On 1st August comes Strade Bianche. A breathless rattle across the white roads of Tuscany for a town square finish among the murmur and quaffed espresso of Siena. The first post-lockdown World Tour event of the re-jigged men’s pro cycling season.
LOVE that race!
A week later Milan-San Remo.
A week after that Il Lombardia.
Later in the autumn the Tour de France, the Giro and the Vuelta, Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. The controlled conservatism of the road racing calendar rent asunder and stuffed like a handful of sage and onion into the plump bird of late 2020.
And as if this time-crunched truncated season didn’t offer enough unpredictability our favourite riders emerge, blinking, from pandemic lockdown in who-knows-what condition.
There are the Zwifters, of course, with their watts per kilo, epic indoor efforts, and only hazy memories of how to go about steering a bicycle. We know how well (or otherwise) their avatars have been riding, but what happens when the 3D world is factored in?
Tarmac. Weather. Variables.
And what of the altitude trainers? Many months of thin air, blood thick with red cells, haemoglobin seeping from every orifice. Will they be sprightly supermen or sluggish pack-filler?
Some (Victor Campanaerts, I’m looking at you) have gone full lab rat.
Fact is, anyone who tries to predict the winner of a post-lockdown-corona-affected August edition of Strade Bianche is on a fools errand. Just grab a start list and stick a pin. Sure, you’d be pretty pleased to stab the name of Mathieu van der Poel, but the variables are more random than ever.
We haven’t even considered those whose form might be affected by the great universal lockdown problems. They leave home for a life on the road, hotel to hotel within a secure bio-bubble, torn loose from familiar pandemic routine.
What about the sourdough, for example?
There will be riders crippled with anxiety about leaving their carefully nurtured daily-fed starters to fend for themselves, like babies, in a dark corner of the familial pantry. Heading back to work like a new dad at the end of paternity leave.
This is the not the preparation of a big-race winner.
Not to mention the effects of having lunched their way through a loaf a day for the last few months; squeezing into box-fresh new kit will be challenge number one.
You want my advice?
Enjoy whatever bike racing we have as it comes.
To cram all this into three months seems wildly ambitious, and ambition is good. But a few positive tests (not unheard of in our favourite sport) and the whole house of cards might come crashing down like Richie Porte on a sketchy descent of Stage 9 of a Grand Tour.
And if you must make predictions, where appropriate, stick with van der Poel.
(Bottom Image: Claude Zipfel from Luxembourg / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0))