This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Cycle Sport magazine
Cycle Sport lists the ‘best of the rest’ – ten races that don’t feature in the UCI’s top flight World Calendar.
1. OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD
Beer! Cobbles! Freezing, driving rain! This truly is the holy trinity of bike racing.
End-of-season gem — one of the best-designed routes in cycling, which leaves the outcome finely balanced between the sprinters and attackers. Also famous for clichéd photographs of hunters and dogs watching the race.
3. TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
In at number three, not for the quality of the racing, but for the stoic willingness of half of the state of California to outdo even the Tour de France in the exhibitionist eccentricity of its fans. Mankinis, sumo suits and that guy who’s going to have somebody’s eye out one day with his horned helmet. Top marks, Californians.
4. CRITERIUM INTERNATIONAL
One flat stage, one climbing stage, one time trial, all in a weekend. We like it even more since they moved it to Corsica. This year’s event was notable for Lance Armstrong talking to us — we fooled him by using the new guy! Ha, ha!
5. GP MIGUEL INDURAIN
One of the hardest one-day races in cycling, taking terrified cyclists over an exceptionally hilly route in the heart of the Basque Country, in rainy early April. When you can’t even pronounce the name of the climbs, you know you’re in trouble.
6. MONTE PASCHI EROICA
Beautiful, evocative race over the famous strade bianche (white gravel roads) of Tuscany. The sun has shone every year so far in the race’s four-year history, but after watching the Giro mudbath on the same roads this year, we’re itching for a week of rain in the run-up to the race.
7. TOUR OF BRITAIN
Real ale! Cobbles! (Well, Constitution Hill counts). Er, freezing, driving rain! Who says Belgium’s the spiritual home of bike racing? The Tour of Britain used to be a bit underwhelming, but it’s carving out a niche for itself, especially in the West Country stages. Impossible to control, and a difficult race to win, it is unpredictable, tough and entertaining.
8. TOUR OF QATAR
Uninterrupted wind blasting across the open desert has turned the Tour of Qatar into an annual masterclass in spectacular echelon racing. Forget the lack of hills and scenery — just watch the dynamics of the peloton as the winds hit.
9. TRO BRO LEON
Rural, muddy version of the Eroica, deep in the heart of Brittany. The only race we know that runs down farm tracks with tufts of grass growing down the middle.
10. TOUR DU HAUT VAR
A belting two-day race through Provence, which used to be a belting one-day race through Provence. If you’re a fan of uphill finishes there are two of them to keep you happy. Nothing that will put a smile on a sprinter’s face, though.