An activity involving use of a bicycle for sport, recreation, or transportation. The sport of cycling consists of professional and amateur races, which are held mostly in continental Europe, the United States, and Asia. The recreational use of the bicycle is widespread in Europe and the United States. Use of the bicycle as a mode of transportation is particularly important in non-Western nations and in flatter countries, some of which, like the Netherlands, have a widespread system of bicycle paths.
The development of racing as a popular sport in Europe began in the 1890s with the improvement in road conditions and the introduction of some of the one-day classics that continue to this day (for example, the Paris-Roubaix race). After France and Belgium, races were introduced in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. In 1903, the 21-day-long Tour de France was inaugurated and has continued every year since except during World Wars I and II. Ranking just behind this premier race are the grand three-week tours of Italy (the Giro d’Italia) and Spain (the Vuelta a España). Usually, the Giro is held in May and June, the Tour de France in July, the Vuelta in September, and the World Championships in October. Prizes in these races are substantial, amounting to $2.5 million in the Tour de France alone.
European road racing was under the sponsorship of bicycle manufacturers until the late 1920s, when national and regional teams were introduced. Trade sponsors returned after World War II but with the waning of bicycle manufacturers, teams began turning to various sponsors, including automobile manufacturers, insurance companies, and banks. The professional road-racing season now begins in January with races in Australia and Malaysia, continues from February through October in Europe and the United States, and closes, again in Asia, in November and December. For most riders, the season includes about 120 days of competition spread over eight months.