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The 10 Most Interesting Bicycle Races for Amateurs in the World

Bicycle Race
1 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

This race is an annual event that takes place in Durango, Colorado. Unlike most of the conventional races where participants race against each other, participants in Iron Horse Bicycle Classic have to race against a train!

Its history dates back to around hundred years when a train D & R G W used to run on the Silverton tracks. Two brothers, Tom and Jim Mayer enthusiastically challenged each other to see if they could start from their house, along with the train, and reach the Silverton town before the machine. Though the train had a shorter and an easier route, its slow speed allowed them “race” against the train.

First formal edition of the competition was organized in 1972 when around 32 riders came together for a race. The race has been growing ever since. Many other events and races have also been coupled with this classic race over a period of time.

This classic train race is usually organized in the summer season and witnesses participation from hundreds of riders, regardless of their professional level or cycling skills. Due to its unique history, the race has now gained a cult status. It is not just a race but a celebration of the local history and culture too.

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2 Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive

The Giant’s Causeway Coast Supportive is a cycle race which is organized in the northern coast of Ireland. Rather than a competitive race, the event is considered to be a leisure game as one can enjoy the natural beauty of Ireland during the ride.

Counted among one of the largest cycle events in Ireland, it sees participation from more than 1,000 people every year. Participants can choose from the three formats available – 35 miles (Causeway Coaster), 85 miles (Glens and Coast Route) and 115 miles (Giant Killer). The ride originates and concludes in the Ballycastle town, a tiny seaside village in the Antrim County.

Usually held in the month of September, it is a well-organized event and charges a small entry fee of about £40. The race is not restricted to any group and even beginner cyclists can take part and enjoy the race.

The 35 mile Causeway Coaster is perfect for beginners since a majority of the track is circular and has flat roads. The 85-mile race is for the more seasoned riders as it involves certain climbs and descent, apart from the flat track. The third route of 115 miles is made for cyclists who have some professional experience, as maneuvering one’s way through such long a distance is not an easy task! Regardless of what route you choose, you will enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Ireland when you participate in this race.

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3 Cycletta

Cycletta is one of the few cycling events around the globe which are meant exclusively for women. The aim of the race is to promote the culture of cycling among women, and cyclists like Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic Gold Medalist, support the event.

The race no longer remains a standalone event as it has been integrated as a women’s only wave at four key events. With an increased number of routes to explore, cyclists can now also ride in exclusive women groups in the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride, Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France, the Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival and the ICAP L’Etape London by Le Tour de France.

The ride, which started in the year 2011 with just 20 km, has now increased with the “women waves” in the additional races. Because of its integration, the series of events provide women with a bigger and better exposure. Considered to be one of the progressive moves, thousands of women have been encouraged to take up their bikes and ride for a change.

The event is suitable for riders of all kinds. The women also cycle for generating support for the charity. Providing an incredible atmosphere, the route includes Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Cheshire, and East Sussex.

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4 Cape Town Cycle Tour

South Africa
Claimed to be the world’s largest timed cycle race, the Cape Town Cycle Tour is an annual cycle race held in South Africa. The first edition of this race was held in 1978, and today it is known to host more than 30,000 cyclists. It is also the first non-European cycle tour to be a part of the Union Cycliste Internationale’s Golden Bike Series.

Usually, the route is 109km long and the riders pass through the most panoramic landscapes of South Africa. Apart from the primary Cycle Tour, there are four additional events – tricycle tour (children below 6 years of age), junior cycle tour (children between 6 and 12 years of age), MTB challenge (Mountain Bike), and the Giro del Capo (a five day pro stage race, the last day culminating into the Cycle Tour).

The route involves the major points of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Peninsula. The event is a nine days’ long celebration which includes several training lessons, and awareness spreading sessions. All the proceeds from the event are directed to the Pedal Power Association (PPA) and The Rotary Club of Claremont, who utilize the funds for changing and uplifting the local community.

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5 Hero MTB Himalaya

Organized in one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas, the Hero MTB Himalaya Race is an unforgettable experience for any cyclist. The exceptional terrain with a mix of dirt, narrow valleys, water streams and picturesque landscapes ensure that it is easily amongst the best bicycle adventures in Asia.

Kicking off in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, the race takes the riders through all kinds of terrains and an elevation that can reach up to 2300 meters, giving them a true mountain biking experience. It is open to all and has five categories - Open Men Solo, Open Women Solo, Team of Two, Open Masters Solo, Open Grand Master Solo. It goes on for about 9 days and usually, there are less than 100 slots available.

Started in the year 2005, the first route was from Shimla to Manali. During the race, the participants can also enjoy camping, socializing with fellow cyclists, interacting with the locals, enjoying the Himalayan wildlife and much more. Some of the places en route include – Bhekhalti, Gadakufar, Shwad, Gada Gushani, Bagshed, Kamand, Jatingiri, Palampur, and Dharamshala. This race is a great way to challenge oneself through an enjoyable and adventurous pursuit.

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6 Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race

Known for its extreme style and the urban race track, the Cerro Abajo Race is organized every year in the World Heritage seaport city of Valparaiso in Chile. The urban track involves launching from a house, maneuvering through narrow lanes and making one’s way through the endless traffic of the city. The highlight of the race is its downward slope, especially where the riders have to cycle on a downhill stairway!

This race, which is one of the craziest bicycle races ever, was first held in 2003 and was as adventurous even then. The event manages to draw a crowd of more than 10,000 bicycle enthusiasts from all around the world. The winners usually complete the race taking less than three minutes, but make sure that the fun lasts forever.

Though anyone is free to participate, the race has certain qualifying rounds so that the final leg witnesses participants who are capable of completing in the race. The most exciting part about the race is that the “track” is actually the city roads, to which no major alterations are made, and the set-up is done at the very last moment.

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7 Maratona des Dolomites

One of the more popular amateur bicycle races in the world, the Maratona des Dolomites is organized every year in the first week of July. The track takes the cyclists through mountain passes in the Dolomite region of Italy. More than 9,000 bicycle enthusiasts from about 40 countries take part in this annual event.

Reported as “one of the biggest, most passionate, and most chaotic bike races on Earth”, by National Geographic, the first race was organized in the year 1987 for celebrating the Alta Badia-Raiffeisen Cycling Club’s 10th anniversary. Thousands of people pre-register for taking part in the competition, and seeing such wide-spread interest, the final number of contestants had to be capped at 9000. There is a lottery system to draw the participants, who start from the village of La Ila and pass through Sellaronda. The riders have an option of either ending their journey at Sellaronda, or to continue and participate in the Full Maratona and pass through the Dolomite mountains.

There is no qualifying criterion and any interested rider can take part in the event. A week before the flagging off of the official race, certain smaller events and training sessions are held at the venue. Being one of the biggest races in Italy it is broadcasted live by Rai, the official broadcaster of the country.

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8 UCI Gran Fondo World Series Previously known as the UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT), this is one of the biggest cycling tours in the entire world. First held in 2011, there are about 22 qualifying events where in the top 25% in every age group are filtered for the UCI championship.

With an aim of “Cycling for All”, the competition is open for Masters, who might one day want to become Pro Elite riders, as well as Amateurs, who ride for the sheer fun of cycling. The series organizes its preliminary events in various countries across the globe, and the top quarter, who make into champions in the final stage are awarded the much prized rainbow jersey.

The GFWS starts by making groups or wavers of rides and then starting them off one by one. The three categories of the race involve full closed roads, rolling road closure and open roads.

The first one involves no traffic and is best for beginner bicyclists. In the open road category, the riders have to be mindful of the vehicular traffic. The rolling road closure is the most interesting among them all, where if the rider does not complete a check-point within a pre-determined time, only then would have to navigate through the traffic.

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9 Green Mountain Stage Race

The Green Mountain Stage Race is an event organized in Vermont US and lasts for about four days. This is one of the oldest cycling events in the United States wherein riders of all levels can participate.

Unlike most other races, the Mountain Stage has about 11 formats to choose according to one’s riding level and experience. Counted more as a leisure activity, the race is meant for one to enjoy the beautiful environment and to experience riding in such large groups of people.

The Stage 1 is flagged off in Flat Iron Road Warren Village and covers a distance of about 5.7 miles. Stages 2 and 3 have different routes depending upon the categories. The covered distances are either 53.5 miles or 107 miles. Stage 4 is said to be a technical round because of the 6-cornered track. As it’s not a route per se, the track here requires a participant to finish multiple laps of it.

Though anyone can participate in this round, organizers highly recommended the participants to first walk on the complex track to gauge whether it can be covered in a time-bound and repetitive manner by them or not.

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10 Tour of Battenkill

New York
This race is held in the Washington County of New York in North America. Known as America’s Queen of the Classics, one of the attractions of this race is the mesmerizing sceneries of the village life it offers. It’s also more on the fun side, rather than being a hard-fought professional event.

The tour has 3 formats to choose from. The first one and the longest, comes from the integration of Gran Fondo, which is about 75 miles. The second one, called the Medio Fondo is about 42 miles, and the newest one is the Piccolo Fondo, where the rider has to cover about 26 miles.

Several free goodies are given to the participants to celebrate their accomplishment. In addition, they’re treated to complimentary food as well as some beer! The entry is also fairly reasonable for all the formats (less than $100), especially if you buy your ticket well in advance.

Touted as “America’s biggest one-day road race” and the “the toughest one-day road race in the country”, it starts from the Washington County Fairgrounds, with tracks requiring upward climbs, navigation through dirt roads, constant dealing with punctured tires and many more adventures of the same kind.

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Long gone are the days when bicycles were merely used as a means of transportation. Very soon after the introduction of bicycles, people realized their importance, and started using them for several other purposes. From delivering the newspapers in the morning to their extensive use in the World War II, bicycles have had their fair share in the human history.

Over the years, cycling has evolved as a sport and has moved beyond that as well. A number of competitive races have been organized regularly for the professional cyclists since the late 19th century. The most famous among them remains the Tour de France, whose first edition was organized way back in 1903. Apart from the tour-cycling, there are various other professional race types, such as the track cycling, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, BMX biking, cycle-speedway, etc.

However, due to the immense popularity of cycles in the 20th century, bike races and other events also started being conducted for beginners and amateur riders. Their primary aim was to encourage cycling as a sport among the masses. Today there is plethora of amateur races wherein people can participate without the need of any professional background. In fact, in some children as young as 6 can take part too!

Races and tours provide an excellent opportunity to meet people with common interests and to bond with them. Most of the races are organized in locations with beautiful sceneries and pleasant climate. Pedaling on such roads with peers creates a charged-up atmosphere and can prove to be a life-changing experience for many.

Bicycling has become an industry in itself. Many countries are coming forth to use the sport as a means for “cycle tourism”. Being one of the most sustainable forms of sports, requirements for bike touring are mostly catered to across the globe. The infrastructure of many cities is already ramped up to provide for lanes exclusively for bicycles. Multiple hotels, cafes and cycle-friendly restaurants have been opened up on the route of cyclists. This makes sure that their en route demands are met and cyclists can embark on long journeys with ease.

With the huge number of people that take part in amateur bike races, these events draw a lot of attention from the masses and increase their curiosity for the sport. Every year, a great number of new and first-time bikers take part in such races and become a part of this subculture. However, very few of them know how the sport has evolved over the years. If you too are an amateur rider or want to become one, read along to brush up your basic knowledge about bicycling.

Inception of bicycle events

The modern-day form of bicycles was first presented to the masses in the 1880s. During those times, a cycle was considered to be the symbol of speed, and progression into the modern era. From years 1890 to 1950, the living standards of the common man in Europe started to see a rise, which led them to adopt more means of comfort into their lifestyles. One such machine that benefited from this trend was the bicycle. People from the western countries like Italy, Belgium, Spain, etc. started to cycle in large numbers. In France, the number of bicycles per 100 people increased to 30 in 1952, from the previous 0.5 in 1890.

The increasing sale of bicycles led to several social changes during at that time, such as decrease in the working times of employees. With the availability of bicycles, workers could commute to their workplace in a very short span of time, thus saving up on this very critical resource. The faster means of wheels, also led to faster delivery of newspapers, thus increasing the reach of the printed media. These two factors combined together encouraged the sports media to collaborate with the bicycle companies and conducting organized cycling events, something which was to their mutual benefit.

Bicycle races and sports newspapers

The earliest known bicycle races were organized by newspaper companies in the 1860s. But for about twenty-thirty years these races were organized in velodromes (oval racetracks for cycles). This system not just limited the number of people participating in such events, but the viewers were also a certain fee for watching the races. Thus, aiming for a wider audience, a new trend was started in the 1890s wherein these cycle races were taken to the public roads. An increased audience led to more revenue and better ticket sales, and for the sports newspapers, it meant greater advertisement revenue.

These early races used to be conducted in Western Europe and bikers would cover distances of around 250 km to 400 km in such events. Famed as the “classics” back in the day, the participants used to travel from one point to another and it used to take them several hours to cover the distance. Nevertheless, it was a giant leap from the confines of a velodrome! Cyclists were perceived as heroes back in that era and the events were considered no less than the famed world championships of other sports such as boxing. Since an average person could only catch a glimpse of his/her “heroes”, it left the audience wanting to know more about the races. The only way to fulfill this demand was to increase the coverage of the sport in the newspapers.

From the beginning of the 20th century, the number of events organized by newspapers multiplied by manifolds. It was during the same time, that the famous races like Tour de France and Paris-Nice saw their inception. Tour de France was started by the French Newspaper L’Auto and continues till date, occupying the coveted no. 1 position in the professional cycle races of the world. Some other popular races initiated that time include Giro d’Italia by the newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, and the Vuelta a Espana by the newspaper Informaciones. These newspapers became so popular that their competitors who were not involved in bicycle races, soon had to end their operations.

International Cycling Union

As the number of cycling events increased in the 20th century, a crisis arose. The multiple races that were being organized overlapped with each other. Also, races in the European nations and the US were organized independently, without any “common calendar”. This issue escalated more so in the case of professional riders and their teams, as no coherent system of ranking could be devised. Another problem faced was with respect to the uniformity of the rules and regulations in these races.

To address these issues, the cycling regulatory associations of the United States, Switzerland, Belgium, France, and Italy formed the Union Cycliste Internationale commonly known as the International Cycling Union, or just UCI. The organization takes care of all the administrative aspects, and releases a common calendar of events. In the latter half of the 20th century, to give specific focus to the amateur cycling, the UCI was divided into International Amateur Cycling Federation and the International Professional Cycling Federation. Today, that division has been done away with, and the unified UCI looks after all the cycling events.

Cycling for a cause

Many cycling enthusiasts gradually moved from riding solely for pleasure purposes, to participating in what came to be known as “bicycle activism”. They promote bicycles as a substitute for cars and motorbikes for work-commute and other purposes. The first and direct benefit of this is on the riders’ health. The exercise not only keeps him/her in shape but also has innumerable health benefits that include cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility, bone strengthening, etc. Apart from physical fitness improvement, cycling has various positive psychological benefits too. Activities like cycling are known to improve mental strength, reduce stress levels, anxiety, etc.

The secondary benefit of cycling is to do with our environment. With lesser number of vehicles on roads, the emission of smoke and toxic gases is also reduced. This decreases the atmospheric pollution levels, enabling us to breathe safer and cleaner air. Reduced use of vehicles also saves up more fossil fuels for the future generations, thus leading to sustainable development. It also leads to less felling of the trees. The decline in the CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbon) also helps in maintaining the ozone layer and creates a healthy ecosystem for humanity.

A number of charity organizations use bicycles to spread their message and to raise funds for their social causes. Many NGOs organize cycling events and tours to create awareness about diverse social issues such as education, environmental concerns, AIDS, cancer, etc. This aspect of making a contribution to the society, while following one’s passion encourages multitudes of people to participate in these events.

As highlighted earlier, there are many cycling events, such as Cycletta in UK, that are targeted solely at women, encouraging them to take the lead and introduce bicycling in their day-to-day lives. Seeing such progressive initiatives, major cycling events in Europe decided to support Cycletta and integrated it into their own touring events. Racing events like the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride, Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France, the Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival and the ICAP L’Etape London by Le Tour de France, all have exclusive women waves.