Things to Look Forward to in 2019

A new year and the new season is fast-approaching. Here are a few things to look forward to, a mix of the old and the new and some will get the headlines and others will be quieter undercurrents.

The Tour of Colombia, or El 2.1 as they call it embracing the UCI label, was an instant success last year and now it’ll be on with improved TV coverage. Expect huge, passionate crowds.

Milan-Sanremo is always a thriller. It’s helped by being the first of the spring classics, if anything it survives because it is the first. If it was the last race in April then the race along the coast would surely be more boring, but it’s the sense of anticipation that makes the finale so good. Last year’s race was almost a lockdown for the sprinters – there wasn’t even an attack that could go on the Cipressa – but it’s the tension that works, a reality show that even the best script writers in Hollywood would struggle to create.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège gets a new finish, of sorts. After finishing uphill in the suburb of Ans since 1990 the race returns to Liège for a flat finish. The story behind the finish has a lot to do with rivalry in the Walloon Socialist Party in Belgium with tales of patronage, cronyism and even a mafia hit. But for the sport it should be more interesting, first because it’ll certainly be novel for the peloton and this means the finale of the race will have an unknown feel to it, there’s no pre-set formula to race by, no collective memory, no pattern. Also it should be a little more glamorous, Liège is hardly swank but Ans was a strange place to finish a venerable race, the kind of places that attracts euphemisms like “gritty” or “challenged”.

The Giro is assembling a big cast of stars with Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič, Simon Yates, Egan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali top of the bill. The race reminds me of the old ad campaign for Avis, a car hire company, they made a point of not being the market leader. The Giro feels similar. Team Sky seemed to have out-psyched several rivals, notably Dumoulin, prompting them to pick the Giro. Another fascination will be the Giro-Tour double, achievable last year because the Tour de France was shunted back a week because of the FIFA World Cup allowing for a biblical 40 days of rest, now it’s back to 34 days. It’ll be a crucial test to see if riders who have a good Giro can thrive in the Tour because if it’s possible it’ll bolster the calendar as a whole but if not then riders will be forced to chose.

Who’s the best sprinter in the world? Elia Viviani? Dylan Groenwegen? Fernando Gaviria? Caleb Ewan? Can Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish rediscover past form? So many questions and all the better for it, if nobody dominating the sprints which provides more opportunities and variety. The only thing missing is post-race TV analysis that can really break down a frantic 70km/h sprint into several moments, to explain how a lead out worked, the effect of the windspeed and more.

One thing to look forward to in the Giro is the Colle del Nivolet, or sort of, as the race won’t climb to the pass but it does tackle a lot of the climb and will plant the ascent into the collective conciousness whereas it’s largely been ignored because no race has gone up. If the TV gets it right – and the Giro has still yet to ink a deal with RAI – then the Passo San Boldo could be magic too.

Talking of new climbs, the Col de la Loze will be tarmacked in 2019. It’s a mountain pass in the French Alps accessible via a gravel track and links the swank ski resorts of Méribel and Courchevel. It’s a ski run today but once the snow melts works will resume and the road will culminate in a pass at 2,300m above sea level. A new road could lead to groans of more traffic, pollution and noise in the mountains but the Loze will be reserved for cyclists and perhaps a sign of the value of summer tourism for the ski resorts. The Tour de l’Avenir will race up in August and it’d make a good Tour de France summit finish with 10% slopes towards the top.

Everything, everywhere. There will be more racing on TV and online than ever before. It’s easy to take this for granted, even to have a sense of entitlement that demands races which aren’t on TV should be… but it’s still a wonder that you can sit down to watch so much coverage or watch it all on a train or even a plane. Whether you should is another matter, all this extra supply can cheapen the sport too and if you’re howling “this is boring” as you watch the peloton proceed across a flat landscape on a calm day then you may only have yourself to blame.

Nobody’s popped champagne corks about it but remember the UCI’s 2020 reforms are coming and teams will be jostling for position this year. The current 18 World Tour teams don’t have an automatic right to renewal, they’ll be viewed alongside challengers. So an undercurrent this year will be return of UCI points and weaker teams like, say, Dimension Data, Ag2r La Mondiale, CCC and Katusha-Alpecin will need their leaders to deliver and some and it’ll be a year where losses count, missed opportunities and injuries for key riders could be extra costly.

Less joyous still, but fascinating: how will Sky manage as management searches for a replacement sponsor? When Austrian diplomat Metternich heard the news that Talleyrand, the crafty French statesman, had died he is said to have asked “I wonder what he meant by that?”. In pro cycling when Sky do something similar motives and design are attributed, that everything, even accidents are seen by some as deliberate and strategic. Only now that sense of control is gone creating a different psychological aspect. If the team has never wanted for money we’ll also see if it can continue to draw down on near endless funding, they could have even more resources than ever this year.

Sky were one of the teams linked to Tramadol when their ex-rider Michael Barry wrote in his autobiography that he was given it. Now nobody will have to use it in a race as the UCI is trying to ban its use and the new regime will come into force in March, the same for the cortisone ban.

Last year’s Worlds in Innsbruck were great and, crucially, different because they allowed a new cast of characters. Next year’s mountain fest in Switzerland is promising too, picture an Alpine course just at the time of the local wine harvest with cheese on top. In 2019 Yorkshire should be a big week too thanks to a hilly course and the big crowds we’ve become accustomed to in the UK. We should get news on the attribution of the Worlds to Africa too with Rwanda in the hot seat.

This piece isn’t about riders to watch but let’s wish Remco Evenepoel all the best. Many of the best U23 riders need a year or two to adapt, Evenepoel comes straight out of the junior ranks meaning there’s even more to learn. But he’ll have the voracious Belgian media reporting on his every move.

Finally it’s going to rain for Roubaix, or rather it’s got to. We haven’t had a wet edition of Paris-Roubaix since 2002, so long ago that riders who reached Roubaix like Alexei Sivakov and Erik Zabel now have sons in the pro peloton. It’s a quirk that mid-April is actually one of the driest months for that part of the year but that’s relative, northern France is hardly the Sahara desert, it is still wet. The dry run has to end, it’s got to rain at some point, right?

61 thoughts on “Things to Look Forward to in 2019”

  1. I think Sky will continue into 2020, as they’re too good a sponsorship opportunity to pass up – as long as you’re a company who aren’t too worried about ethical concerns (i.e. most companies). (The list of Sky’s shady practices is too long for anyone who isn’t supremely and blindly biased not to have at least some suspicions.)

    Many have said that Sky would be a big loss to cycling because of the money they put in. However, Sky don’t put money into cycling – they only put it into Sky (like many teams). Who apart from savvy Savio has benefited from Sky’s cash?

    On the contrary, having a team with so much money causes greater instability, not less, as other teams have to increase their budgets in order to compete, without necessarily having the means to do so.

    A budget cap would create greater stability, but that goes against the capitalist ethos that so many are enthral to.

    Unfortunately, Sky’s demise probably wouldn’t make much of a difference as Bahrain-Merida – in partnership with McLaren – are very likely to spend a shedload in 2019. Bahrain’s torturesome dictator is unlikely to be in this not to be ‘the best’ – which I suspect will also see Nibali either leave the team or be ‘relegated’ to only doing the Giro in 2020.

    If Sky do go, I can see B-M hoovering up a lot of their talent, possibly including Brailsford, who I imagine is unlikely to have any moral qualms about joining that team.

    The Giro looks interesting with many different riders as potential winners, the Tour looks to be as tedious as ever (in recent times) and the Vuelta looks more interesting, having altered its parcours from the recent obsession with short, steep monoclimb finishes. The one-day races should prove as fascinating as ever and LBL will hopefully be greatly improved.

    So, there’s plenty of good news and – as always – plenty of bad news. WADA will continue to be (ostensibly deliberately) utterly toothless against PED users, as can be seen with their lack of action against RUSADA. Where possible, cycling should introduce its own regulations, as that’s clearly the only way matters will be improved.

    • Apart from “The Giro looks interesting” the rest reads like a big complaint. This was supposed to be a topic full of new year’s optimism 😉

      Bahrain-Merida’s future isn’t certain, there’s no public statement about a long term commitment and the arrival of McLaren isn’t necessarily a big deal either, it’s a company owned and controlled by the country, so it’s like Astana Airlines being on the Astana kit, or Mitchelton having Jayco etc. Up to them to make something of the tie-up and to see if McLaren adds cash.

      • Interesting information on B-M, thanks.
        I’ll try to be more chirpy, but can’t promise anything.
        Or maybe you can write a ‘Things to dread and moan about’ piece – I’d have a lot more to add.

  2. These are the hard yards until March 2 which brings real racing and the hope of warmer weather.

    Time to kit up for 60km in 2 degrees (c)…..arrrggghhh

  3. On a cold Stage One, donning a gilet jaune goes to Geraint Thomas’ head and he forms the Llwynfedw Anarcho-Communist Collective. His group advocates the abolition of Team Sky, domestique labour and the ownership of private motorhomes, and recognises the benefits of communal enterprise and mutual aid as a way of reconciling the opposition between the individual and the UCI.

  4. Nursery rhymes apart, I’m looking forward to the Giro tremendously.
    I’m anticipating Tulip Tom to t(ip)-t(oe) his way to victory again.
    And the worlds in the north of England!
    Wait until you feel those rough cast road surfaces, your arse won’t know what hit it 😀

  5. Thanks Inrng! As I know you enjoy a bit of statistics, please let me digress a bit here:
    Rainfall at daily time-scale is well approximated by a Poisson process, which implies memorylessness (, meaning that the waiting time to the next wet PR is independent from the previous dry strike. So, unluckily, the chance of a wet PR this year is not higher than any other year!

  6. “Team Sky seemed to have out-psyched several rivals, notably Dumoulin, prompting them to pick the Giro.” OK, you did write SEEMED but what is the basis of this claim?
    “Now nobody will have to use it (Tramadol) in a race.” Are you saying SKY forced their riders to take this substance? If so, hard not to wonder what other substances they might have insisted upon.

    • Must admit that as much as I prefer the Giro, I’ve thought the same thing about Sky’s rivals: I find it hard to believe that Dumoulin would be doing the Giro – especially having already won it – if he thought he could win the Tour (he *could* of course, but we’re talking about likelihoods). Same goes for Yates, Nibali, etc. – I think they’ve gone for the race they have a much better chance of winning, but maybe that’s because that’s what I would do in their situation.
      On the plus side, it’s the Giro’s gain and the Tour’s loss – as I’ve said above ‘the Tour looks to be as tedious as ever’, whilst the Giro looks very interesting.
      Like you, though, I have my doubts as to whether it’s ‘out-psyched’ or something more nefarious.

      • “In pro cycling when Sky do something motives and design are attributed, that everything, even accidents are seen by some as deliberate and strategic.”

        • The only thing I’ve said about Sky in my comment is that I have my suspicions about Sky doping – as many do, having seen all the things that we’ve seen in the last few years.
          *If* that were true, then ‘motives and design’ would be involved. So how is your comment relevant in any way to what I wrote?
          It’s not: your oh-so-clever comment doesn’t even make sense.

      • “I think they’ve gone for the race they have a much better chance of winning, but maybe that’s because that’s what I would do in their situation.”
        That’s what I was getting at – the idea that guys like Dumoulin or Nibali would choose to try to win a race based on who is not competing rather than who is. Great champions don’t think the way you do IMHO, they want to beat the best at their best. If Froome, Thomas and SKY had some real guts perhaps they’d show up and race the Giro as well? Since so many of the big stars are racing La Corsa Rosa 2019 why not have all the best at both Il Giro and LeTour?

        • It’s an interesting reversal of the thinking involved, although I suppose CF and GT could simply say ‘Why don’t they race the “biggest race”?’
          Of course, it would take both of them to agree to do that as neither would want to do it and have the other be fresh for the TdF (can’t see GT beating CF any other way, apart from crashes, injuries, etc.).
          I think it’ll be much more interesting race without them, though.

          • Well, Nibali (for one) has already said he’ll race BOTH, so your question from CF and GT is kind of moot, no? Seems to me any true champion would want to beat the best on a level playing field. GT’s 2018 Tour win came over two guys who raced the Giro while he skipped it. Why wouldn’t a guy who REALLY wants to see how he measures up (vs taking an opportunistic victory) want to go up against the best at BOTH? I would really take some perverted joy in seeing a guy who raced (even if he didn’t win) the Giro triumph over someone who opportunistically skipped it…even if it was Dumoulin instead of Nibali and especially if the rider who skipped it was part of team SKY.
            On that note, “things to look forward to” for me will be the final year of SKY.

          • A guy can skip the Giro without an ounce of opportunism, you know. A guy can skip the Giro with complete disregard for what others do. Why race two GTs in a row if it doesn’t suit you, our physiology, your racing style, your training? Why race the Giro if the Tour suits you etc better?

            Besides, I cannot help asking myself what kind of perverted feeling Larry woud take in seeing a “laghing third”, i.e. a guy who skipped the Giro, triumphing in July over Thomas (if he raced he Giro) and everyone else who did the Giro-Tour double.

          • Larry, some – not me – might label Nibali’s TdF win ‘opportunistic’.
            Either way, I don’t see him being competitive in both grand tours, so I don’t know how much he’ll be racing to win the Tour.
            I see nothing wrong with people riding the races they choose, and nothing wrong with skipping the Giro in order to have a better chance of winning the Tour, nor with choosing to focus on the Giro because you think you have a better chance of winning that than the Tour.

          • Nibali’s zLeTour victory opportunistic? Why? Did he somehow know his rivals would crash out? If someone makes that claim, they would seem to be calling Thomas’ win opportunistic as well since Nibali crashed out. I didn’t start out to rag on anyone in particular but just wanted to know the origin of a claim that somehow Dumoulin (and by implication Nibali) had been “out-psyched” by Froome and SKY. Now that both BigTom and The Shark have said they’ll race both to win, the claim rings pretty hollow, no?

    • Hopefully nobody was forced into taking Tramadol, it’s more the pressure or expectation is removed now. We’ve yet to see how the testing will work but it should be binary positive/negative so nobody will try using it late in a race.

      As for Dumoulin, we’ll see, ironically he’s a rider well suited to Sky’s tactics, he can sit in their train and if he’s got anything left, ride away like he did when he dropped Froome on the Col du Portet last year.

  7. Things to look forward to? No more RonDe. I’m sick of the BS this blog and many of its commenters provide and I can easily do without both. Ironically, the blog I sign off in is a perfect example of both as the main mentions Sky only in the negative, a 5th Tour for Froome is not something to look forward to?, and the first comment is the same bore who infects ever comment section with his anti-Sky rubbish.

    Well feel free to fill your boots up on both because I will no longer be here to waste my time with them. Adios!

    • Incomprehensible, but apparently genuine and heartfelt views. An unexpected decision, but not one I could honestly say I find difficult to see the bright side of.

      Whatever I may think about his views and the manner in which he expresses them, I don’t think the man is spineless or bereft of integrity. When a man stands behind what he says. I respect it. I hope he finds a blog or forum where he will be happier.

    • Incredibly rude and unnecessarily so – how many times have you read RonDe respond obnoxiously to people for no good reason? Arrogant and unwilling to accept any opinion different to his own. A hypocrite so lacking in self-awareness that he criticises others for only ever posting about one thing whilst we’ve had to endure years of him banging on about Froome’s success as if he was one of his legs. This comments section was far better before he came along and very much upped the animosity levels, and I hope it’ll return to that now that he’s flouncing off in a huff worth of a 14-year-old girl because that nasty Inner Ring isn’t nice enough about his hero.

    • Sorry to see you go RonDe. I for one agreed with many of your comments and I hope you change your mind.
      The thing to look forward to is Thomas of Ghent ….

    • At least RonDe had the grace to say goodbye and use his moniker. Time INRNG got rid of these ridiculous Anon commenters and force them from their bedroom keyboard antics.

    • A lot of us are going to miss your contributions here RonDe.

      Your bullish takes on Froome and Sky were frequently off-putting to me, but you always had some level of evidence or a line of argument to back them up.

      I do think you are lacking a bit of self-awareness with your criticisms here and if engaging with cycling fans on the internet is something you want to continue doing elsewhere, prepare to be disappointed.

  8. I’m looking forward to watching the Tour of Colombia properly, if it gets decent TV coverage. Other than it’s counting down the days until Omloop.

      • McEwen was excellent again in the Australian Road Nationals the other day, along with Keenan and Bridie O’Donnell. Keenan and McEwen really are a formidable duo for 2019.

        If the non-Australian readers haven’t caught up with the final KMs of the Australian men’s race, it was a great example of cycling’s ability to surprise through tactics, where bluff and indecision can result in the strongest rider not winning! In fact both men’s and women’s races featured the “you have to risk losing a race to win it” scenario, but unusually both resulted in losses! The other interesting piece I took away from the coverage was that they got an exercise physiologist on the air (someone McKibbin?) who was very insightful too – it got me thinking that TV could bring on “experts” like this a bit more often to brighten up the quieter moments in the bigger races….

        Thanks INRNG. I look forward to a bright 2019: it is great to read of a new cycling road in the Alps. I saw another article about Lake Garda where the authorities are apparently building a 100km+ exclusive bike path around its cliffs: that sounds fabulous!

        • I’ve been looking for it but unable to watch the finale of the Australian championship. Cyclingtips has a twitter link to ASS but I can’t watch that. Maybe my Canadian IP?

  9. Thanks for this looking forward to seeing what the new finish brings to Liege, I think there’s only about ten days gap between the end of the CX racing and the start of the season in Belgium…

  10. Shame RonDe but you are right – lots of bitter anti Sky comment here and on other sites. That is the sport in 2019 – too dominated by one team who have both a) raised the bar bigtime for performance, and b) made some bad decisions, the worst being Wiggins TUEs.

    I love cycling and will follow it like mad but while ASO / RCS extract disproportionate profit from the sport and leave the teams with only sponsors income, road cycling will remain vulnerable and punching under its weight IMHO. It is sad that €35m can buy so much success, albeit with input from very smart sky backroom team.

    Thanks INRNG 🙂

    • I’ll take the risk of being booed for calling BS here, but can you offer a shred of evidence to back up “RCS extract disproportionate profit from the sport and leave the teams with only sponsors income,”?
      As far as I know, which is based on some details shared by those who know a lot more than me about it, RCS/Giro d’Italia has pretty regularly been on the brink of sinking financially for many years now. The RAI TV money has been said to be all that keeps La Corsa Rosa afloat from year to year. A look at the seemingly always rotating list of race sponsors might be a clue? The daze multi-national sponsors like FIAT and Coca-Cola are long, long gone.

      • It’s a bit more complicated. From memory RCS Sport makes about €80 million a year in revenue and €20 million in profit from all its events (not just the Giro but other races, marathons, powerboat racing in the Middle-East etc). The deal with Discovery for the international rights has helped them but they’re still negotiating with RAI for this year, as yet there’s still no deal to show the race but presumably this will have to fall into place.

        I’ve been meaning to revisit the old revenue sharing piece on here, to survey the landscape today and update the numbers but the short version for now is ASO and RCS don’t make much money and even if they decided to donate half their profits to pro teams owned/funded by multinational firms, oligarchs and governments then the sums involved per team would be nice for the teams but would not make a difference by itself, we’re talking of the order of 10% of a team budget.

        • and at the end of the day it’s the races, not the teams that are important… as long as the races survive, teams will race them (paying top riders millions in the good times, less in the tough times…). If Sky goes, the sport continues, the best riders may be poorer, but they’ll get picked up elsewhere and there are consequences down the chain and for backroom staff etc, – but if the Giro fails for example, then the sport really has lost something irreplaceable.

      • Hi Peter, Sorry, this isn’t the bike builder Steve Potts, it’s the science teacher and occasional cycling writer Steve Potts. I know what you mean, though, he makes some lovely bikes….

  11. Looking forward to adding another P-R route to the IGN maps of Troisville to Roubaix route area that I bought oh so many years ago and have updated and re-purchased as the TGV routes were added. Wet or not I hope to be there once more in 2019.
    wanted to comment about the IGN maps while catching up on previous blog but looks like comments disabled.
    looking forward to another great series of blogs from you

  12. Things to look forward to? Amstel Gold for me- great race last year and, as long as the route is the same as last year, should be a belter.

  13. Can’t wait for the cycling to start again – these winter months last way too long!

    Very much looking forward to seeing what the cyclocross specialists Van Aert and especially Van der Poel are capable of in the Spring classics. Judging by their performances last year, they might very well already be in the mix for some big wins.

    As for MSR, I might be missing something here, but weren’t the last 2 editions anything but locked down for sprinters? Nibali’s solo win was among the most memorable of the entire classics season imo.

  14. Hey INRNG – does this line:

    ‘The only thing missing is post-race TV analysis that can really break down a frantic 70km/h sprint into several moments, to explain how a lead out worked, the effect of the windspeed and more.’

    mean you find sprinting coverage/analysis poor? specifically the head on camera?
    it’s one of my number 1 gripes with cycling that at the crucial point of every sprint as a viewer you haven’t got a clue what’s going/happened.

    • I like the immediacy of the ‘head-on charge’, but would always want to see an aerial shot right afterwards so we can see what went on. The aerial shot live does probably work better (the worst is that side-on view they use in the Tour live on the Champs – all you can see is the guy in the lead and then whoever overtakes him, if they do: it ruins that final sprint year after year, and yet it’s an ideal thing to show us after the race).

      • What would be even better would be a camera moving along a wire raised above the finishing straight, staying ahead of the riders and looking down on the leader at an angle of about –30°

        This is bog standard gear these days, even the coverage of some domestic motorsport events have this kind of setup for pit lane coverage.

    • It’s from reading about vintage ad campaigns I think. It came back to mind recently for the Christmas quiz and the 1989 Tour de France director Jean-Pierre Carenso because before joining the race he made the famous “du pain, du vin, du Boursin” slogan. He had others too which featured in a list of the best billboards… with Avis too.

Comments are closed.