Gazing into the crystal chainring brings twelve predictions for 2024 ranging from the Tour de France to tech and sports politics.
The central question has to be who wins the Tour de France. Jonas Vingegaard is the obvious prediction right now. No rewards for audacity but sorry, predictions are not the same as fantasies. The Dane has won twice before, and the past is a blunt clue to future performance. The route suits him with a tendency towards long climbs rather than anything irregular. Also his principle adversary is targetting the Giro d’Italia. So far, so predictable but sport springs surprises. It’s a scenario to revisit during the coming months and see if expectations change. Crucially we’ll see what happens in July with Primož Roglič now a rival to Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel focussing on the Tour and UAE coming mob handed too. If Vingegaard wins, but only just, then that’s an exciting prospect.
Will Jumbo-Visma win Flanders or Roubaix? You need scientists from CERN to measure the tiny time gap between achieving a feat in pro cycling and the “yes, but can you do next” questions. After three grand tours, there’s not much missing in the trophy cabinet. Just look at the options with Christophe Laporte, Dylan van Baarle and Olav Kooij before we get to Wout van Aert. For Van Aert there’s a route to victory via consistency because he’s been close so many times. But ask Peter Sagan who always looked perfect for Milan-Sanremo and yet never stood on the top of the box. Van Aert can keep plugging away and being close means he’s bound to win but again converting a placing into the top step is the elusive part, especially when his nemesis Mathieu van der Poel is on the startlist. Still for the sake of a prediction, Van Aert will win Roubaix, it’s more cheerful to say yes of course but he won’t do it to please bloggers, he can avenge the mechanical bad luck of last year but we’ll also attribute it to his programme change, he’s targetting the classics, riding the Giro and aiming for the Olympics and so won’t be required to take pulls on the Tourmalet or Joux-Plane meaning he can put more eggs into the basket marked Heilige Week or “Holy Week”. As ever it’ll be fun to watch him try.
Bora-hansgrohe become a force (again). A galactic roster already in 2023 but they were poaching wins with Nico Denz in the Giro while Jai Hindley took a breakaway stage win in the Tour, excellent results but below what ought to be expected of the squad as a whole, with injury and illness ravaging the roster. Primož Roglič has been a winning machine in recent years and despite a team change should be able to replicate this, drop him into position in an uphill finish and he’ll take care of the rest and this widens up the field of contenders, think of the domino effect meme where Sep Kuss goes up the road in the Vuelta, Roglič joins Bora and some race this year is enhanced because of the contest. Meanwhile the rest of the squad should shake off the rotten luck.
- An update as Red Bull is looking to takeover the German team. There has been talk and more that the energy drink has been looking an entry into the sport and looked at this with another route but now they’re trying to buy a controlling stake in the legal entity behind the Bora team. The team’s performance on the road is another thing though…
It’s a make-or-break season for Soudal-Quickstep. I’d like to write how the “Wolfpack” will be howling with delight, that’d be more fun. The problem for the team is they’ve been building a squad around Remco Evenepoel so far so good. But if he moves teams for 2025 given all the talk of a handshake with Ineos then they’re stuck with more than a story of unrequited love. There’s no in-house replacement while the next Belgian stage race wunderkind has just signed a long deal with Visma. If Evenepoel goes will sponsors stick around? This isn’t a rhetorical question given Soudal was ready to jump to Dutch rivals Visma. The sight of Mikel Landa in the blue kit is like seeing Leonardo Da Vinci sporting decorator’s overalls but they’ll miss Andrea Bagioli, Ethan Vernon and Fabio Jakobsen when they really need to find the win rate of old to show they’re a top team and keep the wheels turning. Put simply if they’re to lose Evenepoel can the rest of the team stand as a franchise?
More long term contracts will be broken. Whoever handles contracts at DSM could open a consultancy practice to advise other teams given more and more riders try to switch teams before their contract is up. There’s the asymmetry where if a rider wants to switch squads they can, yet if a team is frustrated with a rider they can’t unload them and that’s rightly hard to resolve. So far so obvious but for the prediction part, let’s zoom in on UAE as the team looks top-heavy and if one rider is frustrated by internal politics about selection and tactics they might want to see if the grass is greener elsewhere and while the squad has a big budget, they may be willing to let someone go, for a fee of course. Plus the team management might struggle to master it all, Dan Martin was inside and wrote about it in his autobiography, outwardly they back this up whether splashing the cash at talent, or small things such as Pogačar’s bike change on the Domancy climb in the Tour de France which surely cost him time rather than saved it.
If the previous pick was awkward to illustrate with a photo… No team will implode during 2024 but we will see the signs and clues of the next team to fold happen this season. Many, or at least some team managers, like to shout pro cycling’s business model is “broken” but it’s actually rather enduring. Should a team does vanish it’ll swiftly be replaced by another and at the top level there are protections to ease the disruption. But one paradox is that the millions flowing into the sport – World Tour team budgets have risen faster than price inflation and trade or consumer marketing budgets – can place some teams in trouble. Teams need significant budget increases just to stand still and if they don’t secure this they’re sliding down the rankings. Look around and some long-standing sponsors might want out after a good spell in the sport, or some teams may struggle to secure much needed co-sponsorship deals to stay afloat. Plus rider transfers can destabilise teams, a team that might have a star can find out it doesn’t any more. Pro cycling’s model isn’t broken but it is very brittle.
Covid will continue to disrupt the sport. It’s as easy to catch as a cold and can be as ruinous for form as the ‘flu, plus it circulates all year. While swab your sinuses is no more a regular thing, either for the mass public or among pro teams, proxies such as waste water monitoring show high prevalence. While the general public has much less to worry about, pro cyclists aren’t as lucky. Last year’s Giro d’Italia was sadly instructive with Jumbo-Visma scrambling for healthy riders at the start; then Evenepoel’s exit and the reminder that while the public health crisis is over, it’s still a factor that can ruin the best laid plans in sport. A downer but on a more optimistic note of sorts, the Vuelta benefits as it’s already the redemption race or season salvage operation.
UCI points will be on team management minds a lot. Cycling fans can ignore the myriad of tables for UCI points and find team rankings rather, ahem, pointless but half the managers in the World Tour will be keeping an eye on their charts and spreadsheets… and the other half will be plotting calendar and even recruitment choices with this in mind. 2024 is Year 2 of the three year rankings system, the current standings are above. The pressure is on despite the counter case where the last two teams to get relegated have fared well and are set for promotion but this might not hold true the next time.
Get ready to see and hear more from Amina Lanaya. She’s the UCI’s Director General, the chief executive if you like of cycling’s governing body after David Lappartient, the President. Lappartient’s second term is up at the end of 2025 and he’s probably leaving to pursue new ambitions. He became head of the French Olympic Committee in 2024 and probably has his eye on becoming big within the International Olympic Committee. So who will replace him? Lanaya is an obvious pick, ditto Tom van Damme who heads the UCI’s Road Commission which has often supplied the next president. There are more names who are probably pleased not to be named by bloggers yet but will want to raise the profile a bit more even if the electorate is not you or I, but the heads of national federations. Look to see who is on maneuvers.
The “One Cycling” project will continue to bubble away but won’t come to the boil, nor dry out. Bundling race rights makes sense but there’s a lot of work just to get all the race organisers on board, whether it’s pros like Flanders Classics or volunteer committees. This is a huge task and that’s before ASO think about whether it suits or not. Arguably it’d be easier to start with the women’s calendar although ASO have muscled in here. Plus it works best with calendar reform, a project the UCI is working on for the future which means any revolution is unlikely this side of 2025. The problem is that as a viable business proposition it is a hard sell to outsiders, yes it makes sense for pro cycling to package up TV rights and even streamline the calendar (although be careful what you wish for); but this is isn’t the same as allowing outsiders to cream off cashflow and rent. Pro cycling can be the most capitalist of sports with teams taking the name of their corporate backers yet it is underpinned by a web of social and political connections which makes it delicate for outside investors to unpick.
You will either improve your language skills or become poorer in 2024. Cycling fans will have to decide if they want to watch bike racing via a VPN in order to watch local language coverage of a bike race in Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian etc, or if they want to fork out for a comprehensive service like Eurosport in Europe or Max in the US which doesn’t just show cycling but plenty more and consequently you are not just paying for cycling every month but everything else on top. For anyone who says there’s a third option where you watch pirate streaming services, maybe your laptop gets ransomwared so that’s the “you’re poorer” pick but worse.
New bike tech is on the way… obviously. But there are some big product launches slated for 2024 which promise more than incremental change. One trend to look for this year is people shortening their cranks, the idea of having long levers is fading as a biomechanical concept and it’s happening in the World Tour and you might catch yourself checking the price for a shorter pair or hear from someone on your group ride who has just downsized.
That’s twelve predictions and with luck some will be wrong, for example nothing against Jonas Vingegaard but if he were to finish second in the Tour de France maybe we’ll have watched a vintage edition; if Covid doesn’t spoil things then woohoo!
Being more indulgent, three things I’d like to see this year, call them fantasies:
- The winning move for Milan-Sanremo goes on the Cipressa. It’s unlikely for a range of reasons and loyal readers will remember it hasn’t happened since 1996… but this isn’t to say it can’t. It would need Mother Nature in on the job to provide the right weather. It’s a day dream but it can happen
- A maxi breakaway in the Giro d’Italia sees plenty of riders go clear in the first week without any big GC contenders and they take molto time on the rest as UAE don’t want to chase too hard and take on the whole race from the start. This way Tadej Pogačar doesn’t have it so easy
- Going into the final weekend of the Tour de France the yellow jersey has changed shoulders seven times already and there’s less than a minute between Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel and a fifth rider who is a revelation…. ok enough.