Highlights of 2020 – Part V

Tough choice to pick the last of five highlights from the year but the Tour de France’s penultimate stage stands out, above all as a moment of sporting drama, but also a healthy exercise in forecasting, bias and review.

You know the story of course, pre-race pick Primož Roglič was on course to win the Tour de France, he’d seen of the other riders, his team was the strongest… only he was sacked on the Planche des Belles Filles by Tadej Pogačar…

…But perhaps you’ve forgotten some of the details on the day: Roglič started the day with a 57 second buffer on Pogačar and the course was a 36.2km time trial featuring three parts, first a flat section, then a rolling part up and then down the Col de Chevestraye and then the final climb of to the Planche des Belles Filles, a 6km climb at 8.5% but with some long steep parts that make it a 16-17 minute effort.

Jumbo-Visma provided early reassurance with Wout van Aert setting the best time and then Tom Dumoulin going better. Then Pogačar started and then Roglič. Pogačar was up at the first time check by 13 seconds, or almost 1km per second. Extrapolate and this wasn’t putting the UAE Emirates rider in yellow and besides, perhaps he was deliberately forcing the pace knowing this second place overall was almost guaranteed so why not push Roglič and see if he broke? Only Pogačar kept on going, taking more and more time and by the second time check he was 46 seconds up, just 11 seconds off the yellow jersey with the steep climb of La Planche to come. A quick bike change added to the sense of speed and Pogačar never seemed to flag. By contrast Roglič looked pale and seemed to be spinning the gears like a child on their first bike with a derailleur. Back at the finish line Dumoulin and van Aert looked on and could see what was happening.

Why the highlight?
A moment of drama, a huge reversal. And in the Tour de France. You can be surprised when an upstart sprinter comes through a tiny gap to win a semi-classic, but the Tour is a gradual affair, a Bayesian contest with daily iterations. Of course Pogačar started the day in second place rather than 30th overall – and we’ll look at why this shouldn’t have been a surprise in a moment – but watching it happen in the moment was great sporting drama. It was the way it unfolded too, Pogačar was up at the start and closing in which set up suspense from the start. But this was the story of a day rather than three weeks, the 2020 vintage doesn’t compare to 1964 where Anquetil and Poulidor kept getting an advantage on each other then losing it, nor 1989 when LeMond and Fignon swapped the yellow jersey several times.

With hindsight
This perhaps is the more interesting angle. There are two stories, ex ante and ex post. On the morning of the stage almost everyone – including this blog’s stage preview – seemed to think Roglič would win the the Tour de France and he had a very good chance of winning the stage too. You can see why: Roglič had made winning time trials part of his route to many stage race successes, and Pogačar didn’t have that kind of pedigree. Pogačar perhaps had a shot at the stage win, he’d beaten Roglič to the Slovenian title after all but that was months before and only once as opposed to a trend. Roglič had a better bike and more experience in time trials both for himself and his entourage.

Only now, ex post, we can tell the story the other way around. This was a 55-60 minute time trial where Pogačar “only” had to take back one second per minute to take the yellow jersey, hardly mission impossible. The Slovenian national championship had told us who was faster in a time trial that ended up a hill. Plus Roglič excels in stage races but is prone to fading in the final days too and he’d been on the boil since the Tour de l’Ain so with all of this we can see why the win can be explained so easily. The lesson here is that when a plausible outcome doesn’t happen we can quickly rewrite the story to suit, a point of interest in sports punditry but surely more significant in other fields like politics or pandemics.

Also with hindsight there’s satisfaction in the rest of Roglič’s season. It wasn’t easy to watch him collapse after crossing the finish line that day but while others would have taken a long holiday, he went on to take Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Vuelta.

Other highlights

The Giro was a bit of a slow burner for the overall but having two riders tied for time on the last day was something a team of Netflix scriptwriters probably wouldn’t get away with and it made for an enjoyable final few days. If the “fight for pink” was slow there a lot of stage battles to enjoy every day, breakaways firing up the road all the time and among them Peter Sagan’s stage win in Tortoreto was a masterpiece, he’s had plenty wins in his career but must be up there with his Tour de Suisse triumph over the Grosse Scheidegg.

The Strade Bianche races were great but largely one rider shows: Wout van Aert was so good he reduced the suspense; a similar story with Annemiek van Vleuten but Mavi Garcia was the surprise factor. The men’s World Championships were enjoyable, just happening was impressive given the late switch to Imola and Julian Alaphippe made the one attack he was going to make and it worked but he was chased hard all the way. The women’s GP Plouay was good. The Tour’s stage to the Pas de Peyrol won by Dani Martinez was one of many lively days with attacks all the time, perhaps the best day of pure sport but many stages were hectic. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was enjoyable too; ditto the French championships for men and women. La Course was a textbook case where the strongest rider doesn’t automatically win the race, van Vleuten could drive the pace uphill behind Nice but was outsprinted. Lastly just having so many races is something to be grateful for, many were cancelled but enough were kept going this year to help keep the wheels turning, be they sporting, physiological or financial.

Any more highlights, any omissions? Please share below…

Highlights of 2020 Part I
Highlights of 2020 Part II
Highlights of 2020 Part III
Highlights of 2020 Part IV

39 thoughts on “Highlights of 2020 – Part V”

  1. Any other highlights? Reading IR’s previews and post stage reviews, highlighting in both cases, many key points the average reader might miss. Always fair and balanced too with no half-justified accusations in search of visibility.

    Thoughts for 2021. Will Brexit and the need for visas, work permits, health insurance… discourage EU27 cycling ambition and adventure? Not for established well-paid riders maybe, but for young Rayner Scheme type riders with limited support.

    Bonnes fêtes à tous

    • Brexit looks to British riders on the same standing as, say Australian or American riders now when it comes to a visa as they have comparable situations. As you say the established riders who are well paid should not notice too much as being established abroad today grants rights and the talented will have team staff, agents and lawyers on hand, but U23s making the journey from now on will have more costs and paperwork, eg registering with the town hall in Girona and applying for a visa but like Australians, Americans and many others there’s no shortage of riders so new hassle for Brits. There’s also going in the other direction, will riders in the Women’s Tour or Tour of Britain now need a work permit to visit the UK? Answer is probably yes in legal terms although how much it is checked/enforced is another matter.

      • Just looking at Gov.UK website, elite sportspersons will need a visa to visit Britain now but there’s a ‘super-priority’ service available to obtain it within 24 hours.

        • Starting see online cycle retailers baling-out of the UK market because they don’t want to deal with its taxation system which involves payment of fees up-front and the need for a complete new layer of paperwork just for one country.
          Back to the old days when GB pros all had sidelines selling pro equipment to lesser mortals. Maybe this will help support a few more young hopefuls /s

  2. Speaking of bias, I was sad enough to watch the TT again the next day on the GCN app (which is terrific by the way). The commentators were Bradley Wiggins, Rob Hatch and the Scottish guy whose name escapes me – Brian Smith I think.

    What is fascinating is that for the first 2/3 of the TT Brad Wiggins could not see that Roglic was losing it. All the commentary was about how he will come back – at no point did all 3 pundits describe what they were seeing, which was Pog systemically eating into Rog’s lead. At no point did Roglic take any time back, but the pundits couldn’t see it.

    It was only when Roglic got out of the saddle at the foot of teh climb that they realised a huge upset was on its way. The moral of the story: even the supposed best TT of his generation can’t read the race in front of him as he’s so swayed by the bias of what SHOULD happen – but sport it about what is happening. Fascinating.

    • I’ve watched the odd bit of Wiggins’ punditry and it is not the most illuminating to put it charitably. The stuff he did for the giro was so lazy and banal, it was hard to watch.

    • The point to highlight here (as a highlight) is the GCN app. What a wonderful difference from trawling through dubious pirate feeds or playing with a dodgy VPN going they don’t cut off in the final sprint. Sure, there are a few glitches when it comes to race coverage due to rights but being a fan of pro cycling became much easier this year. At least for someone like me who doesn’t live in a country that normally shows races

    • +1. I was watching on GCN race pass, too and from early on my reaction was “oh crap, Roglic looks cooked and Pogacar is crushing.” I was pretty dumbfounded that, as you pointed out, Wiggo just couldn’t see that at all. His commentary is so bad in general I fast-forward whenever his longer segments come on. He seems surly and ill-prepared, like he really wants to be doing something more important.

      I’ll echo the point that the GCN racepass is fantastic.

    • Exactly what I thought while I was watching it. Commentators so often see what they want to see – and seem prone to having the story ‘pre-determined’, perhaps because it makes their job easier.
      The notion that ‘Roglic is taking it easy at the start’ seemed very unlikely at the time.

  3. Definitely rate Sagan’s Giro stage win as one of his finest.
    Also would like to see more about rides which assisted fine wins, whilst bearing in mind that Pogacar’s Tour came with little or no team assistance. Post hoc we all know who won, but there are usually moments when a race can turn, and it’s only with selfless help that a lead rider wins through. It’s a team game, after all.

  4. Great blog (today and always).What’s missing? I’m biased, being British and having ridden it myself albeit excruciatingly slowly, but Hugh Carthy’s win on the Angliru (plus Roglic battling well not to lose too much time). It’s a monster of a climb, and the look on his face as he accelerated on that corner to power ahead told it all. Happy New Year to all

  5. There’s always some intrigue in these posts, but this was a real surprise.

    “Roglič had a better bike”

    This doesn’t strike me as common knowledge. What’s the insight?

    • That the Colnago TT bike isn’t reputed to be as quick and Jumbo-Visma have spent a lot of time with Roglič on this subject… but watch “Code Geel” (Code Yellow), the Dutch documentary and Roglič isn’t too taken on a new TT helmet but uses it anyway, and while he gets a custom fitting for his yellow jersey skinsuit, seems to get bored/tired by it. Pogačar also had a TDF skinsuit as he was in white.

      • By the way, all three GTs have been won on a differen Italian bike this year. That’s probably not a super-rare statistic but still note-worthy I guess.

  6. The ex post analysis of Roglic’s demise on the day works but how to explain the fact he still had plenty in the tank to claim two more big race victories, including a three weeks GT?
    That doesn’t tell of someone fading, perhaps just more of a very bad day at the Tour’s TT, too much nervous energy used up perhaps?
    His entire demeanour going up the last climb was one akin to panic.

    • Just some time to rest perhaps, things can go wrong after 15-20 days but a few days to recover can help… remember the Vuelta was short too. But as you say a relatively bad TT on the whole, a slow start and then an implosion on the final climb.

  7. +1 or +100 to the comment around Inner Ring blog being the highlight of most “cycling years” in my humble opinion.

    Thanks again for the great writing and insight! Should the socks or T-shirts be available again in the future I will happily replace my faded Inring kit 🙂

  8. Interesting one this as most seem to concentrate on roglic “poor” performance. But was it that poor? He finished just in front of the French tt champ an 7th in the world tt, remi cavagna, and 35seconds down on second on the stage. The fact that pogacar put 1:21 into second place is the real story. The young slovenians performance was superlative.
    Interesting comments about the bikes. How does this play out now jumbo visma are on cervelo?

    • +1
      I said this at the time too – Roglic perhaps *slightly* underperformed, but it was the end of a GT and he was still top 5 on the stage. The story definitely seemed to be Pogacar absolutely smashing it. I think Roglic’s comical helmet and slightly laboured pedalling overstated how bad it was – the post hoc analysis made it sound like he imploded to 20th place.

  9. Can I put in a shout for Rohan Dennis’s ride in the Giro. He last couple of days in the mountains were superb to watch, both for the racing and the scenery. He set Tao up brilliantly and set up a grandstand finish.

  10. I really liked Ganna’s win at the Giro – no not the TTs (although impressive)… with all the fun and games going on behind with TdG and his rucksack…

    • It was interesting to see De Gendt here up against Einer Rubio with the Belgian happy to lose as long as Rubio lost. Harsh but a lesson and Ganna’s win seemed to lift up Ineos, his win helped Geoghegan Hart too.

    • He’d already taken a stage by then but that was a great solo ride. This year’s Tour had a lot of this, the daily stage battles were great. We might remember Roglič vs Pogačar for decades but the daily contests with Hirschi, Martinez, SKA twice, Peters, Kämna were great too.

  11. I wouldn’t rate it a top 5 event but Lampaert’s win in De Panne was heartening after a difficult season for him and after a very enjoyable but crazy race to follow. It may have been a bit of an afterthought after De Ronde and all the other fantastic stuff we’ve seen but it was the perfect coda for an incredibly exciting season of bike racing.

  12. Stage 18 of the Giro stands out to me – a GC blown apart ages from the finish, the Dennis performance, the Stelvio, “jacket-gate” (or whatever it was called) and a stage that highlighted the complexity of pro cycling – Sunweb won the stage and stayed in pink yet it felt like an Ineos win – should Hindley have dropped back or instead tried to break TGH? Should TGH pulled more to put more time into Kelderman? It set up the mad finish to the Giro and was unexpected given that it wasn’t previously clear whether Hindley and TGH could break the rest of the GC contenders.

    • Good pick and a big day, a lot going on with Sunweb alone and more as well, eg O’Connor in the breakaway, Ganna for Ineos in the chase etc and with Dennis a lot of questions, and maybe answers, about what he can do in stage races.

    • Very poor tactics by Sunweb (having got it so right in the TdF): they either had to go all in for Hindley and have him attack TGH – because he’d lose time in the ITT – or have Hindley work for Kelderman and hope he could hang on. At the time, I said they should go all in for Hindley, but doing neither was the crucial mistake, and almost ensured they couldn’t win.

  13. for me a big visual highlight was the penultimate section of the Worlds when Alaphilippe was riding that sinuous ridge road on a slight downhill and the helicopter camera was level with him, framing JA’s bold riding in and out of the trees with the rolling landscape flowing by in the far distance… those scenes so wonderfully captured that wonderful feeling of flight and freedom that occasionally happens when riding… the images have been coming back to me many times since the race. Not much of an ‘analytical’ highlight but for pure visuals and emotion that was a major 2020 moment for me : )

    • It was a great shot, they had the same of Van der Breggen in the women’s race too. The local terrain suits it, the road as you say on a ridge means the helicopter could get level with the rider and provide the sublime tracking shots.

      A word to the helicopter pilot in Paris-Nice who also supplied the same horizontal shots of the bunch as it split in the crosswinds… only there was no ridge and the pilot was flying at 50km/h a few metres above the ground for long stretches which is not easy and above all risky as if there’s a pilot error or a problem with the engine there’s almost no chance to correct things and the pilot, the camera operator and €3 million of aircraft are, in on word, gone. Just so we can enjoy Paris-Nice on a Tuesday afternoon.

    • It took until those final few climbs to ignite, but I really enjoy a race when you truly feel like the best in the world are battling in the finale – the course was set up for everyone but the pure sprinters and some big classics guys. Early moves from grand tour winners and contenders (Pogacar, Dumoulin, Nibali, Landa and Carapaz) then a great mix of the best one-day racers (plus Roglic trying to salvage that Tour defeat) unable to hold Alaphilippe’s wheel when he makes the inevitable attack.

  14. Some good posts and, considering the very truncated season we had, a lot of very good races by the riders and teams in a short space of time.
    This highlights series has definitely whetted the appetite for the Spring, let’s hope the damn 🦠 is brought under control.

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