It's a busy time of year for Cycling fans, with six-days, the leadup to the Cyclocross Worlds, and a steady stream of photo essays of our heroes doing heroic things, like hanging around Calpe for a week. But it's also not late March or early April, nor is it the middle three weeks of May or July. It's a time of year when you are not particularly inclined to tune out from work and family and tune into cycling. Not that you wouldn't, or shouldn't; it's just that you probably aren't planning to do so in advance.
Alas, in some technical sense, it is road racing season -- it's a season, and there's road racing going on. There's a race about to happen any second now. No matter what time of day you're reading this. Should you care? Should you? Don't worry, we're the government, we're here to help.
1. Tour de San Luis
What Is It? UCI 2.1 Stage race in Argentina with an early-season emphasis on climbing.
Who's There? A fascinating mix of unheard-of South American teams and stars of the Tour de France. Movistar is bringing the Quintanas, Sagan is showing off his rainbow stripes, Nibali leads Astana, and so on.
What Is the Racing Like? A very nice mix of terrains in semi-rural central Argentina. There are two legitimate climbing stages, which is the real attraction, since nowhere in the northern hemisphere can you count on any long climbs without winter threatening to ruin your day. The final climbing stage ends on a 17.5km climb of 7.8% average at the Sierra de la Comachingones.
So Should I Care? If you are Latin American, very much so. It's a chance to see your more locally oriented cyclists up against the continent's biggest star -- Don Nairo -- and his powerful Movistar team. Not to mention a pretty fun show all around. Sure, the Euro guys will just be getting stretched out, but it doesn't get any bigger than this on the world's fourth-biggest continent. For the rest of us... I'd say that sixth stage will be highly watchable. And Sagan fans will definitely want to tune in.
2. Tour Down Under
What Is It? World Tour's opening act, and a nod to the contribution Australia has made to the sport over the past few decades.
Who's There? Every Aussie with a contract. Contingents from every WT team, though not very many big names.
What Is the Racing Like? Hotter than [insert colorful Australian colloquialism]. Well, the temperatures. The racing will be a handful of sprints, one stage with a climb attached, and a closing crit.
So Should I Care? If you're a fan of any of the younger Australian riders, definitely. The older guys have largely transitioned their seasons to Europe-only, but if you were wondering whether it's a good time to get excited about Caleb Ewan or Rohan Dennis (not that young, I know), the answer is sure. Beyond that, it's an odd way to start doling out World Tour points, and not the most exciting thing to do at 2am. [Wait, let me rephrase...]
3. Mallorca Trophies
What Is It? Ostensibly a series of one-day races around Mallorca, one of the few exceptions to the rule that in January you'd rather be in the southern hemisphere than anywhere in Europe. It used to constitute a stage race of sorts but they don't bother with a GC nowadays.
Who's There? Lots of stars -- Mallorca is close to where plenty of riders live and who'd turn down a ticket anyway? -- but more importantly at least a few of the top sprinters, who tend to win these things.
What Is the Racing Like? Like a typical winter sprint race, pleasing enough but nothing to get too wrapped around the axle over. Officially, by the way, the races are the Trofeo Santanyi, Trofeo Alcudia, Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, and Trofeo Palma de Mallorca.
So Should I Care? No. Not since Oscar Freire retired.
4. Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race
What Is It? A revival of the 2010 World Championships road course, with the imprimatur of Australia's greatest road racer attached.
Who's There? Sprinters, including Mark Cavendish, and Australians not quite ready to disembark for Old Europe. It's a 1.HC race with up to 70% World Tour participation, though the names haven't been filled in yet and only nine WT teams are coming.
What Is the Racing Like? This is the first edition -- Evans retired exactly a year ago. But if you want to know how the course should play, here's a helpful video.
So Should I Care? "Care" is a little strong, but will you not be entertained? No. You won't... not. Anyway it was a good time in 2010, so I'd expect an exciting finale.
5. GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise
What Is It? Our annual reminder of how awesome the French national anthem is. And a wintery sprint race.
Who's There? As a 1.1 race
What Is the Racing Like? A very bumpy circuit running clockwise from and to Marseille, though the closer the peloton gets to the line, the less interesting the hills are. Still, a tough day in the saddle, selection or no.
So Should I Care? Totally. For the first time in compiling this post I look at a startlist that I think is loaded for bear. Yes, it's a 1.1 race with 50% world tour, but the Pro-Conti teams here are the cream of the French and Belgian crop. You can bet that nearly everyone here is lining up to win.
6. Volta a la Comunidad Valenciana
What Is It? A Spanish stage race, with all that implies.
Who's There? We are into early February here, and we're a short drive from all of the cycling hubs of Spain, so half of the World Tour crowd is perfectly happy to come here. It's only a 2.1 race but already the startlist includes Fabio Aru, Joaquim Rodriguez, Mikel Landa, Etixx-Quick Step's varsity team, and others to come.
What Is the Racing Like? Varied, including a 16km time trial. And by varied, it's Spain, so I mean some days the climbs happen early and some days they happen late.
So Should I Care? Ah, sure, I guess. Like the Marseillaise, this is another race loaded with Pro-Conti guys, largely from northern countries, which means either the classics guys see this as a good place to get in some miles, or they are just extra motivated to get some sun.
7. Dubai Tour
What Is It? A three-year-old stage race around sunny, money-soaked Dubai.
Who's There? All of the most expensive riders in cycling. Particularly the sprinters, including Marcel Kittel in his new Etixx colors.
What Is the Racing Like? Flat and deadly dull. It's four stages of riding around the desert, waiting for the sprint to happen. Crosswinds or headwinds might shred the script, but that's it.
So Should I Care? No. OK, yeah, it'll be good to see what Kittel can do for his new team. But I like to think we all have a choice as to whether we agree with the sport spending all of February on the Arabian Peninsula, which has contributed fewer riders to the sport than I have bikes. But if the oil companies want to pump money into a sport that demonstrates how nobody needs a car, I guess I should play along.
8. Etoile de Besseges
What Is It? A five-day stage race tacked on to the GP La Marseillaise.
Who's There? Some of the GP La Marseillaise guys, though fewer from the World Tour. Pretty stacked with classics-oriented riders, particularly French and Belgians.
What Is the Racing Like? Looks like the GP La Marseillaise -- given that we're just up the road from Marseille, it's the same Languedoc-Rousillon terrain, not easy but not gonna sort out much. Oh, and I love that there's a town in southern France called Mejannes-le-Clap.
So Should I Care? No. I mean, if you're obsessed with Jerome Coppel then maybe. But this shouldn't be very noteworthy stuff.
9. Herald Sun Tour
What Is It? Another Australian multi-day adventure, this one also not far from Melbourne.
Who's There? Good question. Trek, Orica, Sky (including one Christopher Froome) and then I have no idea.
What Is the Racing Like? It looks a bit selective, at least compared to the TDU. The stages all seem to duck out into the hills east of Melbourne for part of the day, and there's a short prologue to give the GC some shape.
So Should I Care? Ha, no. Well, a little, and if you're Australian, enjoy the last big event on home soil for a bit.
10. GP Costa degli Etruschi
What Is It? A coastal race in Tuscany.
Who's There? A whole lotta Italians.
What Is the Racing Like? Sprintery, but with climbs. Or climby but ending in a sprint. Exactly whom, I couldn't tell you just yet.
So Should I Care? Ah, no. It's Italy in February. We still need to pace ourselves.
And then it's on to Qatar, which we all know is, um, a sign that the real season approaches.