Two labels to describe bike races: top-down and bottom-up. Here it’s not a description of the course profile, instead this is about the organisation and culture.
Simplisitc? Sure, I’ll explain more below but the point is to explore two reasons for having a bike race in caricature and having these labels to hand means they can be referred to in future pieces.
These are the events that have been created at the stroke of pen, a click of a mouse or in a committee meeting. Important people have met and decided they want a bike race to happen somewhere. Their wish is their command and so the race duly happens. Typically this requires bringing in outsiders as organisers. Often the pro race in question can be one of the few big bike races going in the area, the sporting calendar is thin on other bike races. Think of the UAE Tour or the Tour of Oman.
Think of a local event that has started out small and grown, usually underpinned by local support whether funding or volunteer work and if there’s government involvement, it’s more likely to be local and regional rather than national. A newly-ordained pro race could still be included here if it’s an event that sits on top of a pyramid of other pro races, elite events and right down to kids races. A further aspect here is the authenticity, an event that takes some of the local characteristics and charms, it borrows from the landscape. Examples could include the Strade Bianche which grew out of the Eroica event and has become an event beloved by locals and non-locals alike.
Obviously there’s a substantial grey zone. Go through the calendar race by race and we’d struggle to brand each event as top down or bottom up with a snap judgement in three seconds. It might take more deliberation or even hesitation, and that’s no bad thing. Inevitably given these two labels are caricatures but in evoking them means this topic can be raised in the future and linked to, I can mention a “top down race” in passing, perhaps with a hyperlink, and you’ll know the meaning already or can find it out with the link.
The Tour de France is clearly a massive event but it benefits from a huge societal support in France. It’s grown into an institution that’s part of France’s cultural heritage, ditto the Giro and Vuelta. The Tour Colombia 2.1 stage race is back for 2024, clearly a race with massive popular support in Colombia but the revival this year has required political sign-off at a high level, locals alone aren’t sufficient.
Authenticity was suggested above and a top down race can have it if the new race is cherished by locals, takes on local characteristics and so on. The Tour de Yorkshire felt very real, but it was dependent on local funding and once the mood changed it was gone.
Labels and attitudes can shift too. A race that is imposed from the top down can take roots and become locally supported, perhaps outlasting the initial political or financial support. The season-ending Japan Cup race started out as a top-down race in the wake of the 1990 World Championships but has since been nurtured by host city Utsunomiya as a valuable addition to the city’s calendar. The Tour Down Under was created by politicians but has been adopted by locals as their festival of cycling and this in turn reinforces political support.
All this is particular to cycling. Viewed from the outside from a cycling blog it looks like you can rustle up a a golf or tennis tournament, or a Formula 1 GP and they can become instantly important. A bike race can happen, it can be awarded a high UCI status, it might have fine racing but this doesn’t bring prestige nor bless it with authenticity that makes it a hit.
Two labels that might come in handy later to describe races. Not every race can can fit one of these two labels but having them is going to help in the future when we look at calendar reform and the commercial imperative to create new races. If it helps, think of top down races as those where people said “we should hold a bike race there” and bottom-up races are where people said “we should hold a bike race here”.