Road Cycling

Six things we learned from the 2020 Tour de France

Tadej Pogacar has triumphed in Paris after 21 gruelling stages of racing in the Tour de France "bubble". Here are six takeaways from this year's race.

By ZK Goh ·

Two months after originally scheduled, and after three weeks of gruelling road cycling over all of France's mountain ranges, Tadej Pogacar pulled off an incredible Stage 20 time trial to overhaul Primoz Roglic and win the Tour de France.

The first Grand Tour to be conducted in a bio-secure "bubble" environment produced as much intrigue as it had in any other "normal" year.

From the fall of Team Ineos to the rise of young stars like Pogacar – the second-youngest man to win the race – and Sepp Kuss, this year's Tour had it all.

Here are six things we noticed from the 2020 Tour de France.

1. Pogacar pulls off the incredible

Trailing his Slovenian compatriot Roglic by 51 seconds heading into the final time trial on Stage 20, Tadej Pogacar knew only a special ride up the Planche des Belles Filles would give him a chance of claiming the yellow jersey and overall victory.

The 21-year-old, who earlier in the race became the youngest stage winner since Lance Armstrong in 1993, did not disappoint.

At times looking effortless on a climb with gradients up to 20 per cent, Pogacar overtook the only man in front of him on the overall standings with consummate ease.

A stage that would have tired out many riders – and did – seemed to do little to the young Slovenian, who put on an exhibition to turn his 57-second deficit into a 59-second margin of victory.

With Roglic's teammates Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert looking on grim-faced at the top, Pogacar rode himself into the history books.

"My dream was just to be on the Tour de France… now I'm here," Pogacar said after his effort.

Only Henri Cornet, who was 19 years old when he won in 1904, has claimed the yellow jersey at a younger age.

Pogacar finished the race with three of the Tour's four jerseys – yellow (overall), polka dot (mountains), and white (young rider), becoming the first cyclist to win those three jerseys in a single Tour.

2. Team Jumbo Visma's peloton control lost in the time trial

One of the main talking points of the 19 previous stages prior to the final time trial – the race's only stage against the clock – was the sheer dominance at the front of the peloton of Team Jumbo Visma, in scenes reminiscent of Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) over the last decade.

As soon as Primoz Roglic got his hands on the yellow jersey on stage nine, you couldn't look at the peloton and not see his compatriots – Tom Dumoulin, Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss, and George Bennett chief among them – working to make sure Roglic was never at risk of losing the jersey.

Van Aert won two stages along the way and Kuss had the chance to show himself as Roglic's main right-hand man in the mountains over the last week, chasing down attacks.

During Ineos's and Sky's dominance with Brad Wiggins, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Egan Bernal all winning the Tour, they always had strong domestiques in the mountains such as Wout Poels, Mikel Landa, and of course each other pulling for the leader.

However, Pogacar's effort on the mountain time trial changed all that and undid all the hard work of Jumbo Visma.

3. Team Ineos' ability to pivot

Defending champion Egan Bernal of Team Ineos suffered through the second week of the Tour, despite entering Stage 12 in second overall.

The Colombian lost a minute on the climb to Puy Mary on Stage 13, before dropping another seven minutes on Stage 15 to Grand Colombier when Wout van Aert pushed the pace for leader Primoz Roglic. Stage 16 went no better as he crossed the line with the stragglers, now a full 19 minutes behind Roglic in the overall classification.

Bernal withdrew before Stage 17, citing his health.

However, if that could have been the end of Ineos' tour, the team quickly pivoted to make sure it wasn't. They allowed Richard Carapaz to break away on Stage 16 and again on Stage 18, with the Ecuadorean working his way into the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey for best climber. Although Carapaz would lose the jersey to eventual overall champion Pogacar, it was a sign of Ineos' ability to change strategies at short notice.

Michal Kwiatkowski, who supported Carapaz's ride on stage 18, won the stage as the pair crossed the line together in an emotional moment for the team.

4. Stars fall foul of jury

It was not a Tour to remember for some of the other favourites, either.

Another star who didn't quite live up to expectations was home hope Julian Alaphilippe.

The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider wore the yellow jersey for 14 stages last season, eventually losing it on Stage 19. However, this year went differently for the 28-year-old.

The Frenchman took the early lead, wearing yellow after stages 2–4. However, an error on the fifth stage – where he took an unauthorised feed from team staff inside the final 20 km of the race – saw him penalised by the commissaires, and he was never truly in the picture once Le Tour hit the mountains.

Also falling foul of the commissaires was perennial green jersey favourite Peter Sagan.

In 2017, Sagan was disqualified from the Tour after causing a crash in a sprint to the line – and this year he once again found himself explaining his actions to the race jury.

With the race for the sprinters' points jersey heating up, Sagan used his shoulder to barge Wout van Aert in the bunch sprint on stage 11. After initially crossing the line in second, he was relegated to the back of the pack (losing his points for second place) and additionally penalised 13 points.

Irish rider Sam Bennett managed to keep the green jersey all the way to Paris, and win the final stage sprint to seal his own victory, marking only the second time Sagan has not won it since 2012 (after his disqualification in 2017).

5. The "bubble" system works for cycling

While other races, both one-day classics and stage races, had been conducted in "bubble" environments before the start of the Tour, this was the first true test for cycling to see if it could run its regular calendar – complete with three-week Grand Tours – amid a reported increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Europe.

All participating teams and riders were put in the bio-secure environment with testing before the race and on each of the two rest days. The teams were also warned by race organisers and the French government that two positive tests in seven days – regardless of whether they were riders or support staff – would result in the team's cyclists being removed from the race.

Perhaps this had some effect in reducing any potential breach of the "bubble", with only four team staff (from four different teams) testing positive in the first round of tests on the first off day and no positive tests being returned on the second rest day.

Race director Christian Prudhomme – who was not part of the race bubble due to his more public-facing duties – also returned a positive test during the first rest day. He was immediately removed from his duties for a week, before returning after quarantining for a week as required by French regulations.

While the "two strikes and out" rule may not carry over into other races, it certainly worked on the Tour.

6. Fans need more encouragement to respect rules

Perhaps something needs to be said about the behaviour of roadside fans, however.

Fan actions have been a hot-button topic for a few years now, especially on the Tour, with race organisers having to discourage the use of flares in recent years.

Road cycling isn't what it is without the passionate spectators cheering the cyclists on. While the numbers of fans were limited on the Tour, and there were clearly fewer fans out on the course this year, not all of the spectators who did attend followed the rules.

Although French gendarmes were deployed to keep the fans in check, it was clear to see that – especially on the popular mountain passes and climbs – social distancing rules were not always followed.

Additionally, despite repeated requests from race organisers and the cyclists' union for fans to wear face masks and respect the riders, it seems some fans chose not to heed the rules.

While no one wants further restrictions on what is traditionally a sport in which fans can get close to the stars, it requires those who attend the races to respect the sanitary restrictions, just as the teams and riders are.