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More than any other year in the history of cycling, 2020 was a strikingly strange one.
At the core of all that oddity, like a medicine ball on a trampoline, was the COVID-19 pandemic which warped the year around itself. But even beside that, there were historically weird moments scattered throughout.
From international intrigue to baffling kit, terrible crashes to team takeovers, these are ten of the strangest defining moments of the year.
They are each, in their own little way, peak 2020.
UAE Tour quarantine
In the long ago fairytale times of February, when the ‘Rona was but a quaint and mysterious fringe concern, we sent our intrepid reporter Dane Cash to the United Arab Emirates for what is well known within cycling media circles as the cushiest assignment of the entire year. Four-star hotels, good food, riders all in one place – it’s a reporter’s dream.
Then coronavirus struck. It infected a rider, who turned out to be Fernando Gaviria, and a team staff member. Everyone was locked into their hotels, forbidden to leave. Tests were administered, quarantines were instituted, and none of it made sense. It set the precedent for the toppling dominoes that was the rest of the early season.
The UCI honours a dictator
In June, the UCI quietly handed the dictator of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a mysterious award. That might’ve slipped through the cracks if Berdimuhamedov was a little less self-promotional, but luckily for the accountability of the sport, he isn’t that kind of dictator.
The actions of the sport’s governing body were suddenly in the spotlight as the UCI fielded pointy questions from CyclingTips: questions like “hey, this guy is a serial human rights abuser, why did you give him your most prestigious honour?” – and did its best to dodge them.
A multi-month investigation subsequently revealed the depths of the UCI’s corruption, and shone a light on the Russian oligarch that was the powerbroker in the wings. It was all very spicy, full of international intrigue, and completely bizarre – and probably wouldn’t have been uncovered at all if Lappartient, Makarov and Berdimuhamedov hadn’t jumped on an awkward Zoom call for a virtual awards ceremony.
Garmin gets hacked and pays a ransom
Imagine that you’ve just enjoyed a quenching end-times bike ride and tried to upload your activity from your Garmin, only to find all that exertion stuck in some digital purgatory. Galling, right?
Not nearly as galling as what Garmin was going through during one fateful week in late July, when the company found itself the victim of a ransomware attack.
The GPS giant was locked out of its own systems after they were infiltrated by the Russian criminal gang, Evil Corp. For what felt like an eternity, Garmin offered little more than ominous silence before things finally came back online. The price: a reported multimillion dollar ransom, quietly paid to the hackers via an intermediary at the risk of triggering sanctions from the US Treasury.
But hey. We can upload our rides again.
And Garmin wasn’t unique among cycling-related brands in falling victim to nefarious actors in 2020. Canyon’s year likewise got off to a horror start when it was victim of a similar attack around New Year’s Day.
We sunk ever deeper into the utter bullshit that was 2020 in August when Dylan Groenewegen shut the door on poor Fabio Jakobsen in a fast finale at the Tour of Poland, causing Jakobsen to hit the right-side barrier, which then, somehow, flung high into the air, where it exploded into multiple pieces and turned a bad crash into a terrifying one.
Shame on Groenewegen for closing that door, far more shame on the race organizer for those awful barriers, a double shame dose on the UCI for its wishy-washy handling of the real cause of physical devastation, and shame on the sport for not figuring safe finish lines out after more than a century.
Kansas gravel race changes its name to something only marginally better than “Kansas gravel race”
The race formerly known as Dirty Kanza spent months and months consulting stakeholders and came up with a new name. It’s a fine name. But we had to look it up to write this little blurb because it’s so unmemorable we forgot what they changed it to.
Unbound Gravel. That’s it. We remembered.
The Orica takeover and then take-back
The Mitchelton-Scott outfit, like many in the sport, found itself in challenging financial straits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike CCC – which quietly folds at the end of this season – and NTT – which was on-again, off-again, before finally finding a lifeline to move forward as Assos-Qhubeka – Mitchelton-Scott had a much murkier mid-season funding narrative.
Out of the blue in mid-June, an announcement was made that the team would complete the 2020 season as Manuela Fundacion, with a new Spanish non-profit without a web presence as the naming-rights sponsor.
But all was not as it seemed. Over the next week a flurry of conflicting reports from inside the team and out revealed a much stranger picture of the apparent takeover. Finally, a week after the deal had first been announced, it was scrapped by team owner Gerry Ryan who renewed his commitment to the team. Mitchelton-Scott lives on; Manuela Fundacion is still without a team to hang their name off, seemingly having disappeared into the ether as mysteriously as it arrived.
EF x Palace release the wildest kit in years
It’s safe to say that EF Pro Racing’s bonkers Giro d’Italia kit ruffled some feathers. A design collaboration between Rapha and the London skate brand Palace, the kit featured … well, just about everything. There was a mottled purple and red polka dot motif. There was not one, but two, unidentified gents lurking in the splodges. Sprawled across the chest was a big white duck, wings outstretched, playing the word ‘PALACE’ like an accordion.
It was certainly … different, and, the haters would say, not in a good way. But if visibility is the benchmark of success, it more than served its purpose. It near-instantly sold out, and seems destined to be a cult item of cycling apparel on par with the giddiest excesses of Carrera Jeans, Mapei and Castorama. Weird as hell, and very well played all round.
Specialized’s Roval non-tubeless tubeless
Our quite-experienced tech editors have looked closely at the new Roval wheels, and asked other even more experty-experts, and everyone says they look like they were designed for tubeless tires.
And yet, Roval says they aren’t. The company that spent the last three or so years firmly on the road tubeless bandwagon, launching many fast and fancy tires, as well as its own road-specific sealant, running many ads about tubeless superiority, suddenly had a New Hot Take: latex tubes are sweet!
This trips our weird-o-meter up high enough that where we’re pretty sure something else happened behind the scenes. But we haven’t, as of yet, figured out what that something was.
All of the racing, all of the time
When the season was put on an indefinite hiatus in March, the status of the 2020 calendar was a little nebulous. But in the end, while a bunch of races didn’t happen, what was perhaps more surprising was how many races did.
The resumption of the racing calendar was like a drought breaking, as the back half of the year bombarded cycling fans with All of the Racing, All of the Time. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in the giddy period toward the end of October where the Giro d’Italia, Paris-Roubaix and la Vuelta a España all overlapped. In that context, it was almost – almost – a mercy when Paris-Roubaix didn’t end up taking place (even if, of course, it would’ve been that most mystical beast, a wet Paris-Roubaix).
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The Tour de France on Zwift
When coronavirus spread its wicked tendrils across Europe, it wasn’t just the professional cycling season that was impacted. Entire countries went into decisive lockdowns, limiting movement and forcing people to shelter indoors. A surprise side-effect was that the steady growth in Zwift and related platforms suddenly became a flood. There was a dramatic spike in demand for indoor trainers and digital platforms experienced staggering expansion.
Zwift was arguably the best-poised to capitalise, with the Tour of Watopia setting a precedent for the growth of eRacing. By July, the Tour de France – or something a bit like it, if you squinted and weren’t very picky – was being raced online, and by December the first UCI eSports World Championship was run and won. And just like that, eRacing was here to stay.