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Procycling Review of the Year: Best race

Dutch Mathieu van der Poel of AlpecinFenix German John Degenkolb of Lotto Soudal and Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma pictured during the GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields one day cycling race 2325 km Sunday 11 October 2020 in Wevelgem BELGA PHOTO POOL NICO VEREECKEN Photo by POOL NICO VEREECKENBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Procycling magazine's team select their highlights of the 2020 season, with the best race of the year.

Procycling's Review of the Year issue is out to buy now.

Edward Pickering, Procycling magazine editor

Too many proxy wars in cycling these days, and too many mountain domestiques deluxe. I barely saw Primož Roglič in the mountain stages of the Grand Tours this year, because he was obscured behind Sepp Kuss most of the time. What I love to see is favourites stripped of their protection and fighting out a race one against one, with temporary and fragile alliances, backstabbing, errors of judgement and mind games, preferably in a group of 10-20, just to make things complicated. And preferably in crappy weather. That’s why the race I enjoyed most in 2020 was Gent-Wevelgem.

The weather and the Kemmelberg smashed up the field, and a group of 18 emerged at the front. Too big to go to the finish for a straight sprint, especially with the likes of Wout van Aert, Matteo Trentin, Matteo van der Poel and John Degenkolb in there. The 18 consisted of 13 different teams, of which only Deceuninck had three riders, none of whom was a sprinter. A break of that composition simply doesn’t have the gravitational mass or political will to stay together, and it split, then split again, and then Van der Poel and Van Aert started playing silly buggers (only adding to the spectacle) before the final desperate attacks saw Mads Pedersen bridge up to Florian Sénéchal and Matteo Trentin then outsprint them. Brilliant.

The Tour and Giro were largely undynamic races in terms of GC, rescued by absolutely scintillating finales. My biggest adrenaline hit of the year was the Planche des Belles Filles time trial at the Tour, and the dead heat between Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley going into the final time trial at the Giro was unprecedented. The Vuelta was a better race overall, and blessed with a similar tense and very televisual finale at Covatilla - they should make that the final stage some time. It seems the grand tours (and the riders) have cracked getting close finales. Now all they need to do is work out how to make the first two and a half weeks a bit more engaging in terms of GC - in the last two Tours, the best GC stages (apart from the Planche TT this year) have been flat or rolling stages with crosswinds.

But a special mention should go to my favourite individual stage of 2020: the Tour’s 13th to Puy Mary. The GC battle here was just a drag race in the last two kilometres. However, the formation and then politics of the break that formed up ahead were compelling. The break took many kilometres to form, and EF Pro provided a masterclass in teamwork finished by individual brilliance by Dani Martínez to win. No room to describe it all here, but watch it back if you can, paying special attention to the formation of the break, and Hugh Carthy dragging Martínez across to it at the last moment. 

Sophie Hurcom, Procycling magazine deputy editor

I’m not afraid to say that I was more than a little sceptical that we’d see a Tour de France this year, and even more of the belief that if the Tour started it definitely wouldn’t make it anywhere near Paris. Cases of Covid-19 were rising  around France in the weeks before the grand départ and Nice, the location of the first three days of the race, went on high alert as the convoy was heading right towards it. Surely if the Tour got going, the pandemic would inevitably bring it to a premature end.

So the fact that we not only had a Tour de France in 2020 but a complete one is a testament to the organisers and everyone involved, firstly, due to its sheer size and scale. And then to have one that was packed with intriguing storylines, charismatic winners and the most dramatic finale in 30 years, makes it my race of the year. 

Ineos’ decade-long hegemony in the race was finally broken and in Jumbo-Visma we saw a new ‘super team’ take control - albeit one that did everything right except take the yellow jersey home. We saw a real contest for the green jersey between Sam Bennett and Peter Sagan that went all the way to Paris, and helped shape the tactical narrative of the race as a whole in a way we haven't seen for years. And teams like Sunweb, EF Pro and Bora-Hansgrohe ensure that no stage was ‘transitional’. The only really quiet stage was stage 5, when not even a breakaway went up the road, but even that was sparked into life after the finish with the relegation of Julian Alaphilippe for taking a bottle when he shouldn't have.

While at La Course, once again the riders put on a show that provided one of the most tactically fascinating finales of the year which only (again) prompted questions as to why ASO aren’t doing more for women’s stage racing. Annemiek van Vleuten’s attack was followed by Elisa Longo Borghini, Lizzie Deignan, Demi Vollering, Marianne Vos and Kasia Niewiadoma creating as A-list a final group as you can get. Longo Borghini's work to smother any potential attacks by Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma was excellent, as was how she then dismantled Vos in the final kilometre, drawing the Dutchwoman out early to sprint longer than she wanted to, setting up Deignan for the victory. 

Adam Becket, Procycling magazine staff writer

Both the men’s and women’s editions of Strade Bianche were outstanding this year. The Tuscan classic only dates from 2007, yet is a firm fixture of the calendar. This year’s races seemed like they were out of a different century, let alone decade, with brutal racing in inhospitable conditions. The race’s temporary August position meant it took place in glorious, but punishing sunshine, with temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius causing all sorts of problems. Just 45 female riders finished inside the time limit, showing how brutal the return to racing was. Some of the men commented on how hard it was to sweat because they were covered in dust from the gravel roads, meaning they had to waste precious water washing it off.

The action was electrifying, however, with Wout van Aert stamping his authority on the men’s race, triumphing out of an elite group, soloing to victory in the Piazza del Campo. Greg van Avermaet, no stranger to tough racing, admitted that he vomited after the finish line it was that intense of an effort. As for the women, it looked like it was all going Maví Garcia’s way when she was still alone out in front with a few kilometres to go, but Annemiek van Vleuten did what Annemiek van Vleuten does, somehow producing a superhuman attack to overhaul her Spanish rival and sprint away up the final climb.

Next season the race will return to its usual early spring slot, but it might not look quite as beautiful and the action will not be quite as unrelenting as it was in August 2020.

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