The 2009 Pro Tour Season: How It Works

James ThompsonCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2009

Those of you who followed my stage recaps of last week's Tour Down Under in Australia may have had a nagging thought on your minds: It seemed like every day more or less ended with a sprint victory, as if there were hardly any mountains at all to break up the overall classification. 

For this race, that was true. With the exception of a few small mountains to climb, but nothing at all like the legendary peaks in France of the Alpe d'Huez or the Col du Tourmalet, most of the stages were more or less flat, not extremely technical, and allowed for large groups to sprint for the line. 

That is not how most Pro Tour races work.

The Pro Tour season is very long. With it starting in Australia last weekend, it will run all the way through the year and end in October. That represents a full 10 months of racing. The riders certainly aren't racing for ten months straight; there is time in the middle for training camps and brief relaxation periods.

But the versatility of the Pro Tour means that teams need to be versatile as well. Most teams at this level have roughly 25 riders on them. At a typical race, the maximum number per team is usually nine.

That means that not every rider does every race; each rider's schedule throughout the year is tailored to what kinds of races he or his management would like to do.

Realizing that the season is so long and riders are coming off of their winter training regimens to come to Australia for the first race of the year, the Tour Down Under is not a technically challenging race.

If it were, then riders would have to train extremely hard during the winter off season just to be in top shape in January and then risk burning out later in the year.

Next week is the second opener of the season, the Tour of Qatar, in the Middle East.  This race through the desert is also quite flat, with the desert winds being the biggest challenge to the riders.  Look for sprint victories more or less every day with this race too.

Please do not give up, though. Once Qatar is finished, races start to include the big mountains, and riders will win stages and races in the more exciting way of climbing like banshees up the steepest mountains. 

The Tour of California starts in less than a month, complete with a challenging course, including an individual time trial and three days of hard mountains.

The Spring Classics, the one-day races in Europe will not disappoint, either, as they are very challenging. Then in May, the first of the Grand Tours start, with the Giro d'Italia in Italy. 

If it looks like the early races are too sprint-focused, patience will be the key: This year's racing schedule will not disappoint.