The first bicycle race was held in France in 1869. Competitive events today include road races, track or velodrome races, off-road mountain bike races, and youth BMX races.
American cyclist Greg LeMond, who began cycling as a means of off-season ski conditioning, is best known for his racing in the grueling Tour de France, which he won in 1986, 1989, and 1990. He was the first American to win the race. His 1989 victory was by only eight seconds, the closest margin in the history of the Tour.
Road racing is the oldest type of bicycle competition. There are several formats of road racing, including stage races, one-day events, time trials, and criteriums.
Stage races can last for weeks and cover thousands of kilometers. Each day's race is called a stage. The rider with the lowest cumulative time after all the stages is the overall winner. The Tour de France, a 25- to 30-day race covering about 3200 km (2000 mi), is the most prestigious bicycle race in the world.
One-day races usually last from four to seven hours and span from 160 to 380 km (100 to 175 mi). Examples of one-day races include the world championship road race, the Olympic road race, and European spring classics such as Paris-Roubaix.
In time trials, the object is to cycle as fast as possible from one point to another, while being timed by a clock. There are usually two or three time trial stages in the Tour de France.
A criterium is a multi-lap race held on a loop course with each lap only a few kilometers in length. These races are often held in downtown areas, where large crowds gather to cheer the riders as they pedal by on each lap. Unlike stage racing and time trialing, the emphasis in a criterium is on speed and bike handling rather than endurance.
Track racing is done in a stadium-like arena called a velodrome. A modern velodrome is an oval track with steeply banked corners that facilitate high speed. Velodromes can be enclosed or open-air, and the tracks are constructed of wood or concrete. Popular in Europe and the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, track racing is the primary type of Olympic cycling competition. Olympic track events include the match sprint, individual and team pursuit, kilometer time trial, and points race.
Six-day races were a type of track race in which teams cycled around a velodrome nonstop for six days. One rider from each team had to be on the track at all times, and the team covering the most cumulative distance won. During the 1910s and 1920s, six-day track races drew thousands of spectators to New York City's Madison Square Garden.
A mountain biker makes a sharp turn during a downhill race. Competitive mountain biking, which became an Olympic sport in 1996, has grown rapidly in popularity.
The newest, fastest-growing type of bicycle competition is off-road racing on mountain bikes. The sport started in the early 1980s when cyclists in Marin County, California, biked down mountain trails. Today, off-road races are usually held on backwoods trails and roads and on dirt paths. Racing formats include cross-country, downhill, downhill slalom, and hillclimbs. National and world championships are held annually. Cross-country mountain bike racing was chosen to debut as an Olympic sport at the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996.
BMX racing, or bicycle motocross, was started in California in the late 1960s by children and teenagers imitating dirt bike motorcycle racing. Bicycle motocross takes place on indoor or outdoor dirt tracks typically between 213 and 396 m (700 and 1300 ft) long. Packs of riders careen around tight turns and jump over ramps and hills. BMX racing supported a professional circuit during its peak in the 1980s then became a training ground for increasingly lucrative mountain bike racing.