Cycling teams are organized by corporate sponsors. Each team may consist of as many as thirty riders of whom eight (nine until 2018) are chosen for each of the Grand Tours – the Giro d’ Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. While many teams tend to have several riders from the country in which the sponsor is based, that is not a requirement. Eighteen teams are chosen for each tour based on their ranking, with four additional spots offered by race organizers to wildcard selections. These selections are usually but not always given to teams based in the host country.

Timing and Focus

The cycling season is long and grueling, consisting of single day “classics,” several multi-day tours, and, of course, the three Grand Tours. Few athletes are able to maintain peak physical condition for all three of the Grand Tours, which is why teams often have different riders focus on different tours. Sometimes this focus means that a team’s top rider will skip one or two tours entirely to focus on the third, while other times this means that a top rider may ride in support of a teammate on one or two tours while focusing on the others. Just a handful of riders have managed to win more than one tour in a single season, and few attempt the feat.

The Competitions

Each of cycling’s Grand Tours has six competitions over the course of the race. Most teams and riders are focused on only one or two of the competitions at any given time.

Stage Types

There are five types of stages in the major tours.


While individual glory in the GC, Sprint, King of the Mountains, and stages tends to get the most attention, road cycling is very much a team sport. A team may have a contender in any or all of those categories, and his teammates ride primarily in support of him. They may strive to keep him toward the front of the pack to avoid crashes, lead him into the mountains to put his rivals in difficulty, chase down breakaways, or provide a lead out for their sprinter. In many cases, riders will sacrifices their own chances of high finishes in support of their teammates. It is common to see some teams focusing on supporting a sprinter and others working to protect their GC contender. Both before the race begins and as it unfolds, the strategies of teams will be different according to the competition(s) on which they are focused and their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

Cycling is a great sport for those who take the time to understand it. New viewers should not expect to understand everything at once but rather take the time to learn the sport in bits and pieces. The above offers a nice overview and an easy reference for those who are just starting to appreciate it.


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