Slovenia reaching the pinnacle, Australia taking the bottom step of the podium, Ireland and Switzerland shining in the award ceremony on the Champs-Élysées… The 2020 Tour de France witnessed a tectonic shift in the global balance of power in cycling. France, Belgium, Spain and Italy, the four traditional hotspots of cycling, had to settle for just 4 stage wins out of 21 despite making up over half of the peloton at the start, while other countries saw the rise of young talents full of promise.
UAE bookends the Tour in yellow
Five different riders wore the yellow jersey throughout the 2020 Tour de France, an atypical edition that rose in crescendo from a tumultuous start to a dramatic turnaround on the eve of the finish. Alexander Kristoff took the sprint in Nice at the end of a chaotic stage to become the first Norwegian rider to capture the golden fleece since Thor Hushovd in 2004, 2006 and 2011. However, it did not take long for Julian Alaphilippe to reclaim the jersey that had propelled him to national fame in 2019. Three days later, the Frenchman, who wrote himself off as a potential winner of the Tour, surrendered the coveted garment to Adam Yates after being slapped with a time penalty for a silly mistake. In hindsight, big favourite Primož Roglič may already regret his cautious approach to the yellow jersey, which he did not pull on until after stage 9 to Laruns. Despite failing to land a decisive blow, the Slovenian's game plan seemed devastatingly effective, as he slowly but steadily increased his overall lead over Tadej Pogačar (from 44 seconds on Puy Mary to 57 on Col de la Loze).
Pogačar connects the (polka) dots
No-one, not even Roglič, foresaw Tadej Pogačar's sensational ride in the time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles. The tour de force of the fellow from Komenda, combined with the sub-par performance of his older rival, put him in the pole position of the 107th Tour de France with an insurmountable lead of 59 seconds. Two days shy of his 22nd birthday, Pogačar also pulled on the white jersey after his only real rival in the youth classification, Egan Bernal, quit the race. Richard Carapaz, on the other hand, fought until the bitter end to take the polka-dot jersey after bumping long-time leader Benoit Cosnefroy from the lead in the king of the mountains classification, but the first Ecuadorian rider in the Tour also had to bend the knee to Pogačar in the end.
Bennett ends Sagan's saga
Tadej Pogačar made less of an impact on the points classification, finishing eighth after taking maximum points on three occasions. The big surprise in this race within a race was Peter Sagan's lacklustre performance in a competition that he seemed to have down to a science. Lacking the raw speed and inspiration of previous years, unable to grab a significant amount of points in medium-mountain stages and relegated in Poitiers as a result of an infraction that will provide fodder for debate for some time to come, the three-time world champion from Slovakia was forced to cede the stage to other pretenders. The peloton, like nature, abhors an empty space, so Sam Bennett pounced on the opportunity, going all in from the moment he first took the green jersey with a stage win on Île de Ré. The dogged Irishman was able to keep Sagan at bay all the way to Paris, where he followed in the footsteps of his famous mentor Sean Kelly to claim the finest win of his career so far on the Champs-Élysées.
Hirschi and a constellation of rising stars
Ireland positioned itself as a lean, green cycling machine after taking two stage wins and a distinctive jersey with just three riders in the race. However, even this performance pales in comparison with that of Slovenia, a country of two million people that claimed four stage wins and the top two places on the overall podium despite having just five riders at the start of the Tour in Nice. Other delegations also punched far above their demographic weight as the only Kazakh in the peloton, Alexey Lutsenko, and the sole Pole in the race, Michał Kwiatkowski, took home their maiden stage victories at the Tour. The men from Down Under, fielding a historically small contingent of two riders, also left their mark on the race: Caleb Ewan took the spoils twice, while 35-year-old Richie Porte finally cracked the podium of the Tour in his tenth start. Furthermore, a new generation stands out among the 10 new stage winners after stealing the show with riders such as Lennard Kämna and Dani Martínez, both 24 years old; to a lesser extent with Søren Kragh Andersen; and especially with 22-year-old Marc Hirschi, whose aggressive style and raw power earned him a stage win as well the most combative rider award. Switzerland can count on him to bring the country more days of glory in the years to come.