Seven storylines that will shape the 2020 racing season

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With a new decade upon us, it’s high time to start feeling the hype for the year ahead.

Building on a 2019 that had its fair share of great moments for racing fans, 2020 offers plenty of its own reasons to be excited about what’s to come. There will be intra-team leadership battles to enjoy, retooled rosters to analyze, rising stars to watch, and two weeks of hotly contested races that only come once every four years.

Here are seven storylines that will shape the year in racing.

An Olympic year

A two-week celebration of sports in July will have a huge impact on practically every pro cyclist across multiple disciplines. The Olympics are a huge target for so many in the world of bike racing, and even those without much interest in the event will have their schedules impacted by the Tokyo Games — events like the Tour de France have changed dates to accommodate the Olympics.

For those eyeing Olympic gold, talk of buildup for Tokyo will dominant many of the early-season events. Riders will be hoping to time their peaks perfectly while also making their case for Olympic squads. In the men’s road world, for instance, the Giro d’Italia will offer a great glimpse at some big contenders for the Olympic time trial, Victor Campenaerts and Rohan Dennis. And that’s just one of the countless races likely to come with talk of Olympic buildup.

With the Olympics taking on an even greater importance for many in the women’s road peloton – with fewer spots up for grabs – you can expect plenty of big names to be fully focused on preparing for Tokyo from now until race day. Imagine being a Dutch road rider with an Olympic dream having only a few more months to prove yourself for one of only a handful of roster slots with the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, and Marianne Vos also in the mix.

For mountain bikers and especially track riders, the Games are an even bigger deal. Track specialists have been working towards the upcoming Olympics for the past three and a half years. Building to a peak just in time, and staying healthy throughout the process, will be the name of the game for everyone dreaming of Olympic gold in the velodrome.

The Ineos vs. Jumbo-Visma battle

Even before Jumbo-Visma’s huge acquisition of Tom Dumoulin, we were starting to feel at least a hint of excitement about the Dutch squad’s chances of perhaps taking on Ineos in the Tour de France. With Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk, and strong supporting players like Laurens De Plus, the squad already had some firepower. Add Dumoulin to the mix and now Jumbo-Visma looks like it might actually have a shot at taking on the dominant Tour GC team of the last decade.

The impending battle between Jumbo-Visma and whomever Ineos sends to the Tour (probably defending champ Egan Bernal and four-time winner Chris Froome, maybe 2018 victor Geraint Thomas) will be the showdown on everyone’s mind across the world of road racing. The early season should give us opportunities for warm-up bouts ahead of the main event, which will bring with it more team leadership-related headlines for both teams than you can shake a stick at.

We can only hope the final battle in France lives up to the hype.

Will anyone emerge as the rider to beat in the women’s ‘cross field?

While men’s cyclocross is the Mathieu van der Poel show these days, women’s racing has been a much more open affair the past two years. Just when it seemed like Sanne Cant had established herself as the rider to beat for years to come, she stopped dominating.

Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado wins the Koksijde World Cup in late 2019.

This year, some promising youngsters have taken big strides, with Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix) and 777’s Annemarie Worst and Yara Kastelijn emerging as top-tier contenders, while Cant, Lucinda Brand, and Marianne Vos are also in the picture.

It’s hard to say who the best women’s ‘cross racer in the world is right now, although Alvarado has been on quite a run of form lately. Can she hold it through Worlds in February?

Can Deceuninck-Quick-Step still dominate the races we expect them to dominate?

No team strung together as many brilliant single days of racing in 2019 as Deceuninck-Quick-Step, the team that won Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, and eight Grand Tour stages, among many other big results. Some of their heavy hitters from last season, however, will wear different jerseys this year.

There are plenty of emerging stars and very promising newcomers to potentially take their place, but time will tell if things actually work out. Can rising star Remco Evenepoel fill the Philippe Gilbert-sized hole in the Classics? Can newcomer Sam Bennett enjoy as much sprinting success as Elia Viviani did with this team? We’ll find out in a few months.

What does the future hold for Boels-Dolmans?

The biggest team in women’s road racing is at a crossroads this season in more ways than one. For starters, the team, while still the top-ranked squad of the year, wasn’t nearly the dominant force in 2019 that it had been in prior seasons. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) helped see to that.

Beyond that, Boels’ existence as a top-tier squad or even a team at all is in question as both title sponsors are pulling out at the end of the year. It’s a tough break for manager Danny Stam, who built a juggernaut only to see his partners decide to eventually pull the plug. The team decided not to join the inaugural Women’s WorldTour ranks as a result.

Boels Dolmans at the 2019 Tour of California.

Here’s hoping that management will find new partners to keep the organization running beyond 2020 – and that the pressure of financial uncertainty doesn’t put too much strain on those who ride and work for the squad.

Ellingworth’s Bahrain-McLaren

Three years after the inception of Bahrain-Merida, the team is undergoing an overhaul as it becomes Bahrain-McLaren. It’s more than a name change and an influx of investment. Bahrain has bid farewell to Dennis and Vincenzo Nibali while welcoming Mikel Landa, Wout Poels, and Mark Cavendish. New team principal Rod Ellingworth, a key figure in the rise of Team Sky, will oversee the newly retooled squad.

Expectations are high considering the amount of hype around the changes, and frankly, Ellingworth has his work cut out for him. Reviving the sprint career of Mark Cavendish, and elevating Mikel Landa’s GC results to what his natural climbing abilities suggest might be possible, are tall orders. Both riders have strong personalities and neither has had the recent success they would have hoped for.

Then again, Ellingworth has an impressive track record managing talented riders. If he can get the most out of his team’s new acquisitions, Bahrain-McLaren could have a big year.

Will there be an encore for French GC hopes at the Tour?

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) may have ultimately come up short in their bids for Tour titles, but their strong showings in 2019 revived the hopes of a host nation whose fans have been waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for someone to emerge as a viable contender to win yellow. Tour organizers designed a 2020 route that will keep those hopes alive, with hills aplenty and fewer long mountain slogs.

Can Pinot return to form in the spring buildup races and then actually hold his edge through the end of the Tour? It’s hard to say. On talent, he can ride with the world’s best when he’s healthy, but he has never strung it all together to win big across three weeks. Maybe he’s destined for Richie Porte-level disappointment, but if Geraint Thomas could deliver that first Tour win relatively late in a career that featured plenty of mishaps up to that point, well, maybe Pinot can too.

There’s also Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who is too young for French fans to give up on as a GC contender despite his quiet recent results in the overall standings at the Tour. And of course there’s Alaphilippe, who says he’s not gunning for yellow but … who knows? What we do know is that French fans can at least hope.

What other storylines are you looking forward to following in 2020? Let us know in the comments below.

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