The 2020 season is still two months away, but there’s much to be thinking and getting excited about.
From the cobbles of spring to the high mountains of summer, there will be some interesting narratives to follow in 2020. Here are some of the juiciest storylines to watch out for:
Will the Wolfpack keep tearing the competition to shreds in the classics?
Deceuninck-Quick-Step topped the leader boards of race wins in 2019, and have done so every season since 2013. In a year that could be considered stellar even by their own dominant standards, the ‘Wolfpack’ crushed the classics in 2019, winning two monuments in Paris-Roubaix (Philippe Gilbert) and Milano-Sanremo (Alaphilippe), along with bagging victory at Omloop Het Nieuswsblad, Kuurne- Brussels Kuurne, Strade Biance, E3 Harelbeke and Fleche Wallone.
There are a few more victories in that spring haul, but there’s only so much space in an article.
However, 2020 will see the Belgian team lose its head wolf and spiritual icon Philippe Gilbert to Lotto-Soudal.
While Quick-Step hasn’t replaced Gilbert with a similar veteran classics superstar such as van Avermaet or Vanmarcke, Lotto-Soudal has also recruited the heft of John Degenkolb to their ranks. That’s 2-0 to Lotto-Soudal if you will.
Lotto-Soudal has always been there or thereabouts in the classics, with a roster with a depth of classics heavies. With them adding two marquee riders to their roster and Quick-Step losing their head wolf, will there be a shift in power in 2020?
Quick-Step’s huge victory tally comes from their ability to work together as a seamless unit – a pack of wolves. One wolf doesn’t make a pack, but Gilbert’s absence will be hard-felt.
Can Jumbo-Visma pose a legitimate challenge to Ineos in the Grand Tours?
Arguably the biggest piece of news from the 2019 transfer season was Grand Tour star Tom Dumoulin’s move to Jumbo-Visma. The Dutch squad were the team of 2019 in the tours, picking up victory at the Vuelta with Primoz Roglic, and third-places at the Tour and the Giro.
The addition of Dumoulin to a team that already boasts Roglic, Steven Kruijkswijk, and George Bennet will see them pack a roster that would even make team Ineos jealous.
Contrastingly, 2019 was a relatively ‘quiet’ year for Ineos. Sure, they took the Tour de France, but they didn’t dominate the race in the way they have done through the decade and were largely absent through the rest of the season.
While Jumbo-Visma has the wind at their backs after their 2019 season, there’s a sense Ineos still go into 2020 on the back foot, particularly while there are still question marks over Chris Froome’s recovery.
Whoever racks up the most Grand Tour wins, you can be sure to see the yellow jerseys of Jumbo-Visma rubbing shoulders with the deep red of Ineos on a regular basis in 2020.
Will we see the return of Chris Froome?
All eyes will be on four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome in 2020. Froome crashed in a route recon during June 2019’s Criterium du Dauphine, fracturing his leg, hip, elbow, and ribs. He’s not raced since and has only recently got back on the bike.
After a break of six months from riding, can the 34-year-old hit the form that saw him dominate the Tour through the middle of the decade? He thinks he can.
Froome has made no bones about his ambition to take a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey, a feat that would put him on par with Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain. And as if that wasn’t enough, he hopes to back up an attempt at a Tour yellow with a shot an Olympic Gold.
The first step for Froome is to get back to full fitness. Then there’s the small matter of team politics and Tour leadership with 2019 Tour winner Egan Bernal and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas. Oh, and then there’s the ominous presence of rising Grand Tour team Jumbo-Visma.
Age is not on Froome’s side, who is already nearing the end of his peak years. Only one rider has taken the yellow jersey at an age older than 35, and that was Firmin Lambot in 1922 – and the sport was altogether different then.
Froome has got the resources available to help him in his recovery, and he’s got the grit to do it. Will he be on the top step in Paris in July 2020? It’s one heck of a challenge.
How will the Olympic Games impact race schedules?
The Olympic Games road race falls on July 25, just six days after the Tour de France wraps up… and 10,000km away.
To race three weeks in France and then jet across the world for an Olympic start will be far from simple, and poses both positives and negatives. Carry the boost in form from the Tour de France into a shot at the Olympic medal, but also run the risk of being so mentally and physically cooked from completing ‘the biggest race in the world’ that nothing is left for Tokyo.
The Tokyo route is one for the climbers and GC-types, with nearly 5,000m climbing and three major passes. And that leaves a number of GC riders with a conundrum – to gamble on racing the Tour, or to be conservative and race the Giro before aiming for a second peak, two months later, in Tokyo.
Chris Froome has already made a big noise about racing the Tour and the Olympics back-to-back, and it’s looking likely that Julian Alapahilippe and Alejandro Valverde will also start in France.
However, the Frenchman and Spaniard have also decided not to have a run at the overall in the way that Froome will – by targeting stages they have the option to end their Tour early, or simply back off in the final week. Contrastingly, Vincenzo Nibali and Romain Bardet are planning on having a tilt at the Giro’s pink jersey then resting up for the Olympics.
Whichever tactic is the best remains to be seen. However, an Olympic bid only comes around once every four years, and it’s even less often that the course suits a Grand Tour rider.
The possibility of an Olympic medal is sure to be weighing heavy in the minds and schedule-planning of many of the sport’s biggest names and could make a big difference to start-sheets through the year.
Will the young guns of 2019 keep firing as strong?
There was a remarkable rise of young talent in 2019, a year that saw Egan Bernal (22), Remco Evenepoel (19), and Tadej Pogacar (21) became household names.
Bernal became the youngest Tour de France winner in over 100 years, and Evenepoel held off a pack of seasoned rouleurs with a late solo move to win Classica San Sebastian and place second at the world time trial championships.
Was it a flash in the pan, a youthful shot in the dark, or will these ‘Generation-Z’ superstars cement their places in halls of fame in 2020?
For Bernal, the main obstacle may be as much from team politics as his own fitness and form. With Chris Froome likely to re-enter the Ineos bubble in 2020 after his long recovery from injury, Bernal may not be given a shot at leading the team at the Tour de France again.
Instead, the young Colombian may either lead an Ineos B-Team at the Giro or play super domestique to his elder teammate at the Tour.
Evenepoel will be pleased that he made hay while the sun shone in 2019, when he was a relatively unmarked man. 2020 will be altogether different.
Every rider in the peloton will have their eyes on him and team strategies will be built around containing him.
On a more positive note, although Evenepoel may not have such ease in picking up race wins in 2020, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, a team known for nurturing and developing new talent, should be a good home for him to learn the necessaries for a long and prosperous career.
Pogacar will also be a heavily-marked man in 2020. A part of his ability to get to the podium at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana came as a result of his relatively unknown status and ability to ride freely.
How will UAE-Team Emirates manage the young Slovenian next year? Though Quick-Step has the knowledge and experience to nurture young Remco in his second year in the WorldTour, UAE-Team Emirates are relatively new to the game and may not have such resources and expertise to hand.
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