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Tour-Vuelta double emerging as biggest challenge in revamped season

Doubling up the Vuelta a España and Tour de France an ideal solution for riders looking to maximize race days in condensed calendar.

The revamped racing calendar is throwing up all kinds of obstacles and challenges for teams and riders as everyone tries to squeeze as much racing into a three-month window to save what’s left of 2020.

Choices will have to be made. Riders who want to race the Giro d’Italia will miss out on the northern classics. Peter Sagan has hinted he will honor his commitment to race the Giro for the first time of his career, meaning he might miss Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders. Organizers of the Italian one-days are trying to find space to reschedule Milano-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia on new dates in August, and still have room for the national championships across Europe, all before the Tour de France starts August 29 in Nice, France.

One of cycling’s most important challenges — the double attempt at the Tour and Vuelta a España — is still possible in the new-look calendar. With the Tour ending September 20 and the Vuelta starting October 20, the Tour-Vuelta double could emerge as the season’s big challenge for anyone looking to maximize their race days.

Vuelta officials are hopeful that the chance to double up on two grand tours will assure the Spanish grand tour a marquee start list in October.

“There’s a month after the Tour, three weeks after the worlds, and it will be the final race of the WorldTour season,” Vuelta boss Javier Guillén told AS Thursday. “It’s perfectly combinable to do the Tour with the Vuelta, especially since there are three fewer stages, which mean about 700 kilometers less than the Tour or Giro. It’s important that the big stars are attracted to come race.”

With one month separating the Tour and Vuelta, race organizers are hoping for a strong start-sheet in Spain.Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The Tour-Vuelta double is already among cycling’s most elusive challenges. More riders are apt to race the double since the Vuelta was moved from April to September some 20 years ago, especially with the worlds in September in a normal year. In 2017, Chris Froome (Ineos) became the only rider to win the Tour and Vuelta in that order in the same season.

More GC riders are racing two grand tours in one season, so it will be interesting to see how many try to race two in 2020. Most either double up the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta, or choose the Tour and Vuelta combination. Fewer tackle the Giro-Tour double because both races are stacked up closer on the traditional calendar, and no one’s won those two races in one season since Marco Pantani last did it in 1998. Tom Dumoulin came close in 2018, finishing second in both the Giro and Tour.

With the 2020 calendar being thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely that many riders will try to target both the Tour and Giro this season. The Giro starts October 3, barely two weeks after the Tour concludes on the Champs-Élysées, with the world championships sandwiched in between. And with the Giro and Vuelta overlapping in October, it’s obvious no one will be doing that.

“We usually have a few guys race the Giro and Tour, but this year, no one’s doubling up there from our team,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “It doesn’t work.”

The Tour-Vuelta combo, however, could draw some of the peloton’s biggest GC riders. Defending Vuelta champion Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has put the Tour at the center of his ambitions, but has not ruled out a Vuelta defense. And depending how things play out at Team Ineos at the Tour, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see riders such as Froome, in a contract year in 2020, or even Egan Bernal take a run at the Vuelta.

In fact, with riders coming off an unprecedented three-month stop, riders will actually be stronger coming out of the Tour.

“I expect to see the Vuelta winner come out of the Tour,” White said. “The guys won’t have a lot of racing in their legs before the Tour. And the way the calendar is now, people will want to race as much as they can. I think a lot of riders will try to race the Vuelta after the Tour because everyone’s missed the first half of the season.”

And with a climber-friendly worlds course waiting in Martigny, Switzerland, there’s even a chance of seeing someone win a one-of-a-kind “triple crown” of winning the Tour, worlds and Vuelta in a row. It’s far-fetched, especially with the men’s worlds road race on September 27 coming just seven days after the Tour ends, but possible. Cycling’s classic triple crown — the Giro-Tour double with the rainbow jersey — has only been won by Eddy Merckx in 1974 and Stephen Roche in 1987.

Guillén is growing more confident that the Vuelta will be able to be raced without major disruption. On Friday, Vuelta officials will reveal the stages set to replace two days of racing that originally had crossed into Portugal. Portuguese officials did not want to commit to the stages in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s expected that the stages will trace back across Galicia and Castilla y León in northern Spain. A stage into France remains on the Vuelta route, with a summit finish at the Col du Tourmalet on October 25 in what will be cycling’s “Super Sunday,” coming on the same day the Giro ends as well as Paris-Roubaix.

“I am a lot more optimistic about the situation,” Guillén said. “I believe that we will have the Vuelta, just like we will have the Tour and the Giro, and I’m even more convinced that they’ll be raced under normal conditions.”