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Roundtable: Racing in 2021, commemorating the cobbles

Must the 2021 Tour-Olympic clash be fixed? Will Froome win the Tour again? Flanders vs Roubaix - which is the best? Time to argue it out.

The past week has seen the latest major development in the shifting sporting calendar in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was confirmed Monday that the re-scheduled 2021 Tokyo Olympics would clash with the end of the 2021 Tour de France, leaving riders a decision between the Olympic road race and completing the Tour. Later in the week, news came that racing would not resume until June 1. While the Tour de France is still due to go ahead at some point this year, whether in summer or later, the future is still unclear.

Switching back to the present, two of cycling’s biggest races, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, were due to go ahead through the next week, leaving riders and fans pining for some cobblestone action.

How important is it that the 2021 Tour / Olympic clash is fixed?

What’s your best memory from the cobbles?

Roubaix vs Flanders – which is best?

Let’s roundtable!

The 2021 Olympic race clashes with the end of the Tour de France. How important is it that this clash is fixed?

The 2021 Olympic Road race is set to take place July 24, 2021. The last stage of the 2021 Tour is July 25. Photo: Getty

James Startt: Well the UCI, ASO and the Olympic Committee definitely need to study this situation. Normally on Olympic years, the Tour starts a week early, but the calendar for 2021 is already largely set. And even if the Tour moves up a week, what does that do to races like the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse or the weekend before the Tour normally reserved for most national championship races? Can the Olympics put the road events at the end of the Games exceptionally? This has to be considered.

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): I cannot imagine the 2021 calendar will not be adjusted due to the Olympics. Right now, it’s all hands on deck to try to salvage part of 2020. Once that’s done, everyone will put things in place for next year. No one wants to see the peloton’s top stars having to make that choice.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): It would be a disaster for riders, the Tour and the Olympics if those with ambitions at both races – in the way that Chris Froome, Jakob Fuglsang and Primoz Roglic did this year – were to have to make a choice. I imagine that all the organizing bodies involved in both the Tour and Olympics will want to remedy the situation. The obvious solution would be to tinker with the summer 2021 cycling calendar and make it mirror what was in the diary this year.

Would a Tour de France postponement to 2021 benefit or hinder Froome’s ambition for a fifth yellow jersey?

One year more recovered, but one year older – Froome will be 36 next summer. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Andrew: It’s hard to say. In many ways, the later the Tour de France is, the better it is for Froome. A delayed Tour would help Froome because what he needs is racing in his legs to have a serious chance to win another Tour. So if it’s put off until 2021, missing out on this year wouldn’t have a negative impact on him at all. Yes, he’d be a year older, but also a year stronger in his recovery.

Jim: It comes down to a toss-up between the positives of having another year to strengthen and rebuild, and the negatives of being a year older. I can’t help but feel that if Froome doesn’t ride the Tour this year, his chances are gone. He’ll be 36 by summer next year and the longer he’s away from racing – first through injury and now through the racing stop – the slower his legs and blunter his racing edge will become. Although Alejandro Valverde is a great example of being an ageless wonder, he’s not had such a serious injury so late in his career.

James: Neither. This year would likely have been too early, but waiting another year does not necessarily help Froome. His last Tour victory dates back to 2017, and waiting another year will just make it a four-year gap instead of a three-year gap. No that doesn’t help Chris.

What’s your favorite memory from the cobbled classics?

Boonen gave VeloNews’ James Startt a cobbles masterclass in 2008. Photo: Getty / Tim De Waele

James: Okay this is totally self-serving but it would be back in 2008 when I was invited to ride with Quick-Step on their Roubaix recon and actually did. Barely a kilometer into the ride and we were already in the Arenberg Forest. Somehow I was the only guest that managed to stay close to the team at the end of the stretch and as I rode up behind the team, Tom Boonen looked back, slapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big smile. We started chatting and then we hit the next section, and pretty soon I understood that I had been temporarily adopted, as the guys started pointing out the best line to take on certain sections etc. It wasn’t my best memory from the cobbles. It was my greatest day on a bike…ever!

Andrew: There’s nothing that compares with seeing the riders powering over the cobbles in person. It’s only then that you realize how hard and fast they are racing. “Chasing the Roubaix” is always a big adventure, because it’s possible to catch the peloton at three or four sectors along the route before dashing to the velodrome for the finish. Perhaps my best was when Sagan won in 2018. I was tagging along with James Startt, helping him to navigate as we hit several key sectors. We caught the sector right when Sagan made his winning acceleration and it was incredible to see him in the rainbow jersey surging clear. We later got caught up at a train crossing coming back to Roubaix, and managed to enter the velodrome just in time to see Sagan coming off turn four on the velodrome for the win. Good stuff.

Jim: I’m not fortunate enough to have seen any racing from the side of the cobbles, but have been tuning in from home with a token Belgian beer and bowl of oven frites for more years than I can remember. The race that always stands out in my memory has to be Roubaix 2016, when Mat Hayman won. First, there was the moment when Cancellara hits the deck with 45km to go and Sagan bunny hops over him. Sure, not that big a deal really, but it encapsulates the madcap, wacky racing that Roubaix brings about. And then Hayman’s win against all odds after a month on the trainer recovering from injury will live long in the memory. The way that final lap of the velodrome played out before Hayman outsprinted Tom Boonen is etched in my mind.

You can only ever watch either Roubaix or Flanders for the rest of your life: Which race do you choose and why?

Roubaix or Flanders? A tough call. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Jim: It’s got to be Roubaix. Even on the television, the sense of brutal power and speed of the peloton as they bump and bounce over the pavé is breath-taking. It feels so anachronistic and thuggish that you can’t help but be captivated. I watch replays of it when I do intervals on the indoor trainer all the time. It just feels so unlike any other race in the calendar.

James: After my last response this answer is a bit obvious but yeah Roubaix. I just think it is the greatest race in the world. I have always said that if I was no longer covering the sport, I would still watch Roubaix religiously. It packs in all of the action and drama of a three-week Tour de France into six to seven hours of racing. There is simply nothing else like it.

Andrew: That’s a cruel choice. Both are among my favorite races of the year. If I had to choose, I’d go with Roubaix. Why? Because it’s a bloody insane race that harkens to a lost time and place. Those cobbles are so challenging to ride, so anyone who makes it first into the velodrome is an instant legend.

Editor’s Note: While Roubaix sweeps the boards with votes from Andrew, James and Jim, Editor-in-Chief Fred Dreier would choose Tour of Flanders every time.