10. Strade Bianche is cancelled
The coronavirus had already hit cycling as early as February, when an outbreak at the UAE Tour brought the race to a halt and forced several riders, staff and journalists to quarantine, but it wasn’t yet apparent just how immense its impact would be.
Only in early March did the global scale of the crisis become clear, beginning with the bombshell news on March 5 that Strade Bianche was to be cancelled. Other races followed suit in the coming days and weeks, until racing was suspended altogether, leaving the whole season in an uncertain state of flux.
Given how bleak the situation seemed then, it feels almost miraculous just how smoothly the salvaged season went once it was deemed safe for racing to return in the summer. That we were treated to so much exciting racing after all really was a blessing.
9. Deignan wins La Course
One of the less heralded stories of 2020 was the resurgent return of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) to her very best form, and her victory at La Course was perhaps the highlight of a season that saw her win the Women’s World Tour for the first time.
What had been predicted to be a straightforward race for the bunch sprinters turned out to be unexpectedly action-packed, as Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) blew the peloton to pieces on the day’s single climb, taking only Deignan and four other riders with her. The sprint between them for victory was even more dramatic, as Deignan, seemingly chasing a lost cause as Marianne Vos accelerated ahead of her, made on final lunge to the line to grab victory ahead of the Dutchwoman by a mere fraction.
8. Evenepoel crashes at Il Lombardia
Il Lombardia was supposed to be a coronation of the extraordinary talent that is Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), who went into the race as hot favourite on the back of overall victories in all four of the races he’d competed in both pre and post-lockdown.
However, his race came to a sudden and frightening end when he crashed and fell several meters into a ravine, leading to a distressing wait for news of the 20-year-old’s condition as the medics frantically tended to him.
Thankfully a fractured pelvis and bruised lung was the worst damage done, and he is now gradually on the mend. Riders safety rarely out of the headlines all season, but this was the most harrowing moment of all.
7. Roglič nearly loses the Vuelta on La Covatilla
All three Grand Tours went down to the wire this year, and the Vuelta ended up being the closest of all. As at the Tour de France, it was Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) who stood to lose the overall lead on the decisive penultimate stage, and it looked as though victory was again going to pass him by as GC rival Richard Carapaz (Inoes Grenadiers) disappeared up the road following an explosive attack on La Covatilla.
Despite being left to fend for himself, after even his peerless super-domestique Sepp Kuss had been dropped, Roglič dug deep and managed to just about hang on to the red jersey by the nail-bitingly small margin of just 24 seconds, helping to exorcise any demons that may still have lingered after his Planche des Billes Filles trauma.
6. Dirt roads at the Giro Rosa
A frustrating lack of live television coverage meant that not many viewers got to watch the Giro Rosa, but those who did, the thrilling second stage through the picturesque countryside and gravel roads of Tuscany will live long in the memory. Annemiek van Vleuten was the star of the show, leaving everyone in her wake with her merciless attacks over the climbs, but the roads were so rough and gradients so steep that even she had to push her bike up some of the way after going down in a crash.
Despite winning the stage at a canter, and comfortably defending the maglia rosa for most of the race, a crash on the penultimate stage denied her overall victory, but this was still a spectacular performance from a woman at the peak of her powers.
5. Alaphilippe celebrates too early at Liège-Bastogne-Liège
You could make a list of unforgettable moments featuring just events involving Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), the French showman who continues to be a one-man soap opera. Just think of his collision with a motorbike at the Tour of Flanders, or his attack to win the World Championships, or when he lost the yellow jersey at the Tour for taking an unauthorised bidon.
Most jaw-dropping of all though was the finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Believing himself to have won the sprint at the finish, he raised his arms in celebration, only to immediately realise to his horror that Primož Roglič had creeped up on his right-hand side and pipped him at the line. In another dramatic twist he was relegated further down to fifth for deviating from his line, which in this rare case was actually a less traumatic way for him to lose the win.
4. Van der Poel and Van Aert do battle in Flanders
A rivalry that dates back to when both riders were young teenagers played out on its biggest stage yet, as Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) did battle on the merciless cobblestones of the Tour of Flanders.
The stage was set for a mouth-watering contest, with both riders on flying form and extra spice added by some testy words exchanges in the press, and the ensuing dual was everything we could have hoped for — the pair spent the whole final forty-five minutes alone together at the front of the race, with neither able to shed the other. Eventually, Van der Poel claimed victory in the climactic sprint by the tiniest of margins, an appropriately tight finish for a pair whose inseparability make them such compelling opponents.
3. Van der Breggen winning Worlds against beautiful Italian backdrop
The women’s Worlds road race was too one-sided to go down as a classic — once Anna van der Breggen made her move on the penultimate lap, it very quickly became clear that nobody was going to catch her, and the rest of the race felt like a mere countdown to the inevitable.
But it will be remembered for one truly unforgettable image captured by a television helicopter. Dropping to her level, it captured the Dutchwoman against the stunning backdrop of the Emilia-Romagna countryside, smoothly pedalling her way to her second Worlds title of the week. It was a shot worthy of her exceptional ride, and a great example of the sublime beauty this sport is capable of.
2. Passo dello Stelvio turns the Giro on its head
The Stelvio is arguably the most iconic landmark of the Giro d’Italia, and this year, just about everything happened on it.
In the pink jersey, João Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) at last cracked having resiliently held onto the lead for two whole weeks; then the virtual pink jersey, Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), was also dropped, throwing the whole race wide open; one old star, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-McLaren), appeared to reach the waterloo of his career as a Grand Tour contender, while two new stars, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley (Sunweb), rode away from everyone; and there was even time for more unexpected drama on the descent, as both Hindley and Kelderman made excruciating work of putting on rain jackets in freezing conditions.
Once the dust had settled at the end, the Giro was left fascinatingly poised, with the stage set for Geoghegan Hart to claim the result of a lifetime.
1. Pogačar’s stunning comeback on the Planche des Belles Filles
Appropriately for a season in which fans were mostly only able to watch racing on TV rather than from the roadside, the most unforgettable moment of 2020 was an especially televisual spectacle.
Just as Tadej Pogačar was approaching the end of his ride at the decisive penultimate stage of the Tour, the director responsible for the TV coverage cut to a split screen: on one side, Pogačar storming to a stunning victory; on the other, Jumbo-Visma’s Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert looking on helplessly, their dour, shell-shocked expressions telling it all.
Having dominated the race for three weeks, they were witnessing all their hard work for Primož Roglič end in a last-ditch defeat, in what was one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in Tour history.