Featured image courtesy of gettyimages/UCI
When coronavirus halted the season it wasn’t the end of the world. The season looked in doubt, our annual fill of cycling disappearing for the foreseeable future just awful. Since Paris-Nice was cut short back in March, the pandemic continues its invisible grip on the globe, innocent people are still dying. Here at The Chain Gang our thoughts are with anyone who has lost a loved one during what is a very painful and stressful time.
Covid-19 is changing our lives, our daily routines and has affected sport in all its forms. Stadiums without football fans is a sad thing to see but for cycling fans we’ve gone without for a long time. The prospect of not seeing the five Monuments, the three Grand Tours and the World Championships was bleak on top of a pressing issue as to whether cycling could socially distance. Caution, new protocols and a desire to save the season was the UCI’s plan and now we’re delighted to see the sport back but not as we know it!
Going without our yearly dose of Paris Roubaix cobbles, women’s cycling, the Tour de France and rainbow jerseys would’ve been a disaster but we’re all very thankful that won’t be the case. A 71-day schedule filled with the three Grand Tours, women’s racing, the Classics and the World Championships assures the future of the teams, the races they rely upon plus the fans appetite. Of course we’d never thought we’d see the Tour de France take place in September nor the Tour of Flanders in October but that’s the new normal, a new story that’s sure to be fast and furious.
The Vuelta a Burgos has got the revised World Tour calendar underway for every rider to get back into the rhythm of racing. 14 World Tour teams are involved plus Bora-Hansgrohe continued their pre-lockdown form with Austrian Felix Großschartner taking their win tally to 11. Face masks were in abundance, the crowd trying its best to socially distance and with Strade Bianche coming up, it’s fantastic to see the colour and splendour of cycling once more!
So what more have we got to look forward to from now until November?
The Tour de France will always be the central occasion for cycling as it’s global appeal brings in potential new fans. Held in September, this year’s race is possibly the hardest yet with only one 36km time trial and four summit finishes via all five mountain ranges. Disappointing as it is to see the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse not taking place, teams will still have good preparation with August hosting Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo (with a changed route) and Il Lombardia – three successive weekends of exciting racing on top of the Dauphiné and the Tour of Poland!
While the Tour is the prominent race let’s not forget the other two Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España have perhaps lost their status as huge annual races but despite the two clashing with Paris Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics, that shouldn’t take away the anticipation from cycling fans. Get ready for ‘Super Sunday’ on October 25th with a summit finish up the Col du Tourmalet at the Vuelta, the men’s and first-ever women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and then the finale of the Giro – what a day in prospect!
Rescheduled racing doesn’t mean a rescheduling of individual ambition with lots of questions still to be answered! How will Julian Alaphilippe fare after his heroic efforts in yellow last year? Will Chris Froome win a fifth Tour de France or will Team INEOS prioritise Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas to win their second titles?
New rivals for the yellow jersey are in abudance. Team Jumbo-Visma will have Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and last year’s third-placed rider Steven Kruijswijk all set to try and dismantle INEOS’s dominance. Also never discount a revitalised Nairo Quintana at Arkea Samsic, Emanuel Buchmann looked good last year, Adam Yates will want to do better plus the French hope who’ll want to make amends after his injury on Stage 19 is Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot.
Key names are still up for the Giro. Two-times winner Vincenzo Nibali has already picked out his rivals to win pink and that includes one of the hottest properties in cycling right now.
Twenty years of age, a big career ahead of him, Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel is already being touted as a Grand Tour winner before even securing a Monument. Youth is the future but surely he can’t win a Grand Tour on his debut? It’s only his second season at World Tour level, he has the form after winning the Clásica de San Sebastián last year, he’s the European Time Trial champion and in 2020 he’s already secured overalls at the Vuelta a San Juan and Volta a Algarve. If Evenepoel became the first Belgian Grand Tour winner since Johan De Muynck’s 1978 Giro triumph – I think cycling would be blown away!
Last year’s Giro winner Richard Carapaz made history for his country and he’ll want to repeat the feat. Astana’s Jakub Fuglsang and Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates will also be threats and although he won’t win pink overall, three-times world champion Peter Sagan remains committed to skip the Classics and make his Giro d’Italia debut.
The Classics are all mixed up to provide entertainment, preparation and intense racing. Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Il Lombardia make up August before La Fleche Wallonne on September 30th followed by an October based predominantly in Belgium for the Ardennes and cobbled classics. Races such as E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen are unfortunately cancelled but big names will still be up for the challenge.
Alpecin Felix’s Mathieu van der Poel has been left disappointed at not being allowed to ride the Tour so all his aspirations will come at the one-day events. Strade Bianche will his first assessment and who knows what this amazing rider can do after that incredible Amstel Gold victory last season. A Dutch wonderkid, van der Poel could add a lot to what he achieved in 2019 but he’ll have competition. World champion Mads Pedersen for Trek-Segafredo will want to make his rainbow stripes shine and let’s not forget the Belgians too with this year’s Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet has his own goals plus Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert could make personal history in winning all five Monuments if he’s successful at Milan Sanremo.
All squeezed together, the classics look set to be exciting!
If everything all goes to plan and protocals are adhered too, this new rescheduled season will be enthralling, dramatic and hopefully we’ll see some potential upsets to the usual yearly script. The World Championships in Switzerland are due to be held in their normal September slot but of course as the UCI has stated, if cases of the pandemic start to rise and with talk of a ‘second wave’ in Europe maybe on its way – decisions might see no racing whatsoever.
Caution is the most important word right now but joy is the overall feeling as cycling is back! Teams, riders and the media will all need to be careful. The sport is back with a new schedule which we hope will never have to happen again.
For the love of cycling, we hope everyone enjoys the next 71 days of action!