A new year, a new season and some things to look forward to around the corner.
“E il prossimo anno, sarà data di nuovo la partenza e l’anno dopo ancora, di primavera in primavera…Finchè (ma vivremo ancora noi?) le persone ragionevoli diranno che è assurdo continuare; a quei tempi le biciclette saranno diventate rare, ferravecchi quasi comici, usati da pochi nostalgici maniaci, e voci si leveranno dando la baia al Giro.”
– Giro d’Italia del 1949 by Dino Buzzati
That’s writer Dino Buzzati on the Giro in 1949 asking how long the sport of cycling will survive, suggesting bikes will become “almost comic lumps of junk used by a few nostalgic maniacs”. Fortunately he was spectacularly wrong and the decade ahead should see the bicycle flourish around the world because of the health and transport benefits it rings. The sport is doing fine too with more and more races, extra TV coverage and the women’s peloton takes a professional leap forward this year too. These are long term tends but here are a few specifics to look forward to in 2020…
An obvious one to start with but the road season is days away now. The Australian nationals, the the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, the men’s and women’s Tour Down Under, the Vuelta San Juan, the Tour Colombia are all fast-approaching. Suddenly we go from famine to feast with almost too many races to watch but it’s enjoyable to see the results flood in.
The spring classics. It needs more work but here’s a hypothesis: from March to April, almost all of these races enjoy small, local audiences and so there’s no good business reason for many teams to take the cobbled classics seriously. But they do, in part because they’re tradition and just good sport. And we can dream of a wet Paris-Roubaix, it has to happen sometime?
The Tour de France can’t come soon enough and for several reasons. First France is in a funk and the Tour is a three week show that even strikes can’t halt – only Mother Nature has that power – and it’s a rare festival the country can rally around these days. The start in Nice is intriguing, terrain that makes for a frantic finale to Paris-Nice is now the opening weekend.
Much of the Tour’s course is interesting, the Puy Mary volcano finish, the Vercors is back and the Grand Colombier should host the Beefeater Bend. The Col de la Loze awaits too, the literal highpoint of the Tour de France route and complete with some wacky sections. It’ll be fun to see the Tour tackle this but it’s also interesting for what it represents, essentially they’ve tarmacked a ski run in order to create a new road reserved for road cyclists. Once upon a time mountain passes were paved to move cannons or transport goods, now in the 21st century they’re paved for cyclists and more like this will follow.
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) December 20, 2019
The Jumbo-Visma team are going all in for the Tour de France, so central is this they’ve announced their starting eight. Plenty can happen between now and June whether injury or just a change of mind but it’s the intent that matters today. If either Primož Roglič or Tom Dumoulin are capable of winning then they need everything on their side rather than having half the team fatigued from the Giro or rooting from their sofas. Superteams of challengers don’t have a great track record. Movistar’s trident never worked, it was like three pilots each at the controls with their inputs cancelling the other out. Telekom and T-Mobile didn’t work out either but co-leaders like Andreas Klöden and Alexandr Vinokourov were more B-list material in July. Today the difference is a rider can work as a helper and still become a millionaire many times over and this tends to buy a lot of loyalty.
The Olympics are a strange event outside the structure of pro cycling but a target for many for varying reasons. Julian Alaphilippe can barely get any more popular in France but for other riders from other countries the Olympics reach into households that pro racing doesn’t and a range of riders have the road races as a goal. The Tokyo 2020 course is intriguing, and if it’s a clear day very scenic once they clear Tokyo and its suburbs. It’s not just the road races. Mathieu van der Poel has been sauntering from start line to start line in various disciplines but the MTB race is the one big goal he’s been aiming at for years now. If you like your track racing you should be spoilt by the Izu velodrome, it’s fast by itself but add in the probability of heat, humidity and maybe some low pressure and world records should tumble. Plus all this helps fill the void after the Tour.
Staying in Japan, Shimano are releasing a new version of their Dura-Ace groupset and it should appear on pro bikes this year. Cue “I don’t need 12 speed thank-you very much” comments, but the point is you can pick up a slick 10 speed groupset very cheap now. Most bike tech today is great; renting a mid-range bike last year was a pleasant surprise, it felt as good as a team-issue bike from only a few years ago.
The Women’s World Tour is here. The label has been kicking around for a few years but it’s been next to meaningless. This has changed now and the 2020 version of the Women’s World Tour is a regulatory environment, a rulebook. This sounds dry and technical but the black and white text matters. For years women’s racing was based on a copy-paste of the men’s Continental rulebook, the pro-am third tier. Now several teams have signed up to the World Tour and there are real changes with a minimum wage, maternity pay and other contractual safeguards. It won’t solve everything but it’s a good start to accompany the increasing professionalisation of the women’s peloton which also gets more TV coverage this year too.
The World Championships look promising. Swiss towns of Aigle and Martigny are joint hosts and have mountains all around. We had an Alpine course in Innsbruck for 2018 but that was relatively tame, the 8km climb then felt gradual and was often 5-6%. This year’s road race features a long parade along the Rhone valley before a finishing circuit that’s got a sustained steep climb of 4km at 10%, a fast descent and then a flat section back to the climb, the men do this seven times. It’ll should be the hardest course since Duitama in 1995 or Chambéry in 1989 and if you fancy visiting it’ll should be wine harvest time too.
Will we see the cortisone/cortisol tests arrive? As a reminder the UCI is looking to go above and beyond the WADA Code and introduce testing for cortisol levels. Low levels of cortisol are a proxy for cortisone abuse (for a more on this see The MPCC Cortisol Test), something the sport should be doing more to regulate and close down. The UCI has introduced testing for Tramadol in 2019 and that’s been a success but it’s easier, a binary matter. Cortisol tests are harder as levels vary, there’s a complex protocol to follow and so there’s a grey area. It’ll be an advance if this can be introduced.
Lastly riding more. It’s easy to have good intentions in January but to write proper previews it helps to know the course so this blog is sometimes a good excuse to ride some fantastic roads from Torgon to Tokyo.