As an avid cyclist who grew up in the United States, professional cycling on TV was non-existent. Europeans wearing lycra and riding skinny-tired bicycles didn’t stand a chance against traditional stick and ball sports, until now.
The time has finally come for professional cycling to take its long awaited place of honor on screens everywhere. I’m not big on television but there are certain things I like to watch, and cycling is one of them. And if you’re a fan who has been living in the desert of bicycle-themed programming, get ready to be delighted! What am I talking about? Read on.
You would have thought the success of two-time World Champion and three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond in the mid-80s to 1990 would have put cycling on the map in the US, but no. ESPN started covering the Tour in 1991, but unfortunately LeMonds' glory days were behind him.
Sadly, ESPN could only scrape together a sideline college football reporter as a host, Adrian Karsten, who knew nothing of the sport to help muster public interest. He did a better job of mocking French language and culture than covering the race.
And what did ESPN expect the public to see in the 30-minute program that contained 20 minutes of the same commercial for a popular American car brand? In the end, a meager 10 minutes per day was dedicated to the Tour de France, and even less to the action.
Other Means of Watching
World Cycling Productions created VCR tapes of the Spring Classics and recaps of the Grand Tours with commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen that became a way to fill the void. Who can forget the mud and excitement of the 2002 Paris-Roubaix when George Hincapie was chasing Johan Museeuw for the win, or again when his steer tube snapped in 2006 sending him to the ground?
Then the Internet entered the scene. A simple search for how to watch professional cycling brought up websites like Steephill TV. Fans could see highlights and follow live dashboards of races, and depending on your region, even click on a link for direct tv coverage. Streaming was in its infancy, and it might not have been the best quality or in a language you understood, but you just wanted to see some racing.
Into The 21st Century
In Europe, Italy, France and Spain’s Grand Tours are typically live from kilometer 0 to the finish on local public channels. Eurosport broadcasts the Grand and smaller tours and one-day races, but it isn’t a bargain and you get commercials, lots of them. You’re also paying for other sports you may not follow.
Cycling coverage in the United States improved thanks to NBC’s Sports Gold Cycling Pass, but it focused on the Tour de France. While La Grande Boucle is arguably the premier event on the racing calendar, what about the Giro, La Vuelta, and the mythical Spring Classics? Cycling fans want those too. Replays and highlights are quickly posted to YouTube, but the suspense is lost when you already know who won.
If you aren’t already familiar with the Global Cycling Network (GCN) channel on YouTube, seek them out. Created in 2013, they cover everything cycling, from training tips and tech to racing news in entertaining and informative videos. GCN is best for roadies, but they have auxiliary channels for Mountain Biking, Triathlon, and even E-biking. GCN exists in Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese and French too. Retired professional cyclists host their shows in every language, so they know their subject. You’ll find the likes of Sean Kelly and Bradley Wiggins on their English racing news show.
In February 2021, they launched GCN+. It’s a full-blown streaming channel for everything professional road racing for both the men’s and women’s fields. As a bicycle racing fan, it’s the best money I’ve spent in a while. I’m watching races I’ve never even heard of, and loving it. And the best part, it’s commercial free.
If English isn’t your mother tongue, choose your content and color commentary in Spanish, German, French, Italian or Japanese. Events are broadcast live, but also available on replay, so you can watch when it’s convenient for you. When you overload on racing, there is a smorgasbord of other content, original programming, documentaries and even workouts to follow at home on your smart trainer when you’ve burned out on virtual platforms.
Viewers access the channel via the GCN app (Google Play or App Store) or a web browser, so you won’t miss any of the action. The app itself is free, and they provide a lot of interesting content, but GCN+ is an optional subscription service offered at a very reasonable price. If you’ve got a smart tv, project the signal onto a bigger screen via Android TV, Chromecast, or Amazon FireTV. I have an Apple TV and a projector for when I want to watch. No dedicated app is available for Apple TV yet, but I use Airplay and it works seamlessly. Some regions are subject to black out, but if you’re clever, there may be ways around that. If you want to check which races are available in your region, check here.
I’m not one to toot the horn of a brand or product so loudly without good reason. As a discerning customer and cycling fan, probably like yourself, I’ll bet you’ll find more race coverage and bicycle-themed programming than you’ve ever seen before. So get ready to overdose on quality cycling programming, at least now you have the choice.