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Condensing three grand tours, five monuments, and a host of other races into three and a half months was never going to be an easy task, but the UCI has achieved this with its new-look 2020 calendar.
However, the feat of shoehorning a racing season that normally stretches over seven months into half that time was going to see some events come out on top, while others have been dealt a bad hand. Although some race organizers called it quits early, opting to wait until 2021 to host their events, others held out to see where the UCI left them after the deck was reshuffled.
RCS Sport, organizers of Italian races the Giro d’Italia, Milano-Sanremo, Il Lombardia, Strade Bianche, and Tirreno-Adriatico are perhaps the stakeholder to lose out most in the rescheduled 2020 season.
The UCI’s new schedule sees the Giro run October 3 – 25, two weeks after the Tour wraps up in Paris on September 20. While the Italian race retains its four-weekend, 21-stage format, it not only has to contend with a six-day clash with the Vuelta a España, which will start October 20, the Giro also goes head-to-head with a key block of Flemish and Ardennes classics.
The Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Gent Wevelgem and Amstel Gold all fall within the Giro’s race window, leaving the Corsa Rosa fighting on two fronts — for the attention of grand tour riders who are staying away from the Tour, and for the classics riders with roles to play as stage-hunters or support workers in the grand tours.
RCS Sport acknowledged that the UCI had its work cut out in rescheduling so many races into so little time. However, there was more than a hint of regret in its statement addressing the new race calendar Tuesday.
“In order to save and safeguard the important heritage of cycling races, some sacrifices had to be made considering the short time span within which we could include all the season’s races,” an RCS statement read. “We made a number of alternative proposals which, in our opinion, would have resulted in reduced overlaps among races in the calendar. These proposals have not been adopted. However, we believe this result is important for the restart, especially at this time, given the dramatic health situation that is affecting all areas of our lives.”
RCS boss Mauro Vegni had already expressed his sense of playing second-best in the UCI’s planning puzzle, saying in April that, “it’s the only thing that been talked about for the last two months: how to hurt the Giro, the only real rival that is strong and not allied with the Tour.”
The start sheet for this year’s Giro, now slated to depart from southern Italy rather than the originally-planned start in Budapest, could look thin this October.
With the top-tier grand tour racers likely setting their sights firmly on the Tour de France, the Giro could be left to mop up younger riders or developing GC stars not selected for Le Grande Boucle. And while a traditional calendar would allow the Giro to double up with either the Tour or the Vuelta, the UCI’s new plan effectively rules out both options, unless a rider fancies testing their legs at two grand tours in ten weeks across the Tour and the Giro.
As the economic powerhouse of cycling and one of the biggest sporting events in the world, it was inevitable that the Tour would be given pride of place in the new calendar as the UCI looked to give its flagship event a slot that would bank the most revenues and strongest rosters.
“The Tour de France set its dates, everyone has recognized that it has priority, and the calendar has been built around this anchor while respecting the health rules of each country,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told L’Équipe. And with the Tour being given an August 29 start date over three weeks ago, it was left for the Giro, Vuelta, and monuments to fight for space as the UCI tried to fit as much in as weather, logistics, and local authorities would permit.
David Lappartient, president of the UCI, did not have much wiggle room.
“If we had not made this overlap [between the Giro and Vuelta], we would have had to postpone the Vuelta in mid-November, and in the Pyrenees, mid-November, this involves too many climatic risks and a loss of light,” Lappartient said Tuesday. “The complicated elements were on the scheduling of the races, again the Giro and the Vuelta: Who in October, who in November?”
“The program for the month of October was the most complicated to establish because there were the classics… we could not put them in November due to weather conditions,” Lappartient told L’Équipe. “There was also the subject of the duration of the Giro. The UCI was in favor of the race retaining its initial duration [21 stages], but that went hand in hand with Sundays when it has to compete with the classics.”
While RCS my seek some solace that Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo have been given prize spots at the start of the season, there will also be a bitter taste when they chew over Tirreno-Adriatico’s place in the racing year. In maintaining its traditional place as a Giro d’Italia ‘warm-up’ race, it has been scheduled for bang in the middle of the Tour de France, three weeks ahead of its larger Italian cousin. Like the Giro, Tirreno-Adriatico’s start sheet could be thin of top stars as riders race for the yellow jersey or hone their classics form across the border in France.
The heads of ASO and the UCI both spoke Tuesday of their relief that the season has been salvaged, whether with clashes or not.
“It’s not ideal, but if we manage to run all these races, we can consider ourselves happy for our sport,” Lappartient said of his new UCI calendar. Prudhomme was of a similar opinion, saying “We worked in a spirit of cooperation — excellent news — to arrive at an exceptional calendar built in an exceptional situation, with the hope of seeing these races exist.”
Vegni and RCS may just be relieved to see all their races afforded a slot in the 2020 calendar at all. Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo were among the first races to fall foul of the coronavirus crisis when they were canceled in early March, leaving RCS with bated breath over the future of their events for two months now. Prudhomme acknowledged that piecing the calendar together involved conflict and compromise.
“There was a common desire to find solutions in order to register a maximum of races in a minimum of time around a consensus: let’s be united to propose a calendar” the UCI chief said. “There are always differences, of course, but the world of cycling has moved forward together, and that’s what I like.”
While Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén told AS Tuesday that he felt that “our position on the calendar and the racing environment makes me think that we will have a good participation,” Vegni may not be feeling quite the same about his grand tour.
RCS Sport called the new calendar “the result of an unparalleled extensive work involving the institutions, organizations, teams and others who, in their various capacities, have contributed to this difficult choice,” in their statement after the new calendar was published.
Vegni and his team may be left feeling that they had to make more difficult choices and compromises than others.