Records tumbled in 2020 with Tour de France debutant Tadej Pogačar winning three stages en route to becoming the youngest rider since 1904 to win cycling's biggest race. We saw Marc Hirschi pick up the first of what will surely be many career wins, sprinter Sam Bennett ending Peter Sagan's green jersey domination, and Filippo Ganna scooping over half of Ineos' seven stages on a Giro won by their British youngster Tao Geoghegan Hart.
But what we didn't see was any wins from some of the outstanding riders of their generation, with a cluster of previously stellar superstars struggling to hit their previous heights in a year where Covid-19 truncated the season and, in general, age and experience were trumped by youthful exuberance.
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In no particular order, here are the 10 riders who will be feeling the pinch, big-name, big-contract talents whose respective careers are in desperate need a kick-start.

Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation)

Christopher Froome of The United Kingdom and Team INEOS

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It's been well over two and a half years since we last saw the four-time Tour winner standing atop a podium, his victory in the 2018 Giro now but a distant memory. Barely cracking the top 100 in last year's Vuelta while supporting Richard Carapaz may be cause for concern, although we probably won't know how much until Froome has a proper pre-season with his new team.
It's anyone's guess if the 35-year-old can re-discover the form of old following his debilitating crash in 2019. But if he doesn't find any consistency in 2021 then it's hard seeing his time at Israel Start-Up Nation extending beyond a single season. Will he be a mere mentor for the young guys or is a genuine tilt at a record-equalling fifth Tour on the cards? Time will tell.

Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos)

Geraint Thomas nach seinem Sturz auf der 3. Giro-Etappe

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If Froome's snub by Sir Dave Brailsford for the Tour last September wasn't too surprising, then eyebrows were certainly raised with the omission of his Welsh teammate. The 2019 champion struggled to find his legs post-lockdown and his disappointment at being overlooked was palpable.
Crashing out so early in Sicily when entering the Giro as one of the main favourites would have rubbed salt into the wound. Another training crash this winter has once again highlighted the 34-year-old's calamitous streak. Like Froome, Thomas' last victory came in the last Grand Tour he won – the 2018 Tour.
Now entering his final year on his current contract, Thomas will be aware that he's slipped behind Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and perhaps even Tao Geoghegan Hart in the pecking order. He needs a big year otherwise it's retirement or another team. It will be interesting to see if he goes back to his roots with a classics-heavy programme ahead of another stab at the maglia rosa, or if he's content to play a support role to Bernal in France.
You do sense there's still another big win in him.

Romain Bardet (Team DSM)

Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) muss die Tour de France aufgeben

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It was cruel to see the wheels fall of Bardet's van on the day the Tour visited his home region of the Auvergne, the 30-year-old crashing out and suffering concussion ahead of the Puy Mary on the same corner that did for Nairo Quintana's chances.
Until then, Bardet had been enjoying something of a renaissance, lying in fourth position of a race he only entered after Covid forced him to change his initial plan of riding the Giro. For all his promise, Bardet has come to the end of his third decade on this planet with only seven pro wins to his name – all of which from races in France.
Now three and a half years since his last major stage win – in the 2017 Tour, the year he finished third 12 months after coming runner-up to Froome – Bardet's stock has taken a nosedive. A move from the AG2R comfort zone was wise, and the Frenchman will join a new-look Team DSM aiming to build on Sunweb's excellent campaign in 2020.
It would be great to see Bardet refocus on one-day races and ride Grand Tours not for the overall but with a view to hunting stages in the same vein as his new teammate Marc Hirschi. What he can't do is just repeat the mistakes of his previous years. Bardet must embrace this opportunity and take on the attacking ethos of his new team.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)

Team Trek rider Italy's Vincenzo Nibali looks on before the start of 13th stage of the Giro d'Italia 2020 cycling race, a 192-kilometers route between Cervia and Monselice, on October 16, 2020

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The Italian veteran picked up zero wins last year and could only manage a stuttering seventh place in his main target, the Giro. Not a good return on Trek's alleged outlay of €3.5m per year on the former Tour, Giro and Vuelta winner. That contract comes to an end in 12 months, and despite rumours of an unlikely switch to Ineos, it's not inconceivable that this season could be Nibali's last – unless he pulls his finger out.
You sense that, for a rider of his class and all-round armoury, there's still a big win in his ageing marble-hewn legs. It's unlikely that win will be the GC of a Grand Tour, which seem to be a young man's game now. But don't rule out another Monument or some stage scalps.

Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-Assos)

Fabio Aru - Tour de France 2020, stage 6 - Getty Images

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Aru's biggest achievement of 2020 was misfiring to badly in the Tour that it opened the door to teammate Tadej Pogačar to take the top-dog status at UAE Team Emirates. So, a victory of sorts – but not the kind you'd have expected from the man who burst onto the scene with a podium finish in the 2014 Giro as a 23-year-old and the overall title at the Vuelta a year later.
Since those heady days, Aru has struggled to find any consistency, his last decent race being the 2017 Tour where he won a stage and finished fifth while wearing the colours of the Italian national champion – all while showcasing a quite magnificent pain face. Now 30, Aru has failed to finish three of his last five Grand Tours after his career was interrupted with a serious condition with the iliac artery in his left leg.
Jettisoned by UAE, Aru heads to Qhubeka-Assos to join a motley assortment of riders who resemble a bunch of Panini sticker rejects. It really is the last chance saloon for a man who, for all his promise, still only has nine career wins to his name, the last of which coming over 40 months ago.

Elia Viviani (Cofidis)

Elia Viviani of Italy and Team Cofidis Solutions Credits / Trofeo Senza Fine / Trophy / Bassano del Grappa Village / during the 103rd Giro d'Italia 2020, Stage 17 a 203km stage from Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio 1514m / @girodiitalia / #Giro

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It was always a gamble for the Italian sprinter to swap the Wolfpack for the soft sheep at Cofidis, even if the French team had just been shepherded into the WorldTour stable. At Deceuninck Quick-Step, Viviani took his game to the next level, taking 29 wins in two years – including four at the 2018 Giro, three at the 2018 Vuelta, and a stage on the 2019 Tour that completed his grand slam.
But things have not worked out at Cofidis, with the former European champion struggling to find any speed or even a competitive edge. A year into his two-year deal, and the 31-year-old has yet to stand atop the podium – his best finish in the Tour last year being fourth, dropping to fifth on the Vuelta.
Whether Viviani has been a victim of Covid circumstance or is merely adapting to new surroundings and a different lead-out is unknown. But his confidence is clearly rock bottom and next season can't start soon enough. He did, admittedly, leave the best sprinting outfit in the business – with replacement Sam Bennett now reaping the rewards – but Viviani's regression has been far worse than anyone could have expected.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde, Tour de France 2020

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Last year was the first since the Spanish veteran's doping ban that he did not get on the scoresheet, his best result in a major race being third in Stage 7 of the Vuelta. Usually synonymous with consistency, the 40-year-old was consistently anonymous during his most underwhelming Tour performance ever in September, only twice cracking the top 10 – his 10th place finishes in Lavaur and on the Grand Colombier a far cry from the Valverde of old.
Perhaps it's primarily because this Valverde is old. Sure, he was 38 when he finally became world champion in Austria, but that was the 14th win of a stellar season – and the culmination of a career's work. The decline appeared in 2019, but he still managed a handful of results, including the national title and the habitual notch on his Vuelta bedpost.
But age has really caught up with The Green Bullet in 2020. Like many riders of the older generation, Valverde struggled to impose himself upon racing after the four-month mid-season hiatus brought about by the pandemic. He's been a shadow of himself since, reduced to domestique duties for teammate Enric Mas.
Scheduled to retire at the end of the season, Valverde was so embarrassed by his results that he prolonged for an extra year in a bid to go out on a high. Whether that will be possible is unclear; cycling seems to have moved on. It was amazing how fast Valverde, like Froome, has become an anachronism in the peloton.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)

Thibaut Pinot sur le Tour de France 2020

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We have surely now witnessed the last Tour de France where Marc Madiot builds his entire Groupama-FDJ team around Pinot. After his agonising collapse while pushing for yellow in 2019, Pinot understandably gained his manager's backing ahead of the rescheduled Tour last September. But his campaign was undone on the first day, a crash on the sodden streets of Nice setting the tone for disappointment.
Instead of calling it quits to refocus on the Vuelta, Pinot battled to Paris, but to what cost? He never looked competitive and the after-effects were only too clear when he withdrew from the Vuelta after two days. Psychologically and physically brittle, the 30-year-old's time is running out. He often rides like he'd prefer to be on his farm with the goats.
With younger teammate and compatriot David Gaudu picking up two stage wins in Spain in his absence, and sprinter Arnaud Démare starring on the Giro, Pinot's days at the helm are surely nearing their end. In 2021 he may have to enter the Tour as co-leader or deputy to Gaudu, on a team accommodating a sprint train. That or focus instead on the Giro, where he finished fourth in 2017.
But seven DNFs from 14 Grand Tours – including four withdrawals in his last six – tells its own story. Perhaps it's time for Pinot to target shorter races and fight for stage wins rather than GC.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal)

Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), sur la 7e étape du Tour de France 2020

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The Belgian's fabled breakaway exploits looked rather lacklustre in 2020, with a new generation – the likes of Marc Hirschi, Søren Kragh Andersen and Nans Peters – showing him up. Once so capable of sniffing out the right move, De Gendt's radar looked wayward, his attempts more scattergun, the results predictably nugatory.
A one-trick pony who's been found out? Or simply a bad year in the office? It could be a mix of the two. De Gendt certainly finds himself a marked man – but he's also a marked man with more miles in the legs, coming up against a younger, fresher, more dynamic slew of apprentices whose powers have surpassed those of their quasi-mentor.
Now 34, De Gendt has two more years on a newly signed deal. There's life in the old dog yet, and he will continue to be a vital cog in Lotto Soudal's stage race armoury. But he may have to adapt. Cycling underwent a sea change in 2020 and De Gendt winning queen stages just won't be a thing anymore. But he still has the class and legs to end a winless streak stretching back 17 months now.

Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma)

Tom Dumoulin

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The Dutchman finds himself at a bit of a crossroads as he enters the second year of a three-year deal with Jumbo-Visma. Dumoulin always needed a period of adaptation to settle outside Sunweb and get back to racing after his injury-curtailed 2019.
Riding as domestique for Primož Roglič in the Tour would have taken the pressure off while given Dumoulin a purpose – and it was clear to all who had eyes just how disappointed he was when his Slovenian teammate bungled his deciding time trial at La Planche des Belles Filles.
Dumoulin rode under the radar to a solid seventh place in Paris, although he failed to replicate any kind of form in the Vuelta before withdrawing, exhausted, at the end of the opening week. Now 30 and with that transitional year under his belt, Dumoulin will expect to be given leadership at Jumbo in one of the Grand Tours. A bid at a second Giro seems sensible, although the two flat time trials at the Tour will also be tempting.
It will be interesting to see if Jumbo-Visma can keep both Roglič and Dumoulin happy, especially with the likes of Steven Kruijswijk, Wout van Aert, George Bennett and Sepp Kuss to consider, too. On form and back to his best, Dumoulin is too good to be a deputy.

And 10 more who need a change in fortune

Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe)

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Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) put in a vintage performance over lumpy terrain to win a maiden stage in the Giro in sodden Tortoreto – his only victory of 2020. Something didn't quite click with the former triple world champion last season, the 30-year-old a far cry from his usual swashbuckling self during the Tour, where he conceded the green jersey without much of a fight to Sam Bennett.
Sagan's problem is that he no longer has the speed to beat the fastest sprinters, while the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, Hirschi and even Roglič have overtaken him on the uphill ramps you usually associate with the Slovakian. On the cobbles he's also quickly become yesterday's news with the emergency of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
A curtailed cobbled season and the cancellation of Roubaix didn't help Sagan's cause and he'll hope a return to a normal-ish calendar will mark a return to his competitive best.

Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) fährt bisher eine starke Tour de France

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Colombian duo Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) were both on course for top five finishes in the Tour before tailing off – the former after a nasty crash in the Massif Central, the latter just three days from Paris. No longer spring chickens, the veteran duo will need to be canny if they don't want to merely battle it out for top 10 finishes.
Two other Colombians find themselves at something of a crossroads. Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) has flown the Astana nest after five years to join the team he so openly disparaged at the 2019 Vuelta. A winner on the Col de la Loze, Lopez came sixth in his maiden Tour in September before crashing out of the Giro on the opening day with that horrible TT spill into the barriers.
When Lopez finishes a Grand Tour, he always does so in the top 10. But it's been a few years now since we saw the 26-year-old on the final podium – and God knows how he will react to being part of a Movistar trident alongside Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde.

Ineos Grenadiers leader Egan Bernal in action at the Tour de France

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Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) could also do with a shake-up or change of air – but the 23-year-old is bound to the British team for at least another three years. It's crazy how quickly Bernal has become an also-ran – with Roglič's rise and the prominence of Pogačar completely casting the 2019 Tour winner in the shade.
Besides his back injury, Bernal's key issue seems to be a lack of explosiveness. He has become a rider who seemingly can't drop his rivals in the mountains, one who relies heavily on a strong team around him – a team which, this autumn, sorely missed an in-form Froome and Thomas. Whether he can dovetail with Ecuador's Richard Carapaz is still unclear – but it would be folly to write off the yellow jersey credentials of rider who still qualifies for the white jersey for another year.
Ineos now need to turn Bernal into a winning machine. Roglič won the Vuelta off the back of four stage wins, while Pogačar won three stages in his first appearances in both the Tour and Vuelta; Bernal still hasn't won a stage on a Grand Tour – and he's yet to try his hand in Spain or Italy. Given how Ineos lit up the Giro, perhaps it would do Bernal some good in the long run to learn how to win stages while fighting for pink, before returning in a stronger position to vie for yellow.
One of the abiding memories of the 2020 Tour was the day Bahrain-McLaren put all their eggs in Mikel Landa's basket only for the Spaniard to make a right omelette of it with seventh place on the Col de la Loze. Landa is one of those riders who never seems to fit in. His time at Astana, Sky and Movistar always seemed to end up with a campaign to free him from ostensible captivity – but perhaps the problem lies with Landa himself?
The optimistic change in team name to Bahrain-Victorious – perhaps the reason why Rod Ellingworth left? – could well be tempting fate for a team leader for whom victories are way too far and in between.
With brother Adam off to Ineos, Simon Yates (GreenEDGE Cycling) faces an important year after a frustrating 2020. His form already seemed way off before the Briton was forced out of the Giro after testing positive for Covid-19. That 2018 Vuelta win now seems like a long time ago. What next? Unfinished business at the Giro or a proper tilt at the Tour? Either way, Yates needs to get things back on track.
When was the last time Greg van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën) was a genuine factor in the classics? You could say the same about Michael Valgren (EF Education-Nippo). Both riders now have fresh teams as they bid to return to winning ways. AG2R-Citroën have shown the 35-year-old Belgian remarkable belief in taking him on a three-year deal. Can GVA dovetail with compatriot Oliver Naisen and bring home the bacon on the cobbles? And more to the point - will be give up the gold shtick once the Tokyo Games are out of the way?

Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) in the break in stage 6 of the 2020 Tour de France

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As for Valgren, it's now almost three years since the Dane lit up the Ardennes with victory in Amstel Gold off the back of another brilliant solo effort in Omloop. He was seen as the next big thing back then, but his time at NTT was less fruitful than the dairy aisle at Tesco. Jonathan Vaughters has given the fresh-faced 28-year-old an olive branch, and the prospect of Valgren linking up with compatriot Magnus Cort in a wacky kit is appealing. Let's hope he takes his chances.
Talking of chances, we don't know how many they'll be for Mark Cavendish at Deceuninck Quick-Step. But old mentor Brian Holm has pulled the strings, and Cav is back for one year as he bids to bow out from the sport on his terms.
A third party is paying his wages and it's hard seeing the 35-year-old get the nod for a major race like the Tour (especially with Bennett around). But right now, you get the impression that Cavendish would settle for any win, anywhere, so he can wave goodbye on a high.
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