Late winter — early spring, depending on the region of the world, is the beginning of professional road cycling races season, inspiring millions of amateurs who alternate their own training and bikepacking trips with watching races on TV. Well, like me, for example.
However, given the variety of cycling competitions in different formats, it is easier to get lost in the calendar than to understand it by missing your favorite or most important race of the season. Just try to answer the question yourself: which comes first: Amstel Gold Race or Paris-Roubaix? And what kind of races are these, anyway?
To prevent this from happening to you, read this guide to the UCI World Tour calendar with major pro road bike races. Bookmark it on your browser — you’ll still need it, the season is almost a full year and will last until November. In the end, you will also find an exact competition calendar with dates and other useful information. But first: what is this Tour?
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The UCI World Tour is the main event or rather a season in professional road cycling, which takes place every year for 9 months from January to November around the world, but mainly in Europe as the central (and simply the best) region for the sport. If you are skiing or surfing, it’s like the Freeride World Tour and World Surf League.
UCI stands for Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union), which is the main world cycling organization that holds the Tour, but also almost all other competitions. Check your bike and you will find its emblem on it, which means it is approved for competition. UCI is headquartered in the small town of Aigle in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland.
In 2023 the UCI calendar consists of 35 races of different formats, durations, and importance. The figure is not constant and varies from year to year with the removal of some events and the addition of others. For example, the Classic Brugge-De Panne race moved to the World Tour from the lower division (which I will also mention at the end of the guide) in 2019, and the RideLondon-Surrey Classic in the UK has dropped off the calendar, and so on.
So let’s break it all down, using the most recent version as an example. But keep in mind that there may be changes in the future, so we will also briefly describe other important UCI races.
John Cameron / Unsplash
The Grand Tours are the three main professional bike races in the entire world of cycling. The list include the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España — in order of importance and popularity. If you arrange them chronologically, the last one is in Spain in September and will remain in its place, and the French Tour in July and the Italian Giro in May will switch places. All three races are three weeks long and consist of 21 stages plus a few rest days. The winner is determined by the overall best time. In other words, it’s like 63 separate races! Winning a Grand Tour stage is just as incredibly prestigious as winning the individual one-day races listed below.
The Cycling Monuments are five of the most prestigious one-day races in the world, also called Monument Classics for the reason that each is also a classic cycling race, of which there are few. "Classic" means a great history, popularity, and so on, and as a consequence prestigious to participate and win. The location of each race is also easy to guess from their names, but if you are not a geography expert, here and hereafter I have indicated the countries. To win at least one of these races is like going around the world on foot — in theory, every regular hiker can do it, but in fact, there are probably no more than 100 people in the world who actually did it, because it is very, very long and difficult.
Classic bike races, or simply Classics for short, are actually the main body of one-day professional bike races, which include, first, as I just noticed, all five of the above-mentioned Monuments, as well as several dozen other races, of which 11 can be found in the 2023 World Tour calendar. So there are quite a few of them. Classic races are divided according to two main criteria: season and road surface. In the latter case, in particular, there are Cobbled Classics — routes consisting partly of cobbles in northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which are the main countries for the Classics. There is also at least one gravel race — the Strade Bianche (the White Road) in Tuscany, Italy, named so because of the clouds of white dust raised by riders.
Six spring Classics
Two summer Classics
Three autumn Classics
In addition to the Classics, the UCI has several other one-day races on the calendar, which are of a lower level but are also considered prestigious. Sometimes they are called the Semi-classics or Elite races. For example, it is the first one-day race in the entire UCI season, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, named after perhaps the most famous cyclist from this country who won the Tour de France in 2011. It takes place on the famous scenic road along the Pacific Ocean at the very end of January. By the way, you can say "scenic" about the routes of almost all professional bike races, so they can be used by amateurs.
Bike stage races are the last and largest group of races in the UCI calendar, which last from a few days to a week and more. You could say that they are a kind of “shortened by three times Grand Tours” — also in terms of geography because they focus on certain regions of France, Italy, and Spain. These races are also taking over more countries, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and even China. These races are also considered training races for the Grand Tours, and their winners can often be used to predict the best riders of the latter. Such races are also easily identified by the same words "Tour", "Giro", "Vuelta" or "Volta", and similar in their names.
John Cameron / Unsplash
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As a result, the 2023 UCI World Tour calendar includes the three Grand Tours, five Monument classic one-day bike races, 13 classic one-day races (10 in Europe, two in Canada, and one in Australia), and 13 bike stage races (10 in Europe, one in the United Arab Emirates, one in China, and one in Australia).
Just for the big picture and a better understanding of the World Tour races: in addition to it, UCI also conducts about a hundred other large and prestigious races in two lower divisions: UCI ProSeries and UCI Continental Circuits. These are both one-day and multi-day races united on different principles. In the second case — by five continents, as the name suggests: Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Let's break it down.
Other Classics and Semi-classics. Among the most famous races are, first, many other classic and semi-classic, and elite bike races, which take place in the same countries as World Tour races, in all three parts of the season, but mostly in spring and autumn, as in summer all the attention of cycling fans is focused on the Tour de France. For example, these are Clásica de Almería in Spain; Milano-Torino and Giro del Piemonte in Italy, Nokere Koerse in Belgium; Grand Prix de Fourmies and Paris-Tours in France, Münsterland Giro in Germany; and Japan Cap.
It is also important to note that it is not always possible to draw a clear line between classic and semi-classic bike races. In particular, the latter may contain the word “Classic” in the name. Also, as you may have noticed yourself, some one-day races, including one Monument, may have the word "Tour" in the name.
Season Openers. Among the one-day races, there are also separate so-called "Season Openers", that is, the first race of the season in each country. These races are important precisely for that reason, although they are not part of the World Tour, except for a few. So in France it is Grand Prix Cycliste La Marseillaise; in Belgium — Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (World Tour) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne; in Italy — Trofeo Laigueglia; in Spain — Trofeo Pollença. But even before the season starts in Australia, where it is the already mentioned Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (World Tour), for which it is, on the contrary, the fall race and one of the last races of the outgoing cycling season.
Other bike stage races. Second, there are also over three dozen other bike stage races in different countries and geographic regions. For example, one of my favorite home races, the Tour of the Alps, across the Euroregion Trentiro-South Tyrol-Tyrol takes place every year in April and consists of 5 stages. If you’re a longtime cycling fan, you already know it as the ex-Giro del Trentino. As you can see, the race has expanded geographically (as well as changed all the branding — from blue to eco-friendly green — in the spirit of the times), which shows its growing popularity.
There is a very high chance that you can also find a UCI race in your country or region, even in some “exotic” places in terms of cycling that are usually less or not at all associated with the sport by the mass outdoor enthusiast, including cold Scandinavia (Danmark Rundt, Tour of Norway, and others) and the Baltics (Tour of Estonia); the hot and desolate Middle East (Tour of Qatar / Oman / Abu Dabi, and others) and distant Latin America (Vuelta a Colombia, and others).
UCI Road World Championships. Last, but by no means least, UCI also organizes the Road World Championships, which take place every year in a different country. In the past 2022, it was Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, in this 2023 it will be Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, between August 3 and 13. The world champion can be recognized in the peloton by the “rainbow” jersey in UCI colors, which he/she will wear throughout the next year.
So here's your exact UCI World Tour calendar for 2023 with dates, formats and other features. The dates are more or less the same every year, so you can use it for navigation of the best bike races of the 2024, 2025 and all the following seasons.
Text: Ivan Kuznetsov
Cover photo: Howard Bouchevereau / Unsplash
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