Seven Bold(?) Predictions for the 2020 Season

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The 2020 pro cycling season could be filled with real change. The backdrop of the sport shifted noticeably in 2019 with plenty of riders making the jump from the junior ranks, and the merry-go-round of team leaders clunking into gear during contract season. We got three debut Grand Tour winners in 2019; a feat which surely won’t be repeated. Springtime was also full of surprises with Greg van Avermaet and Peter Sagan absent from the top step of the podium through both March & April. Here are seven (quite) bold predictions for the new season.

No change in fortune for the French…

At the start of both a new season and new decade, it seems wrong to focus on two riders whose names exhausted many a website in the 2010s. However, both Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot remain extremely relevant, such is their popularity in both France and across Europe. Any media-spun rivalry between the two seems long gone, and there’s even been a reduction in the endless comparisons of their merits. What does remain is both riders’ desperate efforts to hunt Grand Tour success. Unfortunately, neither seem capable of landing a “big one”. For Bardet the argument is clear. Though rounding into a phenomenal bike rider and genuine classics threat, Bardet’s inability to defend himself in the time-trial combined with loyalty to AG2R leaves him some distance behind his rivals. On the surface, Pinot maintains genuine hope after a flying middle week of the Tour showcased some serious stomping power. Nevertheless, just as the stars were aligning his race was abruptly ended by a thigh injury and – even if he demonstrates the robustness to bounce back from heartbreak – Pinot will be tasked with defeating a fierce list of contenders.

King of the Mountains & Landa’s ceiling…

Don’t be fooled by the positive sub-line, this is another negative prediction. “Mikel Landa Bahrain Leader” is not the realisation of the #FreeLanda movement. Landa will not win a Grand Tour in 2020, especially if Bahrain force his presence at the Tour de France instead of the Giro d’Italia. The #FreeLanda revolution was in full flight at the 2017 Tour when the Basque-native whistled along in the role of Chris Froome’s domestique and narrowly missed out on a podium spot. But peak Landa could be left in the 2010s, despite the fact he has only recently turned 30. Whilst bags of ability remain, Landa will not be flanked by any serious support at Bahrain (riding alongside fellow Euskatel ‘carrot’ Pello Bilbao will be nothing more than a sight for sore eyes) and he can’t seriously dream of toppling both Ineos and Jumbo. He was slightly off-beat at the decidedly weaker 2019 race, and I doubt he’ll turn it around in 2020. As a tremendously exciting rider, I hope he switches focus and dazzles crowds with a pair of vintage stage wins on the way to making a very deserving KOTM winner.

Sky to smother Jumbo at the Tour…

Just a cursory glance at Just Pro Cycling will reveal that I’m a big (day one) Tom Dumoulin fan and an admirer of all things Jumbo-Visma. Nevertheless, the marriage of former Giro winner Dumoulin and the army of yellow & black “Jumbo bees” – including Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic and Tour third place finisher Steven Kruisjwijk – will still fall short in July’s war with Team Ineos. Jumbo will indeed launch a campaign against Ineos that is far stronger (sorry AG2R) and far wiser (not sorry Movistar) than all recent efforts… but you can bet your last fiver that Ineos are prepped to respond appropriately (and then some). In 2019 Ineos took a 1-2 with a misfiring squad featuring underwhelming performances from Gianni Moscon and Michal Kwiatkowski, and the transformational success of Dylan Van Baarle. This year they’ll return with monster power. Whilst new signing Riccardo Carapaz is set to lead at the Giro (with Ivan Sosa and Tao Geoghegan Hart?), Ineos will likely bring three yellow jersey owners to July’s start line. Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome could be joined by Pavel Sivakov and Rohan Dennis, plus returning lieutenants Moscon, Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle. Carapaz could even join to set some third week leg-numbing tempos. When the dust has settled, Bernal will be a two-time winner.

Alaphilippe to do ‘a Gilbert’…

What next for Julian Alaphilippe? Certainly not anything that resembles last July’s almost-perfect fairytale. It’s difficult to imagine that the start of the new decade will be anywhere near as exciting for King Julian and his thousands of merry fans – but we’ll just have to accept that. I’m not expecting a Strade Bianche defence (there’s no need to be so hot in early March) or another Sanremo success. It’s time for Alaphilippe to run it back to 2015, where he centred his season on the Ardennes and loudly announced himself as the future conqueror of Alejandro Valverde and, perhaps, the rightful heir to prime Philippe Gilbert. Alaphilippe is yet to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege and that must be his primary focus in 2020. Assuming he is on track for success when Ardennes week arrives, what’s to stop him winning all three? Rivals will need to make all three races as scrappy and unpredictable as possible, but the cream has a way of rising to the top of the Mur. With a certain cyclo-cross world beater on the cusp of a decade of domination, this could be Alaphilippe’s best chance to land a glorious hattrick.

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The new old Valgren…

Whilst it’s true that the UCI rider rankings are almost entirely meaningless, it was notable to see Michael Valgren drop from 18th in December 2018 to a distant obscurity outside the top fifty twelve months later. His shortcomings in 2019 are difficult to pinpoint. There was no high-profile injury or fallout but the move to Dimension Data was a huge disappointment. Do the team have the right to be disappointed with Valgren? Or is it the other way around? Any potential sourness will likely be squashed by the team’s refresh (now NTT Pro Cycling) and the arrival of compatriot Bjarne Riis (and his tainted but very successful history) as boss. In fact, Valgren might have already begun to turn things around at the very end of last year, clocking two World Tour top tens and a surprise sixth at the World Championships. All signs point towards a solid cobbles campaign and whilst Monument dreams are shelved for now, I’ll take Valgren to win back his Omloop title in smash and grab style.

The stealthy rise of Philipsen…

Another prediction comes courtesy of Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen. His measured trajectory onto the World Tour contrasts greatly with the noise created by a young Dylan Groenewegen and teammate Fernando Gaviria, but at the age of 21 he is already Belgium’s top sprint talent. At UAE he will be competing for opportunities with Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff but here’s to hoping that the pair of premium sprinters can be more of a help than a hinderance. With Gaviria capable of going very off-the-boil and Kristoff aging gracefully away from bunch sprints, Philipsen could quickly find himself as the chosen boy. My concern is that he ends up on the same selection as the prodigiously talented Tadej Pogacar and be left to fend for himself in the bunch sprints. Nevertheless, I’m certain he’ll add to his tally of Grand Tour participations (currently just one) this year and I’m hoping he can swoop in and take a Grand Tour stage win.

Major win calling for Lutsenko…

Alexey Lutsenko is a fiercely competitive all-rounder capable of fulfilling many roles in the sport of pro cycling. It’s therefore slightly bizarre that – at the age of 27 – his biggest successes are a pair of Tour of Oman victories, a stage of the Vuelta, and a quickfire double in autumn’s minor Italian Classics. Nobody would deny his place among the best riders on the circuit but it’s time for him to land a victory worthy of his talent. Though a capable cobbles man, I nominate the hillier Strade Bianche as a potential fit for a milestone win. Depending on his weight, he might be slightly too heavy for a dual up the towards Piazza del Campo, so I’d like to see him go solo from a few kilometres out. Astana’s squad is loaded but as the leading Kazakh rider he will be granted the right opportunities. Lutsenko needs some structure to his season and it’s time to start riding like a team captain. Let’s start with Siena.

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