Cycling 2020 roundtable: Wow moments, greatest riders and predictions for next season…
Eurosport’s crop of cycling writers glance back on an eventful 2020 that saw Tadej Pogacar pip Primoz Roglic to win the Tour de France (with the Team Jumbo-Visma rider bouncing back to win La Vuelta), Lizzie Diegnan triumph over a stacked La Course field, Julian Alaphilippe and Anna van der Breggen secure world titles and Tao Geoghegan Hart claim a shock win at the Giro d’Italia.
Cycling 2020 roundtable: Wow moments, greatest riders and predictions for next season…
I'll go with Pogačar's maiden Tour stage win, at Laruns, where he outkicked compatriot Primož Rogliç and the battling Swiss escapee, Marc Hirschi. That was the entire Tour in a microcosm. As fourth-place Egan Bernal faded to also-ran status, Rogliç took the yellow jersey that he'd ultimately lose to his compatriot, whose belief just grew and grew. Hirschi would bounce back to have his day in the sun, while all three riders would feature again in the World Championships finale, and that of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. With those closing moments of Stage 9 you could tell the story of the entire race and season.
It's hard to think of any answer to this question that doesn't involve a photograph of Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert looking on in disbelief as Tadej Pogacar ripped their work of the preceding 19 stages to bits. Not only was that a remarkable day in 2020, I think it will become this generation's 'Lemond Fignon 89' moment – a part of the sport's enduring history.
Highlights: Pogacar set to win Tour de France after time trial thriller
The image of Evenepoel riding to the line with injured teammate Jakobsen's number raised overhead, face fixed with cold determination after a terrifying solo ride comes to mind, but I'm going to go with Dowsett's long-awaited, potentially career-saving Giro stage win, specifically his elated celebration. I love an underdog story.
The moment that always leaps into my mind when I think about the season just gone is the shot of Jumbo-Visma as the Tour de France was slipping away. Not Tadej Pogacar storming up the Planche des Belles Filles, not a dishevelled Primoz Roglic as he slogged his way up the climb, but that lingering camera shot of his team-mates, Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert, as they watched their race go up in smoke. The look on their faces was a mixture of so many emotions, not least pity for their soon-to-be vanquished friend and colleague, and it will remain lodged in my memory whenever I think back to what was an incredible season.
That Tour de France time trial when Tadej Pogacar put time into race leader Primoz Roglic up La Planche des Belles Filles. Three months later my jaw is still on the floor, and the blank faces of Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert watching the time gap vanish completely are etched into the memories of the millions of people who watched on the edge of their sofas remembering that these moments are why we love sport.
Caught up in the excitement between exchanging "WHAT IS HAPPENING?" messages in capitals to friends so socially distant they were watching from their own sofas, was my smugness as I forced a non-cycling fan to suffer through three weeks of the Tour promising it would be unpredictable, and who doesn't love being proved right?
Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic celebrate at the end of stage 21 of the Tour de France 2020
Image credit: Getty Images
Favourite race/stage of 2020
This was the hardest to choose, what with 2020 feeling like it has lasted about 100 months already. I gave up trying to remember the pre-corona races. My heart will always belong to La Vuelta, and the final road stage to La Covatilla really did provide an exhibition in what bike racing can be and ought to be. The mountain, everyone said, was not hard enough to create any real splits... and then Richard Carapaz blew everything to pieces. Roglič showed magnificent mental resolve to come back from that. An appropriate catharsis after his Tour disappointment.
I've had a soft spot for the BinckBank Tour for a few years, mostly because it resembles a highlight reel of the spring classics several months later. This year it was in the midst of the one-day epics that it mimics, and then there was the additional last minute impact of the worsening covid situation in the Netherlands, so it looked rather different. But thanks to Mathieu van der Poel, winner of last year's Amstel Gold (probably 2019's best race...), the last stage to Geraardsbergen more than lived up to its promise - he attacked on the Kapelmuur and went solo to take the stage and overall victory. Talk about strong.
Mathieu van der Poel claims stunning Stage 5 win and overall title at BinckBank Tour
Every year La Course delivers the sort of drama that underlines how insufficient it is for the organisers of the Tour de France to put on just a showcase event rather than a full stage-race offering for the best women in the world. And the 2020 edition was no different. Six of the strongest riders in the world broke away, with some brilliant tactical riding denying Annemiek van Vleuten the solo attack that she so often delivers. And for it to all come down to a photo-finish was a fitting conclusion to a fantastic race. That Lizzie Deignan was the winner was an added bonus.
This short season has blurred into one big blob of brilliant racing (sadly peppered with some horrendous lows too) that it's hard to remember what was what. In the interest of being different since Tom already chose La Covatilla, Julian Alaphilippe and Anna van der Breggen's respective wins at the world championships road race at Imola were fabulous to witness. Both pursued a difficult day of racing and superbly clinched the rainbow stripes in well-deserved performances. And it was humbling to watch the emotion pour out of Alaphilippe as he secured what he once called "the holy grail".
Highlights: Alaphilippe executes perfect plan to claim gold
Filippo Ganna was always meant to excel in the three time trials of his debut Grand Tour – but no one thought the Italian powerhouse capable of the kind of display which saw him win in Camigliatello Silano in Stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia. After Geraint Thomas' withdrawal, it gave Ineos Grenadiers the boost they needed and, perhaps, Tao Geoghegan Hart the belief that he could pull off something special. Ganna cut through the gloom to take his second of four wins, and the blue jersey to go with the pink and white ones he'd already picked up. Some debut. Six-foot-three, eighty-two-kilo machines aren't meant to climb like that (believe me; we don't). What a talent. And what a race Ineos went on to have – winning over their critics (me included) with a third of all stage wins, plus the maglia rosa.
Rider of 2020
It's hard to choose, so I'll go for both men's and women's racing if I may... Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini made the perfect attacking duo, mopping all the races not won by the Dutch legends Anna Van Der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten. During a time when women's sport battled difficulty, they helped ramp up excitement and keep it on the map. As for the blokes, a hat tip to fellow Lancastrian Hugh Carthy who surprised us all with what his legs are capable of, but it has to be Tao Geoghegan Hart, who was graceful with his stunning Giro d'Italia victory. He grabbed a rare opportunity with both hands, and it served up as a beautiful feel-good story for us all to witness.
Tao's fairytale: How Geoghegan Hart and Ineos won Giro
Primož Rogliç. No one was as consistent or as successful. A lesser rider would have caved in after his heart-breaking implosion on La Planche des Belles Filles to concede the Tour to his compatriot Pogačar at the eleventh hour. But Rogliç took it on the chin, picked himself up with a maiden Monument before defending his Vuelta crown with panache in Spain.
It would be churlish not to say Roglic, so I'll say Hugh Carthy. Charming when interviewed, a fantastic climber, and from the north-west of England. Rather like myself, hem hem.
Annemiek van Vleuten. It's hard to forget her summer winning streak, especially Strade Bianche where she pulled off an impossible ride to overhaul Mavi Garcia. And then there's her continued performance after breaking her wrist, including 2nd at the world champs within a week of undergoing surgery. If I can have a runner-up, I'd pick Marc Hirschi who seemed to come of age in 2020, winning big and livening up almost every race he started.
It's a predictable answer but it has to be Primoz Roglic. He dominated the Tour de France for so much of the race prior to that time trial blow-up. But to come back from that level of disappointment, one of the biggest shocks in recent memory of the sport, and to win both a Monument and the Vuelta is really quite something. And he didn't just win La Vuelta. He dominated it in exactly the same fashion that he had during the Tour, except this time he held on when faced with that late challenge. He really is a special cyclist.
Roglic, Carapaz and Carthy link arms in joint celebration of Vuelta podium finishes
One prediction for 2021
Umm, Chris Froome won't win the Tour de France, Valverde won't win the Olympic road race... Remco Evenepoel will do as he promised and come back stronger. And, like this year, there will be more distinct winners and unpredictability as the traditional team hierarchy and apprentice/intern style neo pro system continues to disintegrate. Maybe.
Predictions for next season seem outlandish when 2020 has taught us that planning for the end of next week is tricky business. To keep it simple, I reckon riders over the age of 25 will win the next batch of grand tours. And as much as we would all like to see one of the big dogs clinch yellow, it won't be Primoz Roglic, Julian Alaphilippe or Chris Froome, but it will be exciting.
This is where you're hoping I put my neck on the line and say a fifth Tour win for Chris Froome. Or that I go rogue and say something even more outlandish, such as Romain Bardet rediscovering his mojo at Sunweb and ending France's long wait for a yellow jersey in Paris. I can't see either happening. Instead, I'll just predict more continued unpredictability – the underlying (and welcome) characteristic of this unique past season. More specifically, three new winners in each Grand Tour and Arnaud Démare to take the green jersey.
The teams, in their obsession to sign the next-next-next Remco Evenepoel (who is already the next-next Egan Bernal), will begin offering contracts to the unborn foetuses of parents with high VO2 maxes. By 2031 the Tour will be being raced on balance bikes.
Annemiek van Vleuten will dominate the season. The Dutch veteran was in ridiculous form when cycling return in August, only to break her wrist in a crash during the Giro Rosa to put her out of action at a defining point in the compressed autumn schedule. Next year she'll be riding for a new team, Movistar, but expect similar dominance if she can stay fit - particularly with an Olympics to aim for in Tokyo (not that she appears to need any additional motivation).
Van Vleuten 'does a Froome' and runs up gravel climb after tumble