How the hell … ? is Journal Velo‘s regular column, giving readers food for thought and topics for discussion. This week, it’s time to get timely. Why are two big races happening at the same time right now?
Stage-racing arrives, in earnest, in Europe this week. After weeks of racing through the deserts and round the skyscrapers in the Middle East, cycling’s coming home. And we’ve got two big races at the same time: Paris-Nice started on Sunday and, today, Tirreno-Adriatico kicks off.
Each race has a world-class start list of climbers and sprinters. Each race is prestigious to win in its own right and gives pointers on what we can look forward to this season. However, you have to be a dedicated fan of cycling to catch both live. You’ll need to push technology to its limits too, especially if your #HomeOfCycling doesn’t have space in its schedules.
In a sport where exposure is its lifeblood, how the hell can we have two big stage races on at the same time?
Who was here first? Paris-Nice by a country mile. It was first held in 1933 and has, more or less, always taken place in early March. Tirreno-Adriatico is the rebellious child of the sixties, stumbling onto the French race’s patch. It arrived just before the summer of love in 1966 – it too has always taken place in early to mid-March.
Unusually, both races tell stories through their routes. Paris-Nice is the “race to the sun”, starting off under the clouds and on the flat near Paris before heading to the warmer climes and climbs down south. Tirreno-Adriatico is the “race of the two seas”, taking the peloton from coast to coast like an ankle strap around the boot of Italy.
Both races can throw up thrilling racing, especially if the weather plays a part. They both offer clues to the races ahead. They demand attention that you don’t always have to give.
If you want to know the form of Arnaud Demare, to see how Tim Wellens kicks on or if Lilian Calmejane is still on fire, you want to be watching Paris-Nice. If you’re interested in Romain Bardet, Caleb Ewan or Miguel Angel Lopez, tune in to Tirreno-Adriatico.
It’s not just an inconvenience for square-eyed fans. World Tour teams have to compete in both races. Obviously, that means two sets of riders but also employing double the mechanics, support staff and even buses. For fans and teams alike, it would be better to move one of them… but to where?Embed from Getty Images
If you think about shifting either race sideways by a week or so you start clashing with classics and monuments. From the end of February to the end of April the calendar is full of attention-grabbing one-day races. Conflicting with a couple of these is going to seriously reduce the quality of your start list. Would 2016 Tirreno-Adriatico winner Greg Van Avermaet have taken part if the race clashed with the Flanders classics? Would Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni be lining up for Paris-Nice if it meant missing Milan-San Remo?
Could you be radical and move one of the races even later? Not really. Once you’re clear of the classics, you’re slap-bang in Grand Tour territory. You’d have Tirreno-Adriatico the week before the Giro, or Paris-Nice just before the Dauphine. Moving the races later into the spring would substantially alter their characters and reasons for being.
To prove how hard it is to find a gap, look at the issues facing Velon, the group owned by many of the teams. They’ve confirmed the dates for two of their Hammer Series events. The first one clashes with the end of the Giro, the second one is on at the same time the Dauphine starts. Not ideal for events that need as many eyes on them as possible.
So how the hell can we have two big stages races on at the same time? Because there’s no space – the calendar is full. As hard as it is to keep up, this is the only way.