Which bike races actually matter?

There are a billion bike races, but few people know which ones really matter. Everyone knows the Tour de France, but beyond that people are generally a bit lost. There’s a dim awareness of the Giro d’Italia (“It’s like the Tour de France, only in Italy”) and the Vuelta a Espana (“It’s like the Tour de France, only in Spain”), but what else?

I’ve tried to produce a pared-back version of the UCI World Tour in an effort to highlight the major races.

The season’s most important races

Milan-San Remo (1 day) – March

The cobbled classics (all 1 day) – March to April

  • E3 Harelbeke (also known as E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke)
  • Gent-Wevelgem
  • Ronde van Vlaanderen (also known as the Tour of Flanders)
  • Paris Roubaix

The Ardennes classics (all 1 day) – April

  • Amstel Gold
  • La Fleche Wallonne
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Giro d’Italia (21 stages) – May

Tour de France (21 stages) – June to July

Vuelta a Espana (21 stages) – August to September

The World Championships (time trial and one-day road race) – September

Giro di Lombardia (1 day) – September

This is mostly for my own benefit, so there’s perhaps a little personal prejudice in this. I’ve excluded a lot of major stage races, for example, because even though many of them have great history and earn teams and riders big points in the rather opaque ranking system operated by the UCI, I kind of feel that they’re largely about setting the scene for the Grand Tours, whereas in contrast some of the day races are focal points in their own right.

That said – entirely contradicting that – I’ve also included a handful of day races which in large part owe their status to being scene-setters. This is because they occur at a similar time and in similar conditions to one of the big races and are therefore almost part of the same ‘event’. The cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics are basically families of races, so I’ve included them all and put the main races in bold.

Further reading

You might now want a good, straightforward explanation of the racing itself.