2020 is the year where indoor training became the new normal and where August became the new March. Bike racing is back, and while it may be 6 months late, the restart of the new season can’t come quick enough. With pros and amateurs alike stuck indoors for much of 2020 hammering out the miles on their smart trainers, it’s time to relieve that collective pent up energy as we begin anew with a reformed 2020 season. Here’s a preview of the major races and what may lie in store over the next 4 months.
A NEW SEASON AND NEW REASONS TO WATCH
For years we’ve become accustomed to a specific format of the cycling season. The tried and trusted model began with the Tour Down Under in January, then onto the early-season European stage races like Paris-Nice and Tirreno Adriatico before the one-day classic season hit northern Europe. Then it was onto the Giro, before the Tour warm-up races, the Tour, Vuelta, and the world Championships before winding down with a host of one-day races.
It worked for years, and few questioned it. But COVID-19 has adjusted a new-look calendar beyond all recognition. With the 2020 season restarting in late July and running until early November, it’s the spanner in the works that may end up paving the way for more entertaining racing in the new compressed 2020 season.
STRADE BIANCHE (AUGUST 1ST)
Despite its relatively recent inception only 13 years ago, Strade Bianche captures the attention of the masses like any of the great monuments. Famous for its gravel roads, cobbles, and undulating Tuscan terrain, this year’s edition is as open as ever due to recent events. It’s the first major race of the reworked season, with an August 1st date replacing its usual March slot. The men’s route is 184 km long with 11 gravel sections totalling 63 km, and the women’s race isn’t any easier. Their race covers 136 km with 8 gravel sections comprising 31.4 km, a challenging 23% of the entire course.
Strade Bianche is never simply a test of a riders gravel skills; with abundant undulating terrain and steep gradients thrown into the mix, there’s plenty to test the riders before the uphill finish into Piazza del Campo in Siena.
MILAN-SAN REMO (AUGUST 8TH)
Taking place a week after Strade Bianche, the riders head north for Milan-San Remo. Now in its 111th edition, this year’s edition opts for a different route out of Milan and heads inland due to COVID-19 fears in towns along the traditional route on the Ligurian Riviera. This means that the route avoids the mid-race climb over Passo Turchino and the descent into Genoa followed by the Capi climbs on the coast.
In fact, it’s only the final 40km of this year’s race that resembles the traditional route. That means we’ll still get the customary fireworks on the two most notable climbs of the race, the Cipressa and Poggio di Sanremo. They may be short and shallow, but after over 260 km of racing, they’ll be as decisive as always.
Milan San Remo is traditionally a race that favours both the sprinters who can hang with the attacks and the climbers who can make a move stick on the final climbs. And with this year’s edition coming in only the second weekend of the season restart, expect fireworks!
CRITÉRIUM DU DAUPHINÉ (AUGUST 12TH-16TH)
By mid-August, it’s time for the traditional Tour Warm-up. Rather than coming 6 months into the cycling season, this year’s edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné comes a mere two weeks into the season. The peloton is unlikely to have figured out just who is in form and who has been keeping their powder dry, but with only two weeks until the Tour proper, the Dauphiné will be do or die for many.
With the cancellation of the Tour de Suisse this year, the Dauphiné is likely to attract all the big hitters gunning for the Tour. This year’s shortened route foregoes the prologue and time trial for 5 epic days in the mountains and is sure to give the Tour contenders the test they need.
The opening day serves as a dress rehearsal for stage 14 of the Tour and sets the marker for what will be a truly gruelling test that culminates with 4,700 metres of climbing on Saturday’s queen stage to Megève. Once the dust has settled come Sunday evening, we’ll likely have a much clearer idea of were the big names lie just two weeks before the Grand Depart in Nice a fortnight later.
TOUR DE FRANCE (AUGUST 29TH – SEPTEMBER 20TH)
The Tour is the one race that defines the cycling season globally. It’s set for a late August depart where the riders will enjoy cooler September temperatures compared to the heat of the standard July timeslot.
This year’s route consists of 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, and 8 mountain stages that encompass 5 mountain-top finishes. And with only one stage over 200km, and one time trial, it’s a slight detour from the norm.
The mountains come early meaning that it won’t be a sprinter’s affair in the first week. The overall contenders will have to have their climbing legs tuned from the get-go as stage 2 involves some 4,000 metres of climbing. The opening week of the Tour generally includes drama and nerves, and the lack of usual preparation and race miles means that this year’s opening week is where many may make their mark.
This year’s edition foregoes many of the notable Tour climbs. There’s no Alpe D’huez and no Mont Ventoux, just a host of new climbs. Stage 17 finishes atop the 22km-long Col de la Loze at 2,304 metres, a repaved dirt road where the final 4 km average 10%. As the highest point on this year’s Tour, it promises spectacular racing along exposed mountainside.
GIRO D’ITALIA (October 3rd-25th)
The Giro d’Italia comes hot on the heels of the Tour. Originally due to begin in Hungary earlier this year, the rescheduled Giro will incorporate an adapted route that’s still yet to be announced. But with several big names already committed to riding, the race looks set to be a star-packed event despite coinciding with the rescheduled spring classic races.
We’ve all known many a Giro where the volatile May weather threw the race wide open. And with its October timeslot this year, the weather is likely to play a more significant role than normal.
VUELTA A ESPAÑA (OCTOBER 20TH – NOVEMBER 8TH)
With a route set to take place in the colder and wetter northern section of Spain, this year’s Vuelta may subject the riders to conditions rarely encountered in previous editions. The hills come early and never really go away. With abundant hills and 5 mountain-top finishes, it’s sure to make for exciting racing, and with only 4 flat stages, the sprinters will have to take their opportunities when they arise.
With the COVID-19 situation so perilous it’s impossible to say if both the Giro and Vuelta will go ahead.
THE REFORMED CLASSIC CALENDAR
We’ve never seen a spring Classic season quite like this. The remains of the traditional spring classics season are due to take place at the back end of the season in what may be very different conditions from the traditional spring slots. Flèche Wallonne takes place on September 30th, followed by Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Amstel Gold Race, Gent-Wevelgem, The Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix all taking place before the end of October.
NEW SEASON, NEW IDEAS
The season will be intense, with little respite for riders and fans alike. Teams, riders, organizers, and fans will all have to navigate any COVID-19 restrictions and deal with any possible resurgences as the colder months arrive. But if all goes to plan, we do get through it, and fans consider it a success, then who knows just what this new altered season format and its compressed nature may spawn. It may well give race organizers and the UCI much to think about and perhaps even incorporate some of the forced changes into subsequent seasons. Only time will tell, and for now, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Road racing is back!