Cycling is on its way back, somehow, to some extent
Hi everyone! Nice to see you again. Since we last had anything to talk about, it seems like cycling faded from one of those sports that was fun to pretend it was still going on to just flat out nothing. When I last wrote anything… well I guess it was that LANCE thing, but before then it was to cancel a Giro re-watch party as America and then the world became engulfed in a conversation of sorts about whether or not we might want to start to be less racist. However you view that experience, it was profound enough to many of us that cycling just got bounced out of view. Not even a pair of (predictable) Slovenian championship races could really make us feel like there was much cycling to talk about.
But we are getting there! Sure, some of us are hell-bent on proving Winston Churchill right when he said that Americans always do the right thing, once they’ve exhausted the alternative. But in Europe the story is different and the cycling season seems sure to get started again in three weeks’ time. Whether every planned race actually happens, who knows, but we should have races to watch for a while.
If you weren’t paying much attention and now need some basic guidance as to how the 2020 I Can’t Believe It’s a Cycling Calendar! works, I’ve got you covered. It breaks out in chunks like this.
Phase 1: The Italian Classics… all of them
When: August 1-15
Did you used to feel confused as to which Italian one-day races were in spring or fall? Probably not the monuments, but I mean Milano-Torino or the Giro del Piemonte? Not to worry, they’re all in August this year. Beginning August 1 you get three consecutive weekends of Strade Bianche (the sixth monument), Milano-Sanremo and the Giro di Lombardia. In between are the minor races like those I just mentioned and Emilia and a few others. The Vuelta a Burgos sneaks in just before Strade, and the Tour de Pologne happens up against MSR too. And the French classics are sprinkled around throughout the month. But the headliners will be in Italy.
Phase 2: Le Tour
When: Aug. 29 for real, but some key warmups beginning mid-August
This really kicks off right in the middle of the Italian races, with the Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenge (a 1.1 race) on August, Tour de l’Ain the next day, and for the big boys, the Dauphine starting on the 12th. Then there are the Euros the weekend of the 24-26th, sandwiched around Plouay, and Le Tour beginning August 29 to September 20. Lots of smaller races overlapping but all stuff like the Canadian races, Tirreno, and other stuff that the Tour guys might not target.
Phase 3: BinckBank Tour (and Worlds I guess)
When: September 20-October 3
Nice of the UCI to clear the post-Tour calendar for the main event, the BinckBank Tour. Wout vs Mathieu is the long-running miniseries you didn’t know you needed, or maybe you did. Anyway, it starts in here. Worlds are gonna be super weird.
Phase 4: Fall is the New Spring
When: Sept 30-Oct 25
The two-headed hydra of the Giro and the Cobbled Classics will have you flipping channels, splitting screens, or whatever you feel is necessary to stay abreast of this compressed version of what we usually devote about 10 weeks’ worth of obsession to. If I’m still married in early November, it bodes well for the long haul.
The Giro starts Saturday, October 3, but the next day is Liege, followed by Brabantse Pijl that Wednesday, then a weekend of Amstel and Gent-Wevelgem, then the Scheldeprijs (why?), then de Ronde on the 17th, Driedaagse (WHY?), and Paris-Roubaix. On the Sunday that the Giro finishes in Milan.
Phase 5: Oh For Crissakes, the Vuelta and the China stuff
When: Does it even matter? The answer is November.
Wisely, the Vuelta is only 18 stages and is paired up with a women’s race in Madrid on November 10. It’ll probably be nice in Madrid in early November. I’d like to go there, actually. Sigh.
OK, that’s how it will shake out. We will get into predictions and other subjects soon, but in general I am pretty hopeful that this will be an action-packed couple months. Sure, riders have been stuck on their trainers, but the whole Sky/Ineos experience stands for the proposition that the most boring version of cycling is actually really good for building strength (and racing), so having all of our heroes stuck at home cranking away on the rollers or other trainers might not lead to a lack of fitness. And of course they’ve all been out on the roads of late too. That plus a few races in the legs should have people more or less ready to do what they do.
Now, will this season give us definitive results? I think if you think of cycling less as a definitive achievement and more as a relative one, then the results will have meaning. Will the winner of the Tour de France be the strongest rider on the planet? Not sure, but he’ll be someone who was able to take what he had and deploy it most effectively over the three weeks of the race. If everyone is a bit less ready to attack the Tour, then maybe the other factors such as team strength, tactical nous, confidence and other less measurable factors will be more decisive. Cycling is always partly about steadiness of nerve and the ability to make decisions, and it’s quite possible that such things become truly decisive in this chaotic, unprecedented environment.
Who these factors benefit… that’ll be a mystery for a while. It’s easy to picture Mathieu van der Poel cleaning up in the classics — who rides with more confidence? — but the beauty of the sport is its unpredictability, so I’ll pump the brakes on any fanboyish predictions for now. It’s about to get exciting. And I could really use some excitement.