One of the recurring themes posited by Pro Tour bashers is that there are simply too many races, including several that people don't particularly care about.
Since we've spent a lot of time here trying to decide what was great about this past season, it's time to go negative... and pick the worst Pro Tour race.
Going in chronological order...
I wasn't planning to nominate any of the pre-classics races, simply because they fit a different purpose than a mid-season race. But why should half the peloton be in France (at Paris-Nice) and half in Italy? Overlapping warm-ups... if I had to kick out one, the due mare is clearly the weaker sister.
- Volta a Catalunya
Barcelona-lovers may cringe -- who doesn't love Barcelona? But there's the Tour of the Basque country a month earlier... why does the Pro Tour need tours of every sub-region of Spain? The Vuelta isn't enough?? Also, the fact that it happens during the Giro makes it a refuge for Spaniards who don't want to race in Italy. Should we encourage this? I think not. This year it was won by David Canada. 'Nuf said.
- Eindhoven Team Time Trial
Hm, it turns out a team time trial is only remotely interesting when there are time gaps in a major tour at stake. Eindhoven, created two years ago explicitly for the Pro Tour calendar, has been an unmitigated disaster, greeted by teams and fans alike with a collective groan. At this point, there are only three or four teams who even show interest. And the premise -- that teams need a practice run -- doesn't hold when the Tour keeps skipping the event. I'll stop now; this is low-hanging fruit.
- Vattenfall Classics
Just what you need a week after the Tour -- a newfangled single-day race around Hamburg. The organizers struggle each year trying to find culverts and bridges to put on the course to add some elevation, but ultimately they end up just doing laps around the Waseberg. The name changes about as often as your average baseball stadium, though the current iteration is slightly less patronizing than the HEW Cyclassics. If a race has to point out that it's a classic, and bicycles are involved, that's your signal that you needn't pay attention.
By the way, if you can't tell, I'm having fun.
- Eneco Tour
At least the Tour of Denmark has the dignity to bow out of the Pro Tour. Eneco? Is there any more redundant race in pro Cycling, let alone the Pro Tour? Belgium owns the sport in April, and for good reason. So it's kind of depressing seeing the peloton -- by now exhausted from the busy spring, the Tour, and resting for the Vuelta -- racing again over the spring classic courses, with about one-tenth of the level of competition. Pleasant summer weather and less-urgent stage-race tactics take all the fun away. Sadder still is the way they had to knock over its leader right before the final finish line, just to get headlines. Very classy... NOT! (Sorry, I just saw Borat.)
- GP Ouest-France Plouay or Paris-Tours
One of these has to go. Plouay, while suffering from some name-butchering, is touted by Wikipedia as France's most popular one-day race. I've checked, and Wikipedia does have an entry for Paris-Roubaix. Still, if people like it so much, then why does it have such a horrible spot on the calendar, competing with the Vuelta opening weekend? Here's an idea: France doesn't deserve six Pro Tour events (most by any country), and the dull-as-dishwater Paris-Tours doesn't deserve a prime calendar slot amongst the wonderful fall classics. So ditch Paris-Tours, move Plouay, and watch out for those coastal crosswinds in October.
- Tour of Poland
Probably the poster-child for Pro Tour scheduling excess. This tour should be renamed the Everyone Gets a Tour Tour. Seriously... I know Poland has had its share of troubles in the last century, so there are undoubtedly good reasons why they haven't been able to churn out great cyclists. But can anyone name the last Polish winner of a major race? [Hint: Zurich...] If countries earn Pro Tour races by winning, the Tour of Poland should happen some time after the Tour of Kazakhstan, Tour of Portugal, Tour of Luxembourg, Tour of Norway, Tour of Sweden, Tour of Russia, Tour of the US, Tour of Colombia, Tour of Venezuela...