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Highs and lows for 2022: Gravel worlds, a women’s Tour de France, and more COVID

Tour de Hoody: Here are five things that will make the 2022 racing season one worth remembering.

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Every racing season has its ebbs and flows, and there are always a few surprises along the way.

Who could have predicted a world pandemic or that cycling could manage to bulldoze the majority of its European road season across the finish line two years in a row?

A new rider can emerge out of nowhere to dominate the peloton, just look no further than Tadej Pogačar and his ever-tightening grip on the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

So what to expect for 2022?

Unfortunately, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere, but this year’s racing season should be one to remember.

Here are a few highlights that will stand out in 2022:

Tour de France Femmes: breaking new ground

The inaugural Tour de France Femmes continues to provoke debate a week after its release. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

No single event in 2022 is anticipated as much as the Tour de France Femmes. The importance of its arrival cannot be understated.

Backed by the marketing might and prestige of ASO and a high-profile sponsorship deal with Zwift, the eight-stage race comes at the right time for women’s racing.

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The peloton is deeper than ever, and there’s more and more financial support behind teams. The allure of the yellow jersey could and should push women’s cycling to a higher level.

Of course, not everyone is happy. Some say to achieve true equality, the women’s peloton should and can race three weeks. Others caution there is a risk of growing the women’s calendar too much and stretching the resources of teams and riders if there are too many race days piled on too quickly.

Most, however, seem ready to embrace the race as a chance to showcase the very best of women’s racing.

Maybe not everyone is a fan of ASO, but no one can argue that they are not the best race organizer in Europe. They know what they’re doing.

And with such an interesting and balanced race route, the inaugural Tour de France Femmes should be an immediate hit.

UCI’s gravel world championship: a historic first

Like it or not, the UCI will be crowning officially sanctioned world champions for what’s emerged as the most energetic and dynamic new discipline in cycling since mountain biking.

Like mountain biking, gravel racing grew organically, with grassroots support of iconoclasts and local race organizers who built the niche from the dusty ground up.

Also read: Gravel community reacts to arrival of the UCI

And now here comes the UCI.

Much like mountain biking, the UCI is swooping into what it sees what’s rapidly becoming a very big thing.

By offering its rainbow jersey and the weight that comes with an international federation, the UCI is hoping the gravel community will embrace its worlds just as much as the technocrats in Switzerland want to get their tentacles into the booming gravel scene.

Unlike mountain biking, however, it’s highly unlikely gravel racing will ever become an Olympic discipline.

That means that the UCI won’t be able to play bully as it did with mountain biking in its nascent days a few decades ago.

UCI president David Lappartient vows that the cycling governing body isn’t coming in with a heavy hand, and to be honest, what can he do? Almost no one racing and riding in gravel events cares much about the UCI.

The UCI promises to unveil details next month of the host venue of the first world championships — with sources telling VeloNews it will be in the United States — as well as other key dates in a season-long series.

It will be interesting to see how serious the ever-growing pro niche on the gravel scene will take the rainbow jersey.

My guess is: very seriously. Who doesn’t want to be the first winner of the UCI-sanctioned world title?

New Paris-Roubaix dates: does one week make a difference?

Paris-Roubaix was canceled outright in 2020, and postponed until October in 2021, so how is an extra week going to make a difference in 2022?

Quite a bit more than expected.

This spring, Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race will be swapped on the racing calendar due to presidential elections in France. That means it will be a full two weeks before the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix, instead of the traditional one week.

No big deal, right? Well, with today’s peloton so highly calibrated and meticulously planned out, that extra week will have an important impact on the peloton’s top classics riders and teams.

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Riders are already adjusting their calendars to try to taper their spring season peak to fit the scheduling one-off.

Wout van Aert confirmed he’s skipping a chance to win another cyclocross world title in part because of Roubaix’s later date. The long trip to the United States and growing coronavirus worries don’t help either, but the later Roubaix date was a key factor.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) said he’s skipping the opening Belgian weekend, meaning he won’t be defending his title at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

It’s all a matter of hitting the peak at just the right moment.

A week might not seem like a lot, but for the finely tuned cobble-bashers, a later Roubaix will play out across the spring in subtle yet significant ways.

COVID-19: the fat lady isn’t singing yet

Sepp Kuss is relatively unscathed at the Tour de France.
A recent outbreak of a new variant of the coronavirus is casting a chill across the sport. (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Everyone thought by the summer of 2022 the coronavirus would be stuffed back into the pandemic bottle.

The peloton’s key stakeholders were hoping to ease the series of health and safety measures that have dominated the peloton since 2020.

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Omicron had something else in store, however, and as teams head to Spain’s Mediterranean coast next week for pre-season training camps, infection rates across Europe are higher than ever before.

What that means is that 2022 will likely look very much like 2020 and 2021, at least in terms of limiting fan access, keeping the baying media at arm’s length, racing “behind closed doors,” and the inevitable race cancelation.

So far, everyone’s discovered that racing isn’t impacted that much. And some say it’s even better in some ways under these trying and odd times.

What’s most important is that everyone stays safe, and the peloton keeps pedaling along.

Class of 1990: done or still a factor?

Romain Bardet joined Team DSM at the start of 2021
Romain Bardet joined Team DSM at the start of 2021. (Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

There’s no slowing down time, and the much-vaunted “Class of 1990” is discovering how that idiom rings true for everyone.

Long before the Remcos and Tadejs rode at the front of the bunch, Peter Sagan, Nairo Quintana, and Taylor Phinney were the New Kids on the Block.

Fast forward more than a decade, and one of cycling’s most celebrated generations is now pedaling into their early 30s.

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Some, like Phinney, have already retired. Sagan and Quintana, two of the leading lights of the past 10 years, are still racing on pride and honor.

Any rider entering their early 30s hits a crossroads. A few, like Alejandro Valverde, can keep winning into their 40s, and others transition into road captain roles or become sport directors.

Expect a few riders like Tom Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot, and Romain Bardet, all born in 1990, racing hard to prove there’s something left in the tank in 2022.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.