The very first championships were held in 1921 in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, the only event that was contested that year was the men’s road race for amateurs. The first professional world championships took place in July 1927, hosted at the Nürburgring in Germany, where Alfredo Binda led an Italian one-two-three (Alfredo Binda, Costante Girardengo, Domenico Piemontesi) to win the first of his three world titles.
Alfredo Binda won three world titles in his career (1927, 1930 and 1932).
A record later equalled by Rik Van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx, Óscar Freire and Peter Sagan).
A massive breakthrough for women’s cycling came in 1958, when the women’s road world championships were introduced in Reims, France. The Luxembourg rider Elsy Jacobs got to pop the Champagne after becoming the first women’s world champion, ahead of Tamara Novikova and Mariya Lukshina of the Soviet Union.
Elsy Jacobs waves to the crowd after winning the first women’s cycling World Road Race Championship in Reims, France, 1958.
Over the years, further categories and races (men’s and women’s: Junior, Under 23 and Elite) were added to the program, which now spreads over an eight-day period in September, starting just one week after the final grand tour of the season, the Vuelta a España. The men’s and women’s team time rials (TTT) usually mark the opening of the Championship events.
THE RAINBOW JERSEY
Since 1927, the winners of the road race and individual time trial have been permitted to wear the iconic rainbow stripes for the next year in all races in the same discipline and category in which they are reigning champion.
Ever since Alfredo Binda’s world titles, the Italians – like Paolo Bettini – have been obsessed with chasing the rainbow jersey.
The five colors were initially intended to echo the five Olympic rings, but the jersey is also designed to make the world champion easier to spot in the peloton. In addition to the prestige of winning the title and wearing the jersey for one year, former champions are allowed to sport rainbow stripes on the collar and cuffs of their cycling jersey for the rest of their career – an honor every cyclist dreams of winning.
Moreno Argentin won the 1986 World Championship Road Race in a two-man sprint
against Charly Mottet of France. Team-mate Giuseppe Saronni finished in third place.
Photo credits: GettyImages, Castelli archive.