By Stephen Puddicombe published
Julian Alaphiippe to win the Tour de France
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) has so far declined to confirm whether or not he intends to target the yellow jersey in 2020, but we have a sneaky suspicion that the yellow jersey is already in his sights.
The Frenchman was able to become a yellow jersey contender in 2019 partly because nobody expected him to put in such a defence of it. For that matter neither did he - he attacked exuberantly in the first few weeks of the race without expecting to have a GC race to fight, and surprised himself by the strength of his legs in the time trial and the mountains, before fatigue at last caught up with him during the final week.
Which begs the question - if he makes the yellow jersey his primary target, and plans a training routine around it, could he ride even better this time?
It is in his interest to play down expectations so that he can again enter the race as an underdog. But we might just be on the brink of a first French winner of the Tour de France since 1985.
Jumbo-Visma to usurp Ineos
Last season Team Ineos made it seven Tour de France victories in eight years, but there were signs that their stranglehold on the race was loosening.
Reliable super-domestiques like Wout Poels and Michał Kwiatkowski were not quite on their A-game, and left their two leaders Geraint Thomas and eventual winner Egan Bernal isolated earlier than they would have hoped on the key summit finishes.
Instead, it was the yellow and black jerseys of Jumbo-Visma who were most prominent at the crucial moments of stages, suggesting that we might be in the process of a power shift.
The fact that the team can now add Tom Dumoulin to that line-up, having signed him from Sunweb, as well as Primož Roglič, who instead focussed on the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España last year (finishing third and first respectively) means we can expect an even stronger Jumbo-Visma at next year’s Tour - and one that could topple Team Ineos’ long-standing supremacy.
It’s unclear at the moment how many of the team’s stars will ride the Tour (Dumoulin and Roglič would have prefered a more time trial-heavy route), and Ineos have themselves strengthened with the signing of Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz and expected return of Chris Froome. But 2020 looks like it might well be the end of an era for Team Ineos, and a beginning of a new one for Jumbo-Visma.
Lizzie Deignan to return to her best
There were signs last year that Lizzie Deignan was already on her way back to the top of the sport, having taken the previous year off while pregnant with her first child. She won the Women’s Tour in June, and featured at the business end of the race during the World Championships in Yorkshire
But this was not the Lizzie Deignan of old, the rider who won successive World Cups in 2014 and 2015 as well as gold in the 2015 Worlds. That overall victory at the Women’s Tour, plus the stage to Builth Wells, were her only two wins of the season, and she mostly limited herself to races within the United Kingdom.
Heading into 2020, however, we can expect Deignan to return to her best. At 31 years of age she is still relatively young and potentially in the prime of her career, and, with a strong Trek-Segafredo team around her, will be well supported.
With the added incentive of the Tokyo Olympic Games to target, plus a whole pre-season to get into shape, expect her to hit the ground running and remind her old rivals just what she is capable of when at the top of her game.
Philippe Gilbert to win Milan-San Remo
Targeting the full-set of all five Monuments, which only the great trinity of Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck and Rick Van Looy have achieved in the history of professional cycling, gave Philippe Gilbert a new lease of life.
Aged 34 and having just moved to Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 2017 Gilbert made a change to his usual spring calendar to shift his focus towards the cobbled Classics; a decision that turned out to be a resounding success as he won the Tour of Flanders that year and Paris-Roubaix in 2019.
Now, just Milan-San Remo is left for him to achieve the famous quintet.
In all likelihood, his only way of doing so will be from an attack, most probably on the Poggio, which is a notoriously difficult thing to do given the number of first-class sprinters desperate for the race to come down to a bunch finish.
But recent editions will give him cause for optimism - both the 2018 and 2019 editions were won with solo attacks.
You can depend on Gilbert doing everything he can to be in the best condition possible going into Milan-San Remo, and will centre his season around winning it. In which circumstances, he will be a serious contender.
The Dutch to pull-off a clean sweep at the women’s road race in Tokyo
Predicting a Dutch victory in a major women’s bike race can hardly be described as a ‘bold’ prediction, so we’re going to come out and predict something that’s never been done before in road cycling - a clean sweep of the medals in the Olympic road race.
With defending Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, World champion Annemiek van Vleuten and WorldTour victor Marianne Vos, the Dutch boast the three best riders in the world, all of whom could potentially win gold in Tokyo.
They’ll have to ride exceptionally well as a team to win all three medals, and their priority above all will be to win gold, possibly meaning that one or two of this trio will end up sacrificing their own chances for the good of the team.
However, the fact that they placed first, second and sixth at the Yorkshire Worlds in September suggests that a clean sweep could well be within their grasp, should the race play out in their favour, and other rivals not mount much of a challenge.
It would be the crowning achievement for what has been a golden age of Dutch cycling in women’s racing.
Sam Bennett to win more races than anyone else
After a long-drawn out transfer saga, Sam Bennett at last ended his troubled relationship with Bora-Hansgrohe and signed up to Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
This looks like a match made in heaven. Bennett has improved significantly in the last two years, catapulting himself to the elite of world sprinting with a total of 20 wins in that time, and is desperate to lead a team at Grand Tours after his former employers overlooked him for both the Giro and Tour last year. Deceuninck-Quick-Step will grant him that, having lost their previous star sprinter Elia Viviani to Cofidis.
With the peerless Deceuninck-Quick-Step lead-out machine at his disposal, we’re expecting Bennett to win even more prolifically in 2020. Considering how Viviani won the most races of any rider in 2018, and how Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria shared that honour the year before while riding for the team, we predict that Bennett will do the same in the upcoming season, and establish himself as the very best sprinter in the world.
Fabio Aru to mount a comeback
It’s been over four years now since Fabio Aru won the Vuelta a España, a result that at the time seemed to cement his status as one of the peloton’s elite. Since then, however, his career has suffered a gradual and upsetting decline. Fifth and a brief stint in yellow at the 2017 Tour de France temporarily reversed the trend after an underwhelming previous season, but problems with injury and illness rendered both the last two years as virtual write-offs.
However, his doctors believe they have now successfully identified and treated these health problems, diagnosing him with both a constriction of the iliac artery and the Epstein-Barr virus. Having undergone successful surgery for the former last year, and apparently recovered from the latter, Aru will in theory be able to train properly this winter in preparation for the new season.
UAE Emirates have not lost faith, having already named him as a leader for the Tour de France along with young prodigy Tadej Pogačar. Pogačar might seem like their best best, given his podium finish at the Vuelta in the autumn, but his lack of experience might be a liability on the uniquely stressful stage of the Tour de France - potentially paving the way for Aru to ride as leader.
If he has indeed overcome his health problems, then we might just see the Aru of old in 2020. A podium at the Tour should not be ruled out.
Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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