A look back at a truly bonkers 2020 season

by Matt de Neef


The 2020 season was one of the strangest in the history of professional cycling. Coronavirus wreaked havoc on the racing calendar and transformed 2020 into a season unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. But it wasn’t just COVID-19 — this was a year full of the chaotic, the unusual, and the downright crazy.

So, with the racing season now behind us, let’s all take a deep breath and look back at all the weird and wonderful things that made this a season to remember.

The UAE Tour was cut short due to COVID-19.

Coronavirus first made its presence felt in pro cycling way back in February. Team staffers at UAE Team Emirates seemingly brought the virus with them from Italy to the UAE, leading to the eventual cancellation of the race, two days earlier than planned. At least 12 COVID cases were linked to the event, and several teams ended up being forced to quarantine in an Abu Dhabi hotel for weeks afterwards, with Cofidis president Thierry Vittu claiming his squad was being “held hostage”.

Spare a thought, too, for UAE Team Emirates’ Max Richeze, whose 18-day stint in a UAE hospital meant he missed the birth of his daughter.

Adam Yates was crowned the winner of the shortened UAE Tour.

Paris-Nice was cut short too.

Paris-Nice went ahead with restrictions around spectator numbers, leaving start and finish areas looking a little bare. The race was eventually called off a day early as well, to help fight the spread of the virus.

Strade Bianche was cancelled at the last minute.

A number of teams had announced they would skip Strade Bianche due to COVID concerns. In the end there was no race to skip — both the men’s and women’s races were called off just a few days out from the start. With many teams already in the area, some riders went out and rode around the course anyway.

Strade Bianche was eventually held under the hot Tuscan sun in August.

The racing season was halted entirely.

After a bunch of races were cancelled, and with the COVID situation only getting worse, the UCI finally stepped in and canned all racing for the immediate future. Many races were rescheduled for the back half of the season, several were cancelled, and some were rescheduled but then ultimately re-cancelled (e.g. Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix) as a second wave swept Europe later in the year.

The Virtual Tour de France was a thing.

With races cancelled, and with many riders locked down at home, unable to train outside, indoor riding played an even greater role than ever before. The pros took part in a heap of virtual races, not least the Virtual Tour de France. Held in July when the Tour was supposed to happen, the virtual Tour offered the same courses and coverage for men and women. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.

Masks became ubiquitous at bike races.

At this point there’s nothing too unusual about people wearing masks, but at those first races after the restart it was a pretty arresting sight. And in the years to come, when we look back at photos from the 2020 season, the masks will definitely stand out.

https://cyclingtips.com/2020/08/quiz-can-you-name-the-masked-riders/

Fabio Jakobsen was lucky to survive a crash in Poland.

The Tour of Poland was one of the first races back when racing resumed in August, and the first stage very nearly ended in tragedy. On a downhill sprint to the line, Fabio Jakobsen crashed horrifically into the roadside barriers at speeds approaching 80 km/h.

Jakobsen was lucky to survive. He suffered significant facial injuries and reportedly lost all his teeth. He faces a long road to recovery. Dylan Groenewegen is expected to serve a nine-month ban for his part in the incident.

Remco Evenepoel fell off a bridge at Il Lombardia.

Il Lombardia was a strange one in 2020. Normally raced in October as the last of the Monuments, the Italian one-dayer was this year raced in summer as the second Monument of the season. At just 20 years old, in his very first Monument, Belgian uber-talent Remco Evenepoel was the pre-race favourite. He was in the elite lead group and a great chance of victory when he overshot a corner on the descent off the Muro di Sormano and fell from a bridge.

It was a horrific moment for all who saw it live. Thankfully, Evenepoel ended up with “only” a fractured pelvis and should make a full recovery. The incident continued to make headlines in the months afterwards as the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation investigated what Evenepoel’s sports director, Davide Bramati, took from his rider’s jersey pocket in the moments after the crash. Both rider and sports director were cleared of any wrongdoing in October.

Evenepoel’s crash wasn’t the only jaw-dropping moment at Il Lombardia — a private car got on the course late too, causing Max Schachmann to crash. The German still finished seventh, with a broken collarbone.

The Tour de France was decided in the penultimate stage time trial.

With COVID cases on the rise in France, it seemed unlikely the re-scheduled Tour de France would even start, let alone finish. In the end we got a truly remarkable edition of the world’s biggest race. Primoz Roglic led for 11 days and looked unbeatable at many points throughout the race. But in the stage 20 time trial, Roglic’s 21-year-old compatriot Tadej Pogacar put in a time trial for the ages, leaping over Roglic on the last GC stage to win his debut Tour de France, with a lazy three stage wins along the way (plus the KOM jersey and best young rider jersey).

The result gave Slovenia its first Tour de France win and the top two places on GC. It was the most remarkable end to a Tour since Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon in the final-stage ITT at the legendary 1989 Tour de France. Remarkably, Pogacar’s final winning margin of 59 seconds would be the largest Grand Tour margin of the season.

Pogacar riding his way into the history books.

Also noteworthy about the Tour: Ineos Grenadiers had three former winners at their disposal but only took one, Egan Bernal. The Colombian later left the race due to a back injury. Also incredible: Wout van Aert winning bunch sprints and being one of the race’s best in the mountains. It shouldn’t have been that surprising given his bags of talent, but it still left us shaking our heads.

Annemiek van Vleuten raced Worlds with a broken wrist.

On a bonkers stage 2 of the Giro Rosa, Van Vleuten rode away from everyone, effectively ending the GC battle with a week still to go. But on stage 7, just two days from taking a third straight Giro Rosa title, Van Vleuten crashed and was forced from the race with a broken wrist.

Remarkably, she fronted up to the postponed, relocated and slimmed-down Road World Championships a little over a week later, wearing a cast. She didn’t just roll around either — she was plenty aggressive and ended up finishing second, behind solo compatriot Anna van der Breggen.

Despite breaking her wrist in the Giro Rosa a week earlier, defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten was able to start the Worlds road race thanks to a wrist brace.

There were all sorts of overlaps in the second half of the year.

Il Lombardia and the Criterium du Dauphine. The Tour de France and Tirreno-Adriatico. The BinckBank Tour and Fleche Wallonne. The Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. These were just some of the WorldTour races that overlapped in a heavily condensed post-COVID racing block. If that wasn’t hard enough to keep track of, many of the Women’s WorldTour races also overlapped. It was great to have racing back after a months-long hiatus, but it was all a bit much crammed in at once.

While it was a shame to see the men’s and women’s Paris-Roubaix cancelled, it did mean we avoided having a stage of the Giro, a stage of the Vuelta, and both Paris-Roubaix races on the same day.

Julian Alaphilippe’s bizarre finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

After winning Worlds, Julian Alaphilippe came to Liege-Bastogne-Liege as a big favourite. He was there in the group of five at the end, and thought he had it won. He posted up on the finish line, arms in the air … as Primoz Roglic dashed past on the Frenchman’s right to hit the line first.

“Loulou” was saved some amount of embarrassment by the race jury who relegated him for an irregular sprint after cutting off Marc Hirschi on approach to the line.

Remarkably, Alaphillippe celebrated early at Brabantse Pijl the very next week and very nearly got pipped on the line again, this time by Mathieu van der Poel. Thankfully for Alaphilippe, his impatience didn’t cost him a second time — he had his first win in rainbows.

Alaphilippe hit a motorbike at Flanders.

As far as leading trios go, Alaphilippe + Van Aert + Van der Poel in the final kilometres of the Tour of Flanders was about as good as it gets. And then Alaphilippe got distracted by his race radio and rode into the back of a race moto, breaking his hand. It was a bizarre and unfortunate end to the world champ’s debut Flanders, but the race still ended in incredible fashion.

The Giro d’Italia was flat-out insane.

Where to start with the Giro? Well, first the planned start in Hungary was canned due to coronavirus (Sicily picked up the slack). Then there was EF Pro Cycling’s outrageous(ly good?) kit — the most head-turning outfit we’ve seen in years. Then Geraint Thomas crashed out in the neutral zone on stage 3, thanks to a stray bidon, after he’d firmly established himself as the rider to beat overall.

Thomas showing the signs of his stage 3 crash at the Giro.

Then there were the other GC contenders that left the race. Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk both departed due to coronavirus, so too their entire teams after the first rest day. Michael Matthews left with COVID as well, as did Fernando Gaviria — astonishingly, a second bout for the Colombian who also tested positive after the UAE Tour in February.

With Thomas, Yates and Kruijswijk gone, and with Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang a little ways off their best, there was a real vacuum in the GC battle. Twenty-two-year-old Portuguese rider Joao Almeida surprised everyone to lead the race for 15 days, and then in the final week, unlikely contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley emerged as the riders to beat. The race was only decided on the final day in Milan, with Geoghegan Hart winning the Giro by 39 seconds.

Incredibly, after losing their GC contender on stage 3 (Thomas), Ineos Grenadiers went on to win the race overall and a lazy seven stages.

The Vuelta was incredibly close too.

After being cut to 18 stages thanks to coronavirus (the planned start in the Netherlands was canned) the Vuelta ended up being hotly contested too. After Roglic took red on the first day the lead changed hands a bunch of times. On the penultimate stage it looked like Richard Carapaz had a chance of snatching the lead from Primoz Roglic. Ultimately Roglic prevailed to win his second-straight Vuelta.

The Slovenian’s final winning margin was just 24 seconds, meaning all three Grand Tours were decided by less than a minute — the first time that’s ever happened. It was pretty remarkable that all three Grand Tours even finished, let alone the fact they were all so close and entertaining.

***

It’s been a hell of a year. Of course the disrupted professional cycling season is only a tiny part of the chaos that 2020 has delivered. And that chaos is a long way from over.

COVID-19 is already having an impact on the 2021 racing season with the Santos Tour Down Under, Cadel’s Race and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour all stripped from the Australian summer of racing. And with many European nations now back in lockdown, it’s not hard to imagine European racing being affected again next year …

What else stood out to you from the 2020 racing season? Let us know in the comments below.

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