After being brought forward to August in 2020 due to the corona measures, the Lombardy Tour was able to fulfill its traditional function again this year as the last autumn highlight in the men’s cycling calendar. Something historic happened when Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) effortlessly prevailed in Bergamo in a two-man sprint against the 27-year-old local hero Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who had exhausted his strength to break away Slovenes in a daring descent to 35 kilometers from the finish to unlock.
Before Pogacar, only two riders had succeeded in winning more than one of the five “monuments”, the most prestigious one-day races, in the same year, in addition to the Tour de France. Before winning the 115th edition of Il Lombardia last Saturday, Pogacar had already been successful in April at the 107th edition of Liège – Bastogne – Liège and in July defended the yellow jersey (first won last year). At the age of just 23, he caught up with two of its greatest legends in the annals of this tradition-loving sport: in 1949 the combination of at least two monuments won plus a tour victory was achieved by the Italian Fausto Coppi and in 1969, 1971 and 1972 by the incomparable Eddy Merckx.
The opinionated Belgian was promptly quoted as stating that Pogacar was the first driver to really deserve the honorary title of “the new Merckx”, which is often and rashly awarded. Regardless of this, it is definitely clear that the Slovenian is a talent of the century. With aggressiveness and a sure tactical instinct, he made his contribution to ensuring that the end of the racing season offered a lot more excitement and variety than usual.
Since Pogacar was again victorious in the 108th edition of the Tour de France without having the strongest team, the competition will hopefully say goodbye to the idea of winning three-week Grand Tours with a so-called mountain train. These tiring tactics, with which Team Sky and Ineos Grenadiers had dominated the Tour of France in the last decade, built on keeping the pace consistently high even on mountain climbs and nipping any enemy attacks in the bud through superior team strength. In this respect, it is interesting how Ineos will position itself in the future. Reports were denied that the 2019 tour winner and winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, the 24-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal, wanted to withdraw from his current contract. The 2018 tour winner, Geraint Thomas from Welsh, could leave the team at the turn of the year, the 35-year-old is still without a new contract. UAE Team Emirates will significantly improve its Grand Tour squad with the addition of 23-year-old Portuguese João Almeida (fourth and sixth in the last Giro events) as well as New Zealander George Bennett and Catalan Marc Soler.
In one-day races, the tactical corset has never been so tightly laced as it is in the big tours. But no team had taken advantage of the current tendency towards earlier and earlier attacks – and risky counter-attacks – with such callousness as the French national team at the World Cup in Flanders on September 26th. When the colleagues of last year’s world champion Julian Alaphilippe put the first needle pricks almost 200 kilometers from the finish, it caused a shake of the head. But repeated attacks soon had the effect of luring the highly-favored Belgians Remco Evenepoel, the second man in the team hierarchy, out of the reserve. By obviously ignoring the previously agreed tactics, the 21-year-old caused such a wonderful mess that his colleagues could never regain control of the race. Meanwhile, the designated Belgian captain Wout van Aert had to fear for a long time that his team-internal rival would drive on his own account. He lacked strength and nerves when Alaphilippe accelerated repeatedly in the last quarter of the 268-kilometer race until the 29-year-old was finally able to break away on his own and, surprisingly, repeat his previous year’s success.
One week after this breathtaking race, which aptly demonstrated that in this alleged individual sport, victories are only possible as a team performance, the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix, which was postponed in April, was made up for. After an epic mud battle, the 31-year-old Italian Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) out of a group of three was able to prevail against the Dutch favorite Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), to whom the little-known 22-year-old Belgian Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Soudal), in turn, completely surprisingly second place snatched from under his nose.
In contrast to the previous year, at least the most traditional races could all be held in 2021. Apart from the Olympics and the UAE Tour, practically all racing outside of Europe was canceled. The trend is continuing for the time being: the two Australian races, which usually mark the start of the world’s highest racing category, the World Tour, have not even been included in the 2022 racing calendar. Even though the award of the 2025 World Cup to Rwanda was recently announced, the question arises as to the future of globalization efforts, which should serve to open up new markets and sponsor sources for the chronically financially weak cycling sport. In addition, the only African World Tour team Qhubeka Next Hash is currently worried about its license due to a lack of liquidity. At the weekend, Delko, a French team from the world’s second highest Pro Continental Division, had to shut down its operations literally overnight.