or nothing in terms of the season. They are, I suspect, simply part of the PR budgets of the respective potentates and a way for these places to insinuate themselves into the wider world. Dubai even has that stage always finishing at the luxury hotal and leisure complex (The Palm and Atlantis I believe they are called). Pointing out that Le Tour and numerous other races started out as advertisements for various European newspapers doesn’t change any of this. It is, and will remain, the case that cycling, like many other sports, was invented in Europe and has a thoroughly European heritage. That cannot be bought with other people’s money.

        • “Quintana sounds like a Spanish name to me. Spain is in Europe and Colombia is a country colonised by Spaniards.”

          So he gets a pass? I hadn’t realised that you needed to prove your lineage originated from Europe before getting permission from cycling’s Great & Good to take part in a cycling race.

          I’m just gobsmacked at the tone of some of the comments.

          Should we boycott the Tour of California because California has Capital Punishment? Is Capital Punishment preferable to Corporal Punishment? Or is this all just a cover for racist attitudes?

          I agree totally that the human rights records of many countries where newer cycling races take place leaves something to be desired but I don’t see Europeans rushing to prevent imports of oil from these countries nor do I see crowds of people out demonstrating againsts the export of missiles and fighter jets and other equipment that can be used to suppress human rights in these countries.
          How many of you are refusing to purchase a smartphone or other equipment manufactured in countries with poor human rights records? Anyone here boycott Nike for their use of sweatshops in the far East?

          Not many of you is the answer because when it gets right down to it these aren’t issues you care that much about!

          These issues are just a cover for you to denigrate races happening in countries that you don’t like very much because they are different to what you know!

    • If the Tour Down Under is “broadcast at too unsociable an hour for me to get too excited about” I can only assume you are overflowing with sympathy for cycling fans in Australia who can look forward to most big European races finishing sometime around 1am local time.

  5. DG, appreciate your balanced response. The Euro comment was in terms of the racing, not the politics, my expression could have been clearer. I hold the opposite view about the Aussie races as they’re the only ones I can watch in the real time during daylight hours.

    WRT the Oman/Dubai/Qatar races, I can’t really pass judgement from where I sit but i prefer them to F1 and other nonsense as flagship events for a state. At least they’re investing in cycling.

    • My suggestion is that once we get onto big races like the Omloop and T-A/P-N then we start looking beyond them. It’s not so much the location of the race or who is paying for it, more the way that each race can be viewed in the light of what’s coming next.

        • Well, it can still be a predictor. Boonen was second to Vanmarcke in a sprint there in 2012 and had his greatest season ever after. He had a relatively poor Omloop last year, along with a relatively poor (by his standard anyway) rest-of-season. So the Omloop can still show who is in form. Much like the Tour of Qatar or the other middle eastern races, doing well shows your in form, and you can usually carry it over to the spring, while doing poorly doesnt necessarily mean anything, but it can.

          • If anything there’s a “winner’s curse”. Logically because if you peak for the end of February and you risk being stale by April. For the superstitious there have been a few cases of bad luck of the years, eg Stannard last year, he wins the Omloop only to miss the later races with a serious back injury.

  6. I’d just like to be able to see more of the early racing on TV. I enjoyed the mountains of Oman last year (I think!) but this year apparently not…

    I don’t give a damn about bickering over the “real” start to the season. I like to see good racing in beautiful/dramatic places.

  7. Ask yourself a simple question: is there ANY rider out there making the Tour Down Under, The Tour of Dubai, or Oman or Qatar his season’s goal? Let’s get real here. Riders are using these races as warm ups. The proper races begin in March.

  8. I’m not the most experienced race watcher, but I’ve enjoyed the racing so far. The crosswind strategies, for example, are interesting. And it’s fun to see different teams working together for their varying purposes; Nibali working at the front was neat (I think I’m remembering Nibali). For me, that’s one of the things that makes stage racing exciting: there are always four or five different races happening. And in any given race, the great majority of riders aren’t riding to win themselves, and I enjoy the ways teamwork plays out.

  9. For me the season will start on 22nd March with Milan-Sanremo, because that’s when the racing I’m interested in Starts. I appreciate the early season stuff and I’ll read the reports to get some indication of form (although I always take it with a pinch of salt) but Milan-Sanremo is when the some of the top guys first show their real form and, in my eyes, that’s the first real race of the year.

  10. I don’t understand why people are getting all twisted in a knot over these “foreign, non-traditional” races early season. First off, and I’ll bypass most of this part, it whispers of Eurocentrism and (maybe) whiffs of a fear-of-the-other. Secondly, and more importantly as INRNG has exhaustively noted, these races are beginning to tell a season story: early season warm up races to judge form, team ability, and longer term race goals. It’s not a hard look to see early races in cross winds as important (soon to be vital?) preparation for later races.

    It’s not 1972 anymore, Omloop and Paris-Nice don’t start the season: the sport has evolved and will keep doing so.

    • I feel that describing the rhetoric re newer races as ‘snobbery’ is a red herring. Many people are snobbish about one thing or another. It’s how oddly dogmatic they can be when talking about it that bothers me. E.g. some people honestly came across like the proposed WT points system giving all races the same value was a personal insult and a deliberate attack on the sanctity of the classics. It’s off-putting.

  11. To me, racing is more like art in motion. I don’t go to a museum and look at the works as a build up to the big piece of art to come. I look at each piece as part of a tapestry of expression, but as individual. So too each race no matter which week.

    My racing was all about each event being its own intricate contest of me, the route, the riders, the moment. I tend to hold to exactly the same view now – each race is wonderful in itself.

    Is this a choice of whether to live in the moment or not? I make that choice happily, and am pleased to respect the second choice when others make that one.

    This is the kind of article that brings me back to your blog every day. It is so much better than PR quotes and discussions of PED. For me it is about the soul of bicycle racing, one aspect of the sport I still enjoy after all these years. Thank you for doing such good work. Chapeau, and with your cap no less!

  12. I like this plea to enjoy whatever race is currently in front od us, rather than viewing it in the context of what is still to come. The Dauphine last year is a case in point; one minute Froome and Contador were testing each other’s climbing abilities in preparation for the Grande Depart, the next minute Andrew Talansky had taken advantage of their misfortune to produce a truly thrilling finish and, ultimately, race win.

    The Dauphine was one of the races of 2014 on it’s own merits, and turned out to tell us next to nothing about the Tour de France.

    • Yet, for some others, that was exactly the reason why it WASN’T a good race. Everyone knew Talansky wasn’t the best guy there and due to other events we had been robbed of the real race. Five or six weeks later Talansky was crawling along a French road suffering from chronic back pain and rolling out of the TdF and Nibali, who had just used the Dauphine as a training ride, was 7 minutes better than anyone else. If it is a “story of the season” you want then the Dauphine was an anomaly.

      • I watched the Dauphine and I have to disagree , I thought it was some of the most exciting racing of the year. Watching Contador just putting the hammer down but to fall short , it really was some amazing racing. I’ve watched the race a few times in the last few years and I think the one week races , particularly the Dauphine , Romandie and Switzerland are some of the best around , no fluff just stuff racing.

  13. Thanks for the reminder Inrng. I have to actually make the effort to review a race. I think it might be that I’ve enjoyed watching the events unfold so much that I’m already looking forward to the next time I can do that. Added to that, the ‘big picture’ of a riders schedule or the season itself, and it becomes too easy to miss out on the enjoyment of taking the time to saviour what you’ve just witnessed.

    I’ll be making every effort this year to take a moment and ‘smell the flowers’ as it were before I move on to the next instalment of the racing calender.

  14. Hi! Everyone has made very valuable contributions to the various sides of the argument but one thing I’d like to ask/mention is whether the “new” races even *want* to be treated as serious goals for the riders? Dubai/Qatar are exhibitions, a festival, and everyone wins. Fans get to see racing where previously there was a hole. Riders get to ride hard, work teams out and also pick up some valuable points. And the hosts get some nice exposure. The Middle East hosts don’t seem to be asking for any more than that.

    I appreciate that Aus has morphed into something more serious – attracting a proper international field – and that’s wonderful.

    On the other hand, “old” races like Paris-Nice might feel in the shadow of the TdF, but then I think *who* exactly is feeling disgruntled? Riders? No, they get to ride. Fans? No, they get to watch. Organisers? I don’t think so, they get exposure and a bit of cash. Maybe it’s the people who read dedicated cycling blogs trying to express the sense of losing touch of something that once was but is now forgotten? Well that’s just what happens in life. Ah, nostalgia!

    • I really don’t get the point about Paris-Nice. Does anyone really still think that people winning what is often a fairly gentle roll south to the Med is any indicator of form for the Tour? Certainly the last few years I’ve just been watching it as a self-contained event with no further ramifications. Its a race unique in itself and none the worse for that. Kelly won it seven times but no one thought he would win the TdF. Recent winners like Porte or Betancur are unlikely to win the big one either. And in the last couple of years Tirreno seems to have become more favoured both for riders honing themselves for the Classics and for the Giro. You don’t have to get tied into multi-race narratives such as Paris-Nice/Romandie/Dauphine/Tour.

      • From memory look at the last 10 years and the Paris-Nice winner has gone on to win the Tour de France more often than not, adjusting here or there for Landis and Contador etc. The race has changed its format to become more like the Tour de France with harder “summit” finishes and longer time trials, not so obvious for Kelly to win on these courses.

  15. Point is well made. Enjoy the contest before you right here and right now regardless of it’s history or where, or when it is being held.
    Cadel Evan’s farewell Great Ocean Road race in Australia was a hard fought attacking battle that whet my appetite for Spring. It was early season and on the wrong side of the world, in it’s first year and missing lots of big names, but I’d lay money that it was much more entertaining than the long procession, then sprint I expect from a venerable but predictable Milan San Remo or Paris Tours.

    • The Great Ocean Road race was very enjoyable, and like you I enjoyed the ongoing flurry of attacks toward the end. I hope next year’s edition is as good.

  16. The “Season” means different things to different folks. It’s not some ball game sport with a decider at the end or a league. For me the season used to start along the southern coast of Spain when I admired with jealousy the pictures of the bunch strung out and the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, glorious sunshine as oppose to the frost on my windows. Though that early scene has changed a little, the season for me starts with Paris Nice, a race I love and when my interest is sparked for the Spring.

  17. First let me say I’ve been reading INRNG for a while and I love the work you’ve done, great content.
    Now to the point, this has nothing to do with the article, but a friend of mine wanted me to explain the details of the Tour to him and why I love cycling so much. He wanted me to format it so he can post it to his blog. As a big fan of pro cycling, I want to make him understand and enjoy it like I do. I came up with this:


    I was wondering what y’all think is good/bad about what I wrote and what I could add/take out to make it better? Thoughts?

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