The 2020 Tour de France is teeming with big, juicy stories, and throughout the month we will follow the heavyweight battle between Team Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, the progress of the Tour’s COVID-19 protocols, and the ever-present antics of Peter Sagan.
Guess what? There are plenty of other stories to follow this year as well. Here are five less-than-obvious stories to follow at the 2020 Tour de France:
Breakaways vs. the bunch
The 2019 Tour de France was a particularly great edition for riders in those often-doomed early breakaways. By my count, eight of the race’s 21 wins were won by riders who were part of the day’s early move.
Particularly memorable breakaway wins came from Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), and Matteo Trentin (CCC Team). Simon Yates won twice from the break, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali both added breakaway wins to their respective tallies.
So, will the baroudeurs of the peloton enjoy as much success this year? On paper, there are plenty of stages that cater to an early move. By my estimate, stages 17 of this year’s 21 stages are friendly to the break, with 10 of those stages — again, by my estimate — being particularly good days for a break to succeed. Plus, many of the sport’s top breakaway riders are here: de Gendt, Tiesj Bennoot (Sunweb), Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and others.
There are a few dynamics that will influence the success of these breakaways, of course. There are fewer heavy sprinters at this race than normal, and only a handful of true sprint stages. So, sprint teams may be less inclined to set the pace this year. Then, should the GC battle focus in on just a handful of riders, Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo Visma may be inclined to let early moves go. Either way, charting the success of the breakaway is a great story to follow in 2020.
Sprinters vs. the cutoff
The 2018 Tour de France was particularly cruel to the fast men of the peloton. As the race entered the Alps, more and more heavy sprinters were eliminated by the Tour’s daily time cut. Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw, Marcel Kittel, Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria, Rick Zabel all exited the race early.
The Tour’s time cut is calculated through an arcane system by which stages are classified into one of six coefficients; the time cut for that day is then determined to be a percentage of the winner’s time, and that percentage is dependent on the approximate speed of the winner.
Short and punishing stages — specifically, stages that fall in succession — are particularly cruel to the sprinters. This year’s Tour features a formidable block through the mountains that poses a major hurdle. Take a look at stages 13 through stage 18. That’s where I predict more than a few sprinters will either be eliminated by the time cut or drop out.
The dearth of pure sprint stages, plus this mountainous route, are why this year’s lineup of sprinters is so sparse. Peter Sagan headlines the list that includes Sam Bennett (Deceuninck–Quick-Step), Elia Viviani (Cofidis Solutions Crédits), Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling), and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels – Vital Concept p/b KTM).
Guy Niv makes history
Guy Niv of Israel Start-Up Nation will not win the 2020 Tour de France. But Niv is set to etch his name in the race’s history books nonetheless, by becoming the first Israeli rider to participate in the race. Niv was one of several Israeli riders on the team’s roster who was in contention to make the Tour squad and make history. He is the reigning Israeli national champion in the individual time trial, so it’s a safe assumption that the other rider in contention was Guy Sagiv, the reigning Israeli road race champ.
Niv has raced the Giro d’Italia twice — he dropped out in 2018 and completed the race last year. I plan to follow his progression throughout the 2020 Tour de France, to see if he makes it to the finish line in Paris.
B&B Hotels-Vital Concept p/b KTM’s Tour debut
Boy, that’s one heck of a team name, right? The French Pro Continental team that will henceforth be referred to as Team B&B is making its Tour de France debut, just three seasons after it was launched. Team B&B has taken over the spot held by Belgian Tour stalwarts Circus-Wanty Gobert. And like Wanty, Team B&B is destined to live and die within the day’s doomed breakaways.
But hey, at least they have one of the sharpest kits in the peloton. And, to be fair, the French squad is hardly a bunch of no-names — it’s teeming with WorldTour talent. Bryan Coquard, the fiery sprinter, will target the sprint stages. Pierre Rolland, a former contender for the yellow jersey, captains the squad, and his teammates include Belgian classics star Jens Debusschere, formerly of Lotto-Soudal, and Cyril Gautier, an eight-time Tour veteran.
Also on the squad is Kévin Reza, whose family hails from Guadeloupe and is the only Black rider in this year’s race.
In a column published this week, Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe, who has studied the role of Black riders in British cycling, asked whether Reza or any of the other riders in the race would kneel and raise a fist in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s another storyline I plan to follow.
Of course I have a vested interest in following this storyline, since media access to riders helps news outlets like velonews.com function. Still, I am extremely curious to see whether teams and riders make an effort to speak to TV cameras and journalists during the race, in lieu of the two-strikes rule and reports of COVID-19 outbreaks across France. I wouldn’t be surprised if some riders simply shrugged off the media this year.
The rules governing media access amid COVID-19 are byzantine and arcane, and I won’t take up any more space than necessary explaining every detail of them below. Suffice to say, the usual interview opportunities at the team busses and past the finish line are gone this year, to eliminate most of the contact that riders have with reporters.
How will this lack of access impact the way in which big stories are covered this year? What stories will filter out of the race, and which ones will not? This Tour is bound to throw multiple curve balls at those reporters at the race. The race always does — think Rohan Dennis stepping off his bicycle last year, Peter Sagan’s expulsion in 2017, or Chris Froome jogging up Mont Ventoux. In those instances, however, reporters could seek multiple sources and attack each story from various angles. That may not be the case this year, and I’m curious to see how it impacts the big events that are likely to occur.