The great and the good of the cycling world gathered at the Palais des Congrès in Paris earlier this week for the great unveil of the route for the 2020 Tour de France. The autumn leaves are still falling on the Il Lombardia finish line, but already there’s excitement building for the 107th Grande Boucle, set to start in sweltering Nice in late June. There’s a lot to take in, so grab a coffee and let’s get started.
Tour de France?
If you were a mayor of a French town in the northern half of the country you’d wonder what you’d done to annoy Christian Prudhomme, Tour director and the man with the power to transform your sleepy town square in to a summer party. Other than the traditional champagne-soaked run-in to Paris, next year’s Tour almost completely ignores the north. Less Grande Boucle, more petit tour.
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It’s certainly an unusual decision by the organisers, though there may well be a trick up Monsieur P’s sleeve.
One possible reason may be the separate women’s stage race that ASO is rumoured to be ‘looking at’. La Course, the single-day crit around Paris that represents the Tour’s promised promotion of women’s racing, feels very much like an afterthought for 2020.
Can we expect Anna van der Breggen, world champion Annemiek van Vleuten and the rest to be visiting Brittany, Normandy and the Ardennes next year as part of this separate race?
Disappointing and baffling that they had some leading riders in the audience for that. But ASO did tell @julienpretotRTR that they’re looking to organise a standalone women’s stage race, which would be a big improvement on La Course in any of its iterations. https://t.co/sny9Vbj2d4
— Richard Moore (@richardmoore73) October 15, 2019
Less Tour, more Vuelta?
As we know, the Vuelta a España is the greatest Grand Tour of all. Its strength lies in its unpredictability, with summit finishes and wind-swept stages dotted throughout the race. It looks as if the Tour’s organisers have taken a look at the way their southern neighbours have been doing things and replicated it for next summer.
It used to be that the Tour followed a fairly predictable pattern: flat, windy stages in the first week, sprinter-friendly and marked with huge crashes; transitional stages in the second week as the riders headed south to the mountains; a climb-heavy third week where riders were pushed to the limit across some of the highest peaks in Europe. For 2020, the route is all over the show, with the climbing coming as early as stage 2 with ascents of the Col de la Colmiane, Col de Turini and Col d’Èze.
The first summit finish comes as early as stage 4 for goodness sakes – an early excursion into the Hautes-Alpes, finishing at the 1,800m high Orcières-Merlette ski resort. A new direction for the Tour? Quite possibly.
Will 2020 be the year for the French?
The 2019 Tour was extra-special for French cycling fans for two reasons. One was Julian Alaphilippe, and the other was Thibaut Pinot. Loulou lit the race up early on and was still in the mix right up to the final weekend – OK, it was unlikely he was going to win the overall but for jaded locals he was a fine donkey on which to pin a tail. The great man gave an, erm, ‘enthusiastic’ thumbs up when he saw the route last week.
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Thibaut Pinot, on the other hand, was a real contender. Few can match him on the toughest of mountain stages and the collective ‘Non!’ could be heard across Europe when he was forced to climb off, all dramatic Gallic tears and arm gestures, late on in the race on stage 19. He looked like the only one who could challenge Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, and on his departure, the French balloon well and truly deflated.
Next year’s route looks almost tailor-made for Pinot. There are no northern cobbled farm tracks for him to negotiate and only two stages look likely to be hit by crosswinds – he lost time in the stage to Albi this year when the winds ripped the race to pieces.
There’s even what could well be a decisive time trial in his backyard, up to La Planche des Belles Filles on the penultimate stage, barely 30km from where he was raised. A lot needs to go right for him to get that elusive first French GC win since 1985, not least facing down his demons and actually finishing a Grand Tour, something he has failed to do in four out of his last six attempts. There’s also the matter of his Groupama-FDJ team being no match for the big guns. However, the same could be said of this year on a route that favoured the stronger teams and he remained well placed before injury curtailed his assault.
So, Thibaut. 2020? It’s now or never.
Can old man Froome front up again?
Chris Froome sat out the 2019 race as he recovered from injuries sustained in a Dauphiné recon ride. In his absence, his young Ineos teammate Egan Bernal stole the limelight and became the youngest Tour winner in over 100 years. He even pushed 2018 winner Geraint Thomas into second place.
If Froome’s recovery continues as it has done so far, it’s likely he’ll be back racing at the highest level by around March – that marks almost ¾ of a year since he last did so. That’s a long time out, and could put him on the back foot even before he sets off from Nice’s Promenade des Anglais in June.
Froome is undoubtedly one of the greatest Grand Tour riders of this or any other generation. But there’s the rub – the younger generation, with Bernal, Tadej Pogačar and Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz (another Ineos teammate sure to be pushing for selection), are coming, and fast. Does Froome, who will be 35 by the time the Tour begins, still have it in him to take that fifth Tour title to put him alongside the true greats of the sport?
It’s going to be crazy, that’s for sure
The race next year looks set to be exciting, straight from the gun. Stage 1 will probably end in a bunch kick, but once the riders set out the next morning they’ll be riding up and down almost constantly for three weeks. Without the familiar patterns of previous races or the big set-piece climbs of Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez or the Galibier it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a rider take the yellow jersey early on and stick his team on the front all the way to Paris. That maillot jaune is going to change owners a lot next year, which makes for quite an exciting prospect.