When does the 2021 pro cycling season *really* begin?

The professional road racing season is theoretically international these days which meant the 2021 World Tour officially got underway in the UAE in February, following the cancellation of the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia earlier in the year.

But everyone knows that isn’t the real start of the season. You only have to see the kits and one or two excruciatingly-soundtracked team videos to know that cycling remains, at heart, a European thing.

Pro cycling is a sport of espresso and frites and garish clothing and out-of-shape Belgian team managers with terrible haircuts. It is a sport where about half the teams are sponsored by a national lottery in the Low Countries.

The upshot of this is that no matter what official status the sport’s governing body bestows on newer events, no-one really feels like things are underway until we’ve had a big race in Belgium, another in France and another in Italy.

And that’s pretty much where we are.

That bit of spring where everything gets underway

We have two main narrative strands at this time of year:

  1. The spring classics get underway, starting with the Omloop
  2. We get a few sighters for this year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia through those annual parallel stage races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico

In an innovation for 2021, the spring classics are so far taking place during the spring and not the autumn.

The Omloop’s actually been and gone last weekend. The men’s race was won by a Deceuninck-Quick Step rider, Davide Ballerini. (DQS win more than their fair share of one-day races). The women’s race was won by Anna van der Breggen, who won pretty much everything last year.

Ballerini got €16,000 in prize money.

Van der Breggen got €930.

Prize money is a bit of a red herring in cycling in that no-one’s relying on it for income. Even so, it’s a red herring that you might want to take a look at if you’re Flanders Classics because it’s a red herring that rather undermines the investments you’re making in other areas of women’s cycling.

It’s not like it’s a thing people haven’t been complaining about for a while now. When Alberto Bettiol won another Flanders Classics race, the Tour of Flanders, in 2019, one of the people complaining about the discrepancy between what he won (€20,000) and what Marta Bastianelli won (€1,265) was… Alberto Bettiol.

“That’s a disgrace and unfair because she suffered just like I did or perhaps even more,” he reasoned.

If even the beneficiaries are annoyed, maybe just sort it out, hey?

What’s next?

Next up is Strade Bianche – the picturesque Italian one-day race held on white gravel roads through vineyards – on Saturday.

Foto LaPresse – Fabio Ferrari

Wout van Aert won it last year, shortly before winning a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

A day later, Paris-Nice starts and then Tirreno-Adriatico gets underway midweek.

This little batch of racing allows everyone to get into tip-top shape for the year’s main big run of one-day races:

  • Milan-Sanremo (Saturday March 20)
  • Gent-Wevelgem (Sunday March 28)
  • The Tour of Flanders (Sunday April 4)
  • Paris-Roubaix (Sunday April 11)
  • Amstel Gold (Sunday April 18)
  • La Fleche Wallonne (Wednesday April 21)
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Sunday April 25)

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll break up the coverage of these races, but rest assured that if you sign up for the email you won’t miss owt.