2019 might be behind us but it will live in our memory for a long time. There have been some memorable performances: Amstel Gold, in the heat of the moment, was hailed as the greatest finish of any race in the history of cycling (that accolade will weaken but there's no doubt that Mathieu Van der Poel's chase and subsequent sprint to the line was the type of finish us fans dream of); Gilbert's Paris-Roubaix win elevated him to greatness, being one of the few riders to have won 4 different monuments; Annemiek Van Vleuten made history by winning the World title with one of the longest attacks ever, over 100 kms; Julian Alaphilippe made us dream at the Tour de France, while Thibaut Pinot made us cry; Marianne Vos was back to her (almost) unbeatable self. Primož Roglič won almost every stage race he entered; Egan Bernal became one of the youngest Grand Tour winners.
Most of all 2019 was the Year of the Young:
Pogačar, Van Aert, Bernal, Pedersen, Van der Poel, Higuita, Evenepoel, Mas, Gaudu, Sivakov, Asgreen, Jakobsen, Ciccone in the Men's; Wiebes, Klein, Dygert, Kopecky, Balsamo, Vollering, Ludwig, Paternoster, Barnes in the Women's. And these are just some of the most successful, there were many more. Young riders coming up to pro level train with more data than previous generations, are more focused and their tactics turn the traditional ways on its head. They're also helped by the recent introduction of reduced team numbers, with fewer domestiques to do the dirty work for their leaders. Nobody can predict the future of a rider as too many have failed to maintain that level of success after becoming pros, but these riders seem solid in their outlook. We'll soon find out.
We also had some notable retirements with Kittel, Hayman, Renshaw, Bennati, Špilak, Monfort, Phinney, Ten Dam, Blythe, Cummings, Kennaugh in the Men's and Guarnier in the Women's.
If we get the same panache and spectacle of 2019, women's cycling is bound to grow its audience and fan base even more. An improvement on the broadcasting side would help immensely and so would equality in prize money, better wages, longer courses. The televised exposure would raise the level of interest, raising revenues and sponsorship, thus injecting more money into the sport. But already we have a disappointment at the Tokyo Olympics with a ridiculously small number of athletes allocated for the Women's Road Race.
There are signs of improvement elsewhere, as 2020 sees the launch of World Tour teams, with 8 of them:
Alé BTC Ljubljana;
CCC – Liv;
FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope;
Movistar Team Women;
It's not perfect, there are pitfalls in this setup but some would argue it has to start somewhere.
Van Vleuten doesn't look like she will slow down any time soon; Marianne Vos and Van der Breggen will have to face the challenge from the younger women who are bursting onto the scene.
The Men's World Tour expands to 19 teams and sees the departure of Katusha and the inclusions of Israel Start-Up Nation and Cofidis. Team Ineos and Jumbo Visma have impressive riders for the Grand Tours, and the other teams will have to concoct ways to stop their domination.
As expected, big names played musical chairs since the summer and have swapped teams in order to find a good fit or an excuse for not having performed so well in 2019. For some it will work, for others it might be the final blow to their careers: Froome might not be ready for a successful comeback, Cavendish is on his last chance saloon, Landa has one more chance to prove he's a worthy leader. Nibali and Porte will want to convince us that not all is lost. Sagan perhaps will show that 2019 was just a blip in performance (given his record from previous seasons), if his head is in the right place.
Some major and minor changes to the races will enable an element of surprise, often resulting in unexpected results. We'll probably see a modified finale for Milano-Sanremo as yet more threats of landslides have temporarily put the Poggio climb out of reach. And if the rumours are right, we'll lose the Muur van Geraardsbergen once again at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
But every year is different and unforeseeable.
Weather, terrain, crashes, distracted fans, dogs, mechanicals, illness, hitting form at the right time... too many factors make this sport unpredictable, but one thing is for certain: fans all over the world, whether they are at the races, in front of the television, dishing expertise on social media, are excited and ready to cheer their idols, curse the weather, exchange stats and argue over the smallest detail. It's a sport full of passion and dedication. We are all counting down to the start of the season, and where that falls exactly is different for everyone: Tour Down Under? Omloop? Strade Bianche? Whichever it is for each of you, let's all welcome 2020 and wish the best of luck to everyone!