2020 has been anything but normal. No exceptions. But the 2020 Tour de France, which was never a guarantee to start and once there was never a guarantee to finish was captivating, competitive, and dramatic.
It’s easy to say some of those things in hindsight because it did finish in Paris on the Champs-Élysées, but the threat of bringing it all to a close without reaching Stage 21 was not only a looming specter but a change in tactics.
Instead of being settled in the Alps and Pyrenees and letting the sprinters have their flat stages, every stage was contested. This was because based on rest day testing results the tour could be stopped at any moment. And after a minimum number of stages, the rider wearing yellow would be the winner of the tour.
With that possibility, tactics changed and the race was an all-out battle every day. A few breakaways succeeded but they were kept very much in check. This also made for a more edgy tour.
There were no off days. None. Sure there were rest days, but those were testing days, where anyone positive test from rider, staff, or any persons surrounding the tour could be sent to quarantine or sent home. So every day there were question marks. You didn’t know what would happen.
But luckily, most of the drama took place on the roads of France.
Last year’s Tour winner Egan Bernal didn’t make it to Paris, after being dropped on a few climbs, he abandoned the race. That wasn’t part of the presumed script as both Bernal and Primoz Roglic were the predicted favorites to win Yellow.
The unstoppable and unbeatable Peter Sagan wore Green for just a few short days but lost the points competition to Sam Bennett, the first Irishman to win the jersey since Sean Kelly in 1989.
Also, like 1989 where the race was decided by the final time trial and the order of first and second flipped with Greg LeMond winning by 8 seconds overcoming a 50-second deficit to Laurent Fignon. This year’s Tour was decided on the penultimate stage, a time-trial that for the first time in years was basically uphill to the finish.
Going in to stage 20’s time trial, two Slovenians had run away with first and second, Roglic and Tadej Pogacar. Roglic had 57 seconds on his fellow countryman Pogacar but couldn’t hold him off. Pogacar not only erased the deficit but put 59 seconds into his own lead, which became the winning margin for him.
It was enthralling, it was captivating, and it was different. In the end, it really did come down to just two guys against the clock on their bikes, but to get there, to reach that summit, it was a vastly different tactical race and one that made for more thrilling viewing.
I watched every stage. I was impressed with Sam Bennett’s turn of speed as he won sprint after sprint and with Caleb Ewan’s bike handling ability to find gaps and win stages. I felt horrible for Mark Hirschi who deserved more than he got winning the Combativity award, which he deserved. And there are other jerseys to discuss but Pogacar won them all. He took home the Yellow (overall), White (best young rider), and polka dot (King of the Mountains) jerseys.
Next year could very well be back to normal for the tour, especially if it goes back to it’s usual July time frame, but this year was definitely exciting to watch and a brilliant distraction.