If you’re a bike racing fan, you already know what’s happening over the next few weeks.
In July, most of cycling fans are going to be looking at France. While the Tour de France is cycling’s biggest event, with legendary performances, the chance to change cycling history on the line, new bike technology drops, special team liveries and kits, wild weather and dramatic upsets right up to the line, there’s a reason it’s the biggest event on the cycling calendar.
But there’s a lot more going on in the bike world than that.
Women’s races are finally starting to get the attention they deserve. One of cycling’s legendary races is called Paris Roubaix, and it is generally a muddy slog over ancient paved roads in the north of France. Nicknamed the “Hell of the North,” 2021 was the first year ever that a women’s version was held — and it was even more epic than the men’s race.
There is still a lot of progress to be made in women’s cycling to bring pay scales and attention up to par with the men’s version. While the Tour de France Femmes is not as prestigious or long as the men’s race, if more people pay attention to it, the governing bodies of the sport are going to have to pay attention and bring women’s racing up to the level it deserves to be. That doesn’t even touch on the fact that trans athletes are ostracized for participaint in cycling races. Trans people absolutely deserve to be a part of the sports they love, and we need more people paying attention to them and supporting them.
Pro teams don’t just stick to the road these days. My favourite team, EF Education-EasyPost (pro teams change their names like it’s going out of style), has what they call an “Alternate Program” where they let their riders explore different aspects of cycling and culture. One rider, Lachlan Morton, took on the Tour de France completely solo last year. He rode from the start line to the finish line, with all of the roads in between stages by himself without any support. The whole time he raised money for World Bicycle Relief. More recently, he rode from Munich, Germany to the Ukrainian border to show how close we all are to active combat zones, putting the Ukraine war in context. He also raised $200,000 for the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
Much closer to home than France is the Tour Divide. The Tour Divide is a race from Banff to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. While the winners of this race have already crossed the line (the men’s winner finished in 14 days, 16 hours and the women’s winner in 19 days 54 minutes), there are still 122 riders (as of June 29) on the course. This race is relatively unknown, it is a fully self-supported race, with no rest days or scheduled stops. Riders have to do their own repairs, prep their own meals, find places to sleep and are actually not allowed to receive any outside help. The neat thing about this is it is not left to the elite elite of the sport. Anyone can give it a try. All you have to do is show up in Banff on the second Friday in June and have your chance to make history. They also have special singlespeed category if you’re especially masochistic.
The Tour Divide is only one of many gravel races. There even are some on Vancouver Island. The Vancouver Island Gravel Series’ Forbidden Gravel Experience wrapped up a few weeks ago, race two, the Mid Island Velo Association’s Unpaved event is on Aug. 28, and the third, the Burnt Bridge Gravel Fondo is on Sept. 24. These events are long, relatively self-supported gravel races that again are relatively open to anyone. Gravel racing has helped bring cycling into the mainstream and has boosted the economies of small communities all over North America. Even if you’re not planning to race, they are worth checking out.
Then going into the fall is the Cross on the Rock series. This is a cyclocross series held on Vancouver Island in several communities. Cyclocross is something to see. It’s like the punk rock version of road cycling, with lots of mud and wipe outs thrown in. Seriously, it’s worth checking out. The official schedule has not been scheduled yet, but the first event is often held in Cumberland in early to mid September.
I will definitely be tuning in to the Tour de France this year. While I was not always a big Tour fan, the history and spectacle of the race does draw me in year after year. That being said, more focus needs to be put on other aspects of the sport. From Morton’s alternative racing, to women’s racing, to supporting the right of all athletes to compete in their chosen sports, to promoting sports and culture beyond just hockey and football here at home, there is a lot to love about cycling sports.
Allez, allez, allez!