The final countdown is underway for the cycling event of the year, the 2020 Tour de France. Many doubted whether the event would even take place and now – albeit two months late – the 107th ‘Grand Boucle’ starts in Nice on Saturday.
A tough tour, the 2020 race will feature eight mountain stages, four summit finishes and three hilly stages. The penultimate day will deliver a thriller – a 36km uphill individual time trial that finishes at La Planche des Belles Filles.
The 2020 Tour will feature only nine flat stages, including the 164km opener out of Nice, with Caleb Ewan the hot favourite to be first to wear the yellow jersey.
“There should be about six opportunities for the sprinters this year”, said 26yo Ewan, who’s lining up for his second Tour de France.
“The parcours seems more of a GC kind of Tour de France, some sprinters are missing but there are still riders like Elia Viviani, Sam Bennett and André Greipel and as always, it’ll be hard to win.”
“Because of my three wins last year, there are expectations based on that, so I feel more pressure than last year at the start of my first Tour de France. The goal is always to win a stage but if I happen to be the best sprinter in this race, I want as many wins as possible.”
Earlier in the week Richie Porte said his 10th Tour will be a tough race, the second stage being like nothing he’s ever seen before.
“I think it’s really going to be a decisive stage, tactically I don’t really know what to expect,” he said.
“This year the Tour has a really hard start. I know the roads around Nice well, I think the first day will be tricky and stressful like it always is. Some of the stages, especially in the Alps, look pretty good for me. We just have to see what happens.”
Just Two Aussies
For the first time ever the ‘Aussie team’, Mitchelton-Scott, will not have an Australian rider in their lineup. No Durbo, no Damien Howsen, no Michael Hepburn. Similarly Simon Clarke won’t be there for EF Education First, Micheal Mathews won’t be in the Team Sunweb colours and Jay McCarthy wasn’t named in the Bora-Hansgrohe squad.
Cycling journalist Peter Maniaty said while “cycling can be cyclical”, it’s been a long, long time since the Tour featured only two Australians.
“Seeing no Australians chosen for Mitchelton-Scott for the first time in the team’s history, that was a big surprise for me,” he said.
“To think not even one of Howson, Durbridge or Hepburn will be there in Nice? Wow.”
“I do think we’ve become accustomed to 10+ Aussies in France every year, and rightly so.”
“But even perennial guys like Adam Hansen and Simon Clarke are missing this year. Hopefully Caleb – and to a lesser extent, Richie – can make up for them all!”
Maniaty said some absences were understandable, but several riders who missed out desperately wanted to be there.
“There’s Michael Mathews, of course. I spoke with him last week and you can hear it in his voice, he’s still pretty gutted,” said Maniaty.
“Of course, hopefully the flip-side of all this is we’re going to see an all-out Australian assault on both the Giro and Vuelta later in the year. Guys like Matthews, Haig and Hamilton. There should be plenty of strong Aussies with fire in the belly, keen to show what they’re made of.”
The Voice Of Cycling
Speaking on ABC 702 Sydney radio on Thursday, veteran cycling broadcaster Phil Liggett said it would be a very different Tour for a number of reasons.
“Caleb Ewan and Richie Porte are both going into the race in good form – they are the only two Aussies,” he said. “It’s the smallest number I can recall since the old pioneering days.”
“There’s no real reason for that,” he continued. “The UK has only four riders this year, and the US only has three.”
Covering the race remotely for the first time in close to 50 years, Phil Liggett will be calling the race from a studio in London.
“We wont be able to sample the atmosphere,” he said. “It’s going to be very different but the main thing is it’s going ahead. This is a massive achievement and the French Government realise the importance of the event.”
Phil Liggett said the riders will effectively be living in a bubble this year.
“There will be no selfies, no autographs, the riders will be either in the race or back in their hotels,” he said. “The riders, in most cases, will have seperate rooms and will be tested every 4 or 5 days.”
Anthony Tan’s Take
Having a contingent of Aussies in the high single – and occasionally double – digit territory should always have been considered more a privilege than a right.
Due to the popularity of other sports, Australia has never been and never will be a cycling-mad nation. That our country has produced so many fine road cyclists including multiple Monument winners, a plethora of Grand Tour stage winners, a Tour de France champion and a world champion is, to me, not evidence of a rise in popularity of cycling, but evidence of a nation punching above its weight the past two decades.
Yes, Australian riders are known for their hardiness, their fidelity, and their ability to carry out orders but this is also largely true of the 450-odd other WorldTour professionals. After all, to make it to this rarefied level, and to make it onto an eight-man Tour team no less, such aforementioned qualities would have been brought to bear on many previous occasions.
By way of comparison, Great Britain, with nearly three times the population and far more financial resources thrown at its road cycling development program and particularly its WorldTour team the past decade, will field just four riders at this year’s Tour – so we shouldn’t be too disappointed. – Anthony Tan