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What are the not-so-obvious storylines to follow in the 2021 racing season?

Away from the headline-grabbing stories around the likes of Evenepoel, Froome and COVID-19, what are the subtle plots to follow in 2021?

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The 2021 pro racing season is shaping up to be full of highly anticipated comebacks, red-hot rivalries, and the peloton’s plight against a pandemic.

From Remco Evenepoel’s return to racing and Chris Froome’s first year at the top of Israel Start-Up Nation to Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel’s cobblestone clashes, and of course, COVID-19, next year won’t be a quiet one.

But away from the starring stories, what are the more subtle dramas to follow next year?

European editors Andrew Hood, Jim Cotton and James Startt make their picks:

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): I’m most looking forward to seeing how well Quinn Simmons rides in 2021. The U.S. hasn’t seen such a talented and ambitious classics-style rider in a long time. The 2019 junior world champion has the personality and legs to break out in a very big way next season if he gets the chance. COVID and a social media storm that led to the team benching him this fall will hopefully be in the rearview mirror for the Coloradan. Even in his limited race days in his rookie season, he was impressive – he was second overall at the Tour of Hungary and sixth at the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, no small feat at 19 years old. In many ways, he is the USA’s version of Remco Evenepoel. He’s a natural-born winner who has untapped potential. If things are back on track for 2021, I’m relishing the chance to see what he can do in the spring classics.

Can Simmons step up? Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

James Startt: I am looking forward to seeing how Ineos Grenadiers responds to their Tour de France mauling. This has been the best team in the Tour for nearly a decade, and quite arguably the greatest ever, with four riders winning seven Tours de France. But this year they were handily beaten by Jumbo-Visma, a team that didn’t even manage to win the Tour! It was the great rivalry that wasn’t. And the reasons could be many. Perhaps it was the sudden death of longtime director Nico Portal, or perhaps Ineos, like so many others, simply failed to adjust to the modified season. But even in an off-year, they still managed to win the Giro d’Italia in stunning fashion with Tao Geoghegan Hart, while new recruit Richard Carapaz salvaged their Tour de France with a tremendous stage win. And the Ecuadorian quite nearly won the Vuelta a España. Make no doubt about it, the British team has so many cards to play in 2021 it is not even funny. And their depth will only be enhanced by the arrival of confirmed riders like Richie Porte and Adam Yates. Even better, they have learned to win creatively, by going on the attack and taking chances. Ineos as an underdog may be an oxymoron, but I like the idea.

How will Geoghegan Hart and Ineos Grenadiers respond to their 2020 seasons? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): It going to be interesting to chart how the Giro d’Italia’s young prodigies come on through 2021. Tao Geoghegan Hart, Jai Hindley and João Almeida are all under 25 years old and all emerged from relative obscurity to become the stars of the Italian tour. But what next? Was that Giro success the product of a weak field, or were they genuine breakout performances? Geoghegan Hart has the issue of riding on a team with more leaders than it knows what to do with in 2021, and may not get many opportunities for himself. Almeida will contend for captaincy with the returning Remco Evenepoel, but will should the chance to top his team, while Hindley has the advantage of being the go-to GC guy at Sunweb next year. Will these three have the legs and the leeway to confirm themselves as the most exciting young riders on the pro cycling circuit alongside Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar?