Roundtable: What if WorldTour racing shifts to the fall?
With the coronavirus health crisis putting a halt on WorldTour racing until at least May, the UCI is looking to reschedule pro cycling races into the fall. The Giro d’Italia, Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders are all holding out hopes of new slots later in the season, and the Giro may take a reduced form due to strain on available late-season slots.
Which teams and riders might be impacted the most by a back-loaded season?
Will the Giro and monuments have a different character in fall?
Who could have been a winner on the Via Roma had Milano-Sanremo gone ahead as scheduled this Saturday?
Were a shortened version of the Giro d’Italia to be raced in fall, will racers still be motivated to start after the Tour, Olympics, and Vuelta?
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): There is such a strong feeling of solidarity among riders and teams in light of this crisis that everyone knows is a threat to professional racing. If the Giro is rescheduled, teams will rally not only to support the Giro, but for the pride of their professional calling as well. There will be plenty of riders who will be keen to race after missing out on so many days, especially anyone on a contract year. Let’s just hope it happens.
James Startt: I think that the Giro organized any time will motivate riders…maybe not the same ones as in May but it will bring out a great field. In addition, a two-week grand tour is an idea that has been tossed around a lot. There has been talk for years about making the Vuelta and the Giro two weeks and only the Tour de France three weeks. Why not? And the current situation could force such a scenario. Perhaps, to make room for the Giro, they will also need to shorten the Vuelta. It could be very interesting. It could open the door to more riders and create more suspense. The biggest problem is putting two grand tours into a four to six week period. A lot of guys that were going to do the Giro also planned on doing the Vuelta. That won’t be possible this year.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Riders will still be motivated to ride – it’s still the Giro d’Italia after all. But I could see some teams using a ‘mini grand tour’ format as an opportunity to test out young bucks or to give leadership experience to those usually pushed into support roles. It could work well for 20-year-old Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) – who was due to race the Giro anyway – and the likes of Tao-Geohegan Hart (Ineos) and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) for example.
Which of the four spring monuments would you most like to see raced in fall, and why?
James: Milano-Sanremo would be beautiful in the fall as it is in the spring. It’s just a gorgeous race and could couple very nicely with Giro di Lombardia. It will be a very different race, one that I think favors breakaways even less because, well, everybody is in better shape later in the year and a climb like the Poggio won’t have the same effect, at least on paper.
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t like to see the others as well. The cancellation of any monument is a tragedy for any cycling fan. But at least from a visual perspective, Sanremo in the fall is a no brainer.
Jim: While I’m crossing all my fingers that all four of the monuments will be shifted to later in the year, I’m intrigued by a hot, dusty, late-season Roubaix. As great as a muddy Roubaix can be, a full gas ‘Hell of the North’ on dry cobbles makes for such a spectacle. With racers potentially already having grand tours and the Olympics under their belt, the action could be all the more unpredictable and volatile. Plus the imagery of the peloton battering across the cobbles amid a cloud of dirt is always spectacular.
Andrew: The classics are so synonymous with the spring that it’s bizarre to consider them being raced in the fall — such are the times we live in. Linking them on to the back of Giro di Lombardia makes the most sense, but they’ll probably have to be overlapped due to calendar constraints. You’d want to spread out the races so that the climbers could race Lombardia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, while the pavé specialists could race Flanders, Roubaix and Strade Bianche. Considering how the calendar has been thrown into such disarray, I think it could be fitting to have Milano-Sanremo as the final race of the season.
What riders and team lose out the most with the re-scheduling of the season?
Jim: I’d have liked to see if Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) carried his early-season form into the cobbled monuments. After so much promise through 2017 and 2018, he seemed to go a little off the boil last year. However, after winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and bagging fifth in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the Belgian looks back to his best. And of course, Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Wolfpack will be licking their lips as they wait – and hope – for the classics to come back later in the year.
Similar to Stuyven, Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) started the season on a tear after a few years in the wilderness. If the Tour de France goes ahead as planned in June, will Quintana’s form have carried through in the absence of racing in spring? Who knows.
James: Every team loses out, but those really built around the classics like CCC really miss out big. Certainly other teams miss out too. Bora-Hansgrohe and Lotto-Soudal for example, but they have more obvious cards to play in the summertime as Caleb Ewan will be in the hunt for numerous stage wins in the Tour and Peter Sagan can continue writing his green jersey story. But not every team has such obvious options later in the year.
Andrew: Everyone loses — the riders, the teams, the sponsors, the organizers and the fans. It’s a gut punch to miss the classics and the Giro. And who knows how much more. There was so much to look forward to. Rescheduling — even if that’s going to be realistic — will never replace what’s been lost. More than anything, missing these races makes one reflect on how special they are.
Milano-Sanremo was originally scheduled for this Saturday. Looking at the early-season form book, who would you have placed your bets on?
Andrew: I’m a huge Sanremo fan. The first five hours might be boring, but the final 45 minutes are amazing. Who would have won? Impossible to say. That’s what makes San Remo so damn special.
James: It’s such a lottery in so many ways…and yet it isn’t. I’ll go with Philippe Gilbert because, well, he is Philippe Gilbert. Talk to anyone out there and they will tell you that tactically he is one of the most savvy riders in the bunch, if not the most. And when he sets his sights on something, he has often proven to be unstoppable. Just look at Roubaix last year. It was only his second outing, but that was the race he had focused on and he went out and got it. And now he has Sanremo in his sights.
So how would he have won? He would have been in the right move on the Poggio, attacked the descent hard so no group came back, and then won the small group sprint, because he is plenty fast, unless of course Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) or Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) managed to make the split, then he would have jumped or caught them looking in the last two kilometers.
Jim: Who knows who would have won Sanremo. That’s part of the appeal. Sit and wait for six hours while nothing happens and let the anticipation simmer. Then in the space of about six kilometers, it comes to a roaring boil and it’s crazy exciting. I’d have liked to see a small group go away on the Poggio and then fight out a last-legs sprint like they did last year for Julian Alaphilippe’s victory.