What were the winning elements of the wacky 2020 pro cycling schedule?
This year's WorldTour season was like no other, with overlapping grand tours, a midsummer Strade Bianche and so much more. Could any of those changes be made permanent?
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From a hot and dusty summer Strade Bianche all the way through to the dim sun of an autumnal Vuelta a España, this 2020 season was one like no other as the template pro cycling season got turned on its head.
While the racing schedule was overhauled due to the most terrible of circumstances, were there any takeaways or winning ingredients in the wacky restarted season that could be worth repeating?
Our European correspondents Andrew Hood, James Startt and Jim Cotton deliver their takes: What were the winning elements of the weird and wonderful 2020 season?
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): The 2020 season was amazing in many aspects, and the fact that the sport pulled off most of its major races on the men’s side is nothing short of extraordinary. Do I want to see a repeat of this in 2021? Hell no.
The jumbled, reshuffled schedule was nothing short of maddening, but it was obviously better than the alternative. In 2021, we got back to the existing calendar, which works pretty well if you ask me. Despite some critics who say the racing calendar is too long or lacks a “narrative” — whatever that means — cycling’s sprawling international calendar delivers across many metrics.
The one thing that stands out for me from 2020 that could be worth considering adopting would be seeing the world championships slotted back into its spot on the calendar right after the Tour de France. For years, that’s when the worlds were held on the calendar, and the Tour stars would pedal straight into the worlds for a chance to race for the stripes in top shape. For a long time, I thought the latest incarnation of the calendar — having the Vuelta a España before the worlds — worked. Since its move in 1995 to the fall, the Spanish tour has seen a huge bump in quality and prestige, and for nearly 15 years, eventual world champions used the Vuelta to prepare for the worlds. That’s changed. The Vuelta now is too hard and demanding to be used as a “prep” race for the worlds. In fact, from 2013-19, only Peter Sagan in 2015 and Alejandro Valverde in 2018 raced the Vuelta before the worlds.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): To contradict Hoody a little, I enjoyed some of the narratives that played out in 2020.
Firstly, having a concise block of major Italian classics with Strade Bianche, Milano Sanremo and Il Lombardia on consecutive weekends seemed to make sense. Strade Bianche has always felt out of place at the start of the cobbles schedule as it is typically, and I sometimes think Il Lombardia gets forgotten and underappreciated at the very end of the season. Packaging those three together must make life a lot easier for team logistics, and would give them an added identity and storyline in the way that the Ardennes and Flemish one-day races have now.
On the topic of the Ardennes – I liked having those hilly classics soon after the Tour de France. Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold are often touted as the one-day races that favor GC riders, so why not schedule them somewhere that gives the classification riders the opportunity to hit them when they’re rocking premium form? That also gives the potential for the re-emergence of Tour de France grudges and the opportunity for riders to make up for near-misses, like Primož Roglič with his rebound at Liège so soon after being pipped in Paris.
Of course, to reproduce these threads in future seasons would call for a total redesign of the calendar, and I’m not arguing for that. But if David Lappartient and Co. ever did decide to totally shake up the current pro cycling schedule, these points could add a certain something to the current calendar.
James Startt: I agree with Andy on many points. I am actually proud of the sport to be able to pull this season off. Before the season reboot in August, I even asked myself if it was right for the sport of cycling to carry on when there was so much doubt in the world. But living in the middle of many of the races, I was so impressed by the efforts made by all sides of the sport and I really think we set an amazing example.
Lessons learned or potential permanent changes that may be worth incorporating?
I sure would not miss camping cars being restricted from mountain passes in the future, but I would regret not being able to access the paddocks where team buses park before the start. That is just such a central part of our work as reporters and photographers.
Regarding the races, I generally would be only too happy to go back to the old norm. I love the ebb and flow of the traditional calendar, moving from southern Europe to the north in the springtime before moving to the Tour in July. The problem has always been that after the Tour we sort of lose the plot. I thought the Strade Bianche in August was great and why not Il Lombardia? I like the Worlds in late September, but August with the Classica San Sebastian, Strade Bianche and Lombardy would lead perfectly into the Canadian Grand Prix races and provide a great run-up to worlds, while the Vuelta provides an alternative path.
And if there is one good thing about the late season this year, well, next season is only around the corner!