The Best Bike Race Bracket Challenge
Inspired by a huge college sporting event that takes place in the United States this time of year, we’ve decided to pit the world’s biggest bike races against each other over several rounds to determine which event is truly worthy of the title: The Best Bike Race. Welcome to The Best Bike Race Bracket Challenge, where you get to vote on the best event in the sport.
Instead of being contested out on a merely physical highway somewhere in France or Italy, this showdown will take place on an information superhighway: the Internet. More specifically, voting will take place on Instagram. Here’s how it works. We’ve divided 32 of the most beloved events in bike races into four different geographic divisions and seeded them based on reputation and prestige, much like that aforementioned college sports tournament would do. Every day for the next few weeks, you, dear reader, will have the chance to vote for one of two races in a head-to-head matchup over on Instagram.
From a field of 32 worthy events, you will gradually whittle the contenders down until only one champion remains, the people’s choice for cycling’s greatest race.
We split the field into four different divisions. There’s one for events in France and the United Kingdom, one for events in Italy and Spain, one for events in Belgium and the Netherlands, and one for events in the United States in Australia.
Based on their seedings within each division, races will square off against each other in an opening-round that will narrow things down to 16 contenders. One seeds will face eight seeds, two seeds will face seven seeds, and so on. Then there will be another round to narrow things down to eight contenders, then down to the four division winners, then to the two championship contenders battling for the final title. You’ll get the chance to vote on those matchups every day on Instagram. What’s more, if you predict how things will play out, you could win a prize …
Prize And Scoring
You can download, fill out, and submit a picture of your bracket predictions to CyclingTips via direct message on Instagram or post your completed bracket to your IG Story with CyclingTips tagged for a chance to win a full CyclingTips kit (bibs, flyweight jersey, gilet, cap) and annual VeloClub membership. Total value is $750AUD / $580 USD. Brackets must be submitted to CyclingTips by 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, March 21. Stay tuned on our Instagram for the first polls to go live on Monday, March 22.
Download bracket here.
Winning the prize is all about predicting how the voting will play out over the next few weeks. There are five rounds to the bracket and for each correct winner picked, a player will be awarded points based on what round the winner is picked in. The point scoring for correct predictions is as follows: 1-2-4-8-16. That means that there are 16 total points available for each round.
Round 1: 16 games
Round 2: 8 games
Round 3: 4 games
Round 4: 2 games
Round 5: 1 game
Total Possible Points: 80
The Round One Matchups
Round one begins Thursday, March 18, so we figured we’d give you a primer on each of the 32 races in contention. Without further ado, here are the matchups you will have a chance to vote on and check back daily on our Instagram for the polls and results.
The France/UK Division
- Tour de France
The Tour is unquestionably the most prestigious and best known race on the calendar. Even your non-cycling friends know what it is. It’s such a big deal that typically-articulate people can utter something as inane as “The Tour is the Tour” and people will nod their heads with understanding. And there’s more to greatness than just being the most popular event in town. The Tour ticks other boxes too, with a rich history of legends, rivalries, and thrilling storylines that live on through the ages.
A 1,200 km race with a time limit to finish, Paris-Brest-Paris is a long-distance event that is not for the faint of heart. Traveling from the French capital to the Breton coast at Brest and back again, the race has hills aplenty and history too, with the first edition held all the way back in 1891.
- Women’s Tour
In practically no time at all, the Women’s Tour has gone from being a brand new event to being one of the most popular women’s races in the world. In addition to offering entertaining racing on varied terrain, the event earns high marks from those that race it for being well-organized and highly professional (things that aren’t always a given in the world of bike racing).
- Tro-Bro Léon
A one-day race through Brittany in northwestern France, Tro-Bro Léon embraced the dirt long before it was trendy. A relatively small operation instead of a big WorldTour affair, Tro-Bro Léon offers a unique mix of rustic charm, quirkiness, and some truly tough bike racing over roads that run the gamut from tarmac to gravel to cobblestones to just plain dirt. Also, the best-placed Breton rider wins a pig.
- Critérium du Dauphiné
Plenty of stage races get billed as dress rehearsals for Grand Tours, but that description is probably truer of the Dauphiné than any event on the calendar. At the same time, it’s also a big deal in its own right, and a race that has offered no shortage of interesting battles over its long history. Many of the biggest names in cycling show up to France in June near top form and hungry for a pre-Tour result, and since the race only lasts for eight days, there’s little risk of things dragging in the latter stages.
Paris-Nice marries prestige and unpredictability like few stage races can. It combines a long list of legends among its historical champions and a tendency to visit some iconic French climbs with wild weather, the uncertainty of who is in form so early in the season, and organizers willing to sometimes make unconventional choices with the route.
You don’t even really need to be a hardcore cycling fan to get caught up in the magic of Paris-Roubaix. It is simultaneously one of the most prestigious events on the calendar for a sport steeped in tradition and also a contest that sees a bunch of slightly crazy athletes ride their bikes really fast, really far over terrain that is mind-bogglingly uncomfortable. In 2021, we’ll finally have a chance to see a women’s edition too.
- Three Peaks Cyclocross
The aptly named Three Peaks Cyclocross traverses the Yorkshire Three Peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-ghent. It’s a brutal day out on some intriguing terrain in the north of England, and features several sections that are just too tough for riding at all.
The Italy/Spain Division
- Giro d’Italia
We may not have hard data to support this statement but it’s probably safe to say that the list of bike racing fans that don’t love the Giro d’Italia is a pretty short one. The race has a long and wonderful history: Its early winners – Binda, Bartali, Coppi – are legends of cycling, while recent editions have provided new generations with oh-so-many memorable battles. The Giro offers the quality of a long-running Grand Tour with the excitement of a race unafraid of taking on truly terrifying challenges.
- Clásica San Sebastián
As scenic one-day races go, the Clásica San Sebastián has to rank near the top. A challenging trip over some tough climbs in Spain’s Basque Country, the race draws big names as they try to get just a little extra out of the form that carried them through the Tour de France.
- Il Lombardia
There are a lot of bike races out there with nicknames that don’t make much sense. “The Race of the Falling Leaves” is not one of them. Il Lombardia is the last Monument on the calendar each year, and each year as the leaves begin to fall. The season may be winding down by the time the peloton toes the start line at Il Lombardia, but who wouldn’t want to make just a little more time for the chance to see a ferocious Vincenzo Nibali attack on steep inclines against the backdrop of Lake Como?
- Strade Bianche
No one-day race founded within the last five decades offers anywhere near the prestige and entertainment value of Strade Bianche, which has emerged as one of the most beloved events on the pro cycling calendar for both the men’s and women’s pelotons. The eponymous white roads that reliably turn up a cloud of dust, the fickle weather, the final climb into historic Siena – Strade Bianche has the makings of a true Classic even if it’s only in its teenage years.
- Milan-San Remo
Will it all come down to a sprint or will the move stay away? Milan-San Remo, usually the longest one-day race on the WorldTour calendar, is all about that momentous build-up to a brilliant climax as brave attackers launch do-or-die moves on the Cipressa or the Poggio while the fast finishers desperately try to reel them back in. However, it plays out, the final few minutes of the race bring tension like no other.
- Giro Rosa
Holding its 30th edition last year, the Giro Rosa has long been one of the biggest races in women’s cycling. Changes at the organizational level created some uncertainty for the race a few years ago, and the race recently lost WorldTour status after not providing broadcast coverage in 2020, but it remains a central goal for many stars. The list of winners, particularly over the past decade, is a who’s who of marquee names.
- Vuelta a España
It may have taken a few decades for the Vuelta a España to carve out its niche on the international calendar, but the race has stepped up its game immensely in recent years. Moving the race to August in the ’90s helped spur a big shift as Tour riders can now ride the Vuelta later in their seasons. Now, the race offers the promise of huge names engaging in thrilling battles year after year after year.
- Trofeo Alfredo Binda
One of the biggest one-day races on the women’s calendar, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda is also one of the most exciting, delivering entertaining showdowns in Italy’s Lombardy region for decades. The race takes riders on several laps of a hilly circuit that features two climbs, making for a tough day on the bike that usually comes down to an aggressive finale.
The Belgium/Netherlands Division
- Tour of Flanders
The biggest bike race in the most bike racing-mad country on Earth has everything that makes the Classics great. De Ronde has more than a hundred years of history, and yet it continues to delight with a steady stream of newly minted classic editions each year. Whether it’s Merckx attacking from 73 kilometers out to nab his first of two Flanders wins in 1969 or Bettiol catching the favorites napping in 2019, De Ronde always finds a way to live up to expectations – and unlike some of other one-day races on the list, it has had a men’s and a women’s event for more than a decade.
- Post-Tour crits
We’re lumping all of the post-Tour criteriums into one entry here. Calling them “races” may be a bit generous, but they played a vital role in providing pros with spending money for years, and even now they’re a great opportunity for fans to get close to the stars.
- Amstel Gold Race
Amstel may not have quite the pedigree of cycling’s five Monuments, but its seemingly unending succession of climbs and technical roads usually make for a show well worth watching. The Cauberg has become one of the most iconic ascents of the Classics in relatively short order (for cycling), but organizers have also shown a willingness to change things up in the finale recently, and the race has continued to thrive.
- La Flèche Wallonne
It may only be a hill of some 200 meters, but the spectacular Mur de Huy at the end of La Flèche Wallonne always brings the fireworks. Each year the contenders battle for position on the lower slopes, bide their time as a brave long shot always goes way too early, and then launch their own desperate bids for glory in the waning moments. The men’s event dates back to 1936, while Flèche was one of the first major Classics to feature a women’s race, with the first edition running in 1998.
Rather than picking one single cyclocross race to contend in a field largely composed of road events, we’ve decided to just give CYCLOCROSS it’s own entry in the competition, and where better to seed it than in the Belgium/Netherlands division? As the road racing slows down each year, the eyes of the cycling world turn to muddy fields where gutsy men and women deliver the action in even the gnarliest of conditions.
- Ghent Six-Day
Six-day racing has a long history of giving fans the chance to see fast-paced action up close on the track, and the Ghent Six-Day is a worthy representative of the tradition. Nearly a hundred years since it was first run, the event continues to draw countless stars to the historic city in Belgium for nearly a week of showdowns on the boards in November.
“La Doyenne,” first run in 1892, has been pitting punchy climbers against grueling gradients since the early days of bike racing. Thanks to the climber-friendly nature of the event and its position on the calendar shortly before the Giro, the event draws many of the biggest stars of three-week racing to Belgium’s Wallonia region – with all its post-industrial character – for a difficult day on the bike.
- Race-day parties
OK, so not a bike race, but we couldn’t resist giving a special slot to the iconic race-day parties in the Low Countries because why not? They are an integral part of the experience of the springtime racing. The beer-drinking within view of the bike racing in April is an event in and of itself.
The United States/Australia Division
- Tour Down Under
Bringing some of the biggest names in the sport to Australia for years, the Tour Down Under kicks off the cycling season in style. The event holds extra importance for the Australian riders and it’s had a big impact on Australian cycling generally, but it also routinely sees top-tier stars from elsewhere shining brightly in the January heat.
- Red Hook Crit
There hasn’t been a Red Hook Crit since 2019, but whatever the future holds for the unique event, it was great race while it was consistently running. A fixed-gear showdown on a tricky circuit in Brooklyn, the Red Hook Crit brought bike-racing thrills to a big audience.
- Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
Cadel’s Race has only been around since 2015, but as a WorldTour one-day in a scenic spot that almost always promises good weather, it draws plenty of big names to stick around after the Tour Down Under. With some up-and-down on the profile towards the pointy end of the race, it has also featured plenty of tense finales over the course of its short history.
- Little 500
The Little 500 draws thousands of fans to Bloomington, Indiana, for a track race in a festive environment each year. Featured in the iconic film Breaking Away, it’s a been a staple for American collegiate cyclists across seven decades, introducing countless people to the joy of bike racing.
- Tour of California
The race has been on hiatus since 2020, but while it lasted, the Tour of California was the marquee event on the American calendar. For years, the race gave fans a chance to see stars like Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe on the open roads of the Golden State, and it gave American up-and-comers the chance to race with some of the world’s best.
- Criterium Racing
We’re putting the phenomenon that is American crit racing into one category here. Crits are a foundational part of the American cycling scene, while also being a launching pad for so many talented youngsters to go on to great things beyond high-speed battles on small circuits.
- Coors Classic
While it lasted, the Coors Classic was a world-class bike race that drew some of cycling’s biggest stars to the American West. The introduction to bike racing for so many fans in the United States, the event featured both men’s and women’s races at a time when few others did, and the list of winners includes marquee names like Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, Connie Carpenter, and Jeannie Longo. Although it was last held in 1988, the Coors Classic left a lasting impact on the American cycling scene.
- Unbound Gravel
Sporting a new name for 2021, Unbound Gravel continues to be the premier gravel race in North America, if not the world. The main event is a 200-mile self-supported trek through the Flint Hills of Kansas, and it was already drawing thousands to Emporia, Kansas, even before the gravel boom really kicked into high hear.