This year has been a tough one thanks to the global pandemic, but we were lucky enough to get all three of the Grand Tours after doubts they would go ahead at all in 2020.
This year saw three of the closest Grand Tours on record with the racing going right down to the wire in all of the three week long races around France, Italy and Spain.
Of course, Coronavirus did mean that they were not in their usual spots on the calendar with the Tour being the first of the three to happen in August/September, but that didn’t stop the racing from being extremely exciting.
But which of the three was the best in 2020? Well there’ll always be differences of opinion, but some of the Cycling Weekly team give their verdicts on why each of the respective Grand Tours stood above the rest this year.
Tour de France
The Tour de France kicked off the Grand Tour season in 2020, pushed back from it’s usual July slot, the 21 stages kicked off in August and headed into September and came with one of the most star-packed start lists in some time.
The race was controlled by Primož Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma for almost the entire race with fellow Slovenian, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) being the only rider to stay with him.
Defending champion, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), fell out of contention on stage 15 when he lost over seven minutes on the climb up to Grand Colombier.
It came down to stage 20 where Roglič held a 57 second lead over Pogačar with just an individual time trial between the Jumbo-Visma man and adding his name to the list of Tour winners.
What happened next was completely unexpected. Pogačar set off at a rapid speed and started eating into the gap between himself and Roglič. When they got to the final climb up the Planche des Belles Filles it was apparent that all was not well with Roglič.
Pogačar took the stage buy over a minute ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and almost two minutes to Roglič, putting Pogačar into yellow with just the procession around Paris to go, taking the overall by 59 seconds.
Why the Tour de France was the best – Jonny Long
Many would argue it was the blockbuster finale that ‘saved’ the Tour de France from being a Roglič-induced snore-fest, but scratch beneath the surface and the 2020 French Grand Tour was jam-packed with plot and intrigue.
The first post-pandemic Grand Tour meant everyone waited with bated breath to see if the riders even got off the start line, let alone leave the red zone of Nice. Then you had the combustion of Ineos Grenadiers, who finally came unstuck after their years of Tour dominance, while worries over the rest day coronavirus tests meant there were no easy days for any of the peloton.
In terms of the racing, the GC battle may have coughed and spluttered up until the Planche des Belles Filles time trial, but Alaphilippe’s attacking exploits set the race alight in the opening days, before cruelly losing it to Adam Yates. Then it was over to Marc Hirschi for the Hallmark Tour movie as he dug in and eventually came up with a stage win.
The cherry on top was Sam Bennett finally vanquishing Peter Sagan’s green jersey run, winning the Champs-Élysées victory to cap off the romance expected of the Grand Boucle.
Usually the opening GT of the season, the Giro d’Italia was pushed back to September and October and, going into the race, we had two stand-out favourites of Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
Thomas’ second attempt to try and win the pink jersey ended in a similar fashion to the first attempt on stage three where the Welshman hit a loose bidon, throwing the race wide open. Yates left the race a few days later after losing several minutes, testing positive for Covid-19.
Stepping up to the plate first was João Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) who held the lead of the race from stage three up until the dramatic day on the Stelvio during stage 18 where he fell out of contention.
Three riders showed that they were by far the strongest on the high mountains with Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) being the first of the three going into the lead. He was already losing time to the other two though, team-mate Jai Hindley and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), who was meant to be the last man for Thomas.
Stage 18 was the first show of Geoghegan Hart’s intent as his main domestique, Rohan Dennis, obliterated the race.
Two days later saw the same happen with Kelderman losing pink to Hindley as they headed to the final stage time trial in Milan with both Hindley and Geoghegan Hart on exactly the same time.
The time trial was tense but the situation was clear as the race went on that Geoghegan Hart would be taking his first Grand Tour by 39 seconds, becoming the second Brit after Chris Froome to win the Giro.
Ineos dominated the race even without Thomas, taking the overall and seven stages with Geoghegan Hart taking two, Filippo Ganna getting four and Jhonatán Narvaez taking one.
Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare was untouchable in the sprints, taking four stages and the points jersey.
Why the Giro d’Italia was the best – Alex Ballinger
On the eve of the race, the Giro d’Italia looked like the most exciting Grand Tour of the year.
With an in-form Geraint Thomas going up against an equally strong Simon Yates, Steven Kruijswijk in a sole leadership position and Vincenzo Nibali always a threat, the start list prompted a lot of excitement for me.
But as the race unfolded, the contenders started to fall like dominoes, with Thomas pulling out with injury while Kruisjwijk and Yates withdrew due to coronavirus. In truth the middle week of the race failed to inspire me and I worried the 2020 Giro might become an entirely forgettable three weeks.
As the race continued however, the memorable moments piled up – Filippo Ganna emerged as the most exciting time triallist in the world, Ineos Grenadiers swept up the stages, Alex Dowsett secured his future with a stage win, and Peter Sagan hit back in characteristic style after failing to win a race for more than a year.
But it was only in the final week the Giro d’Italia became a contender for the best Grand Tour of the year, as Tao Geoghegan Hart moved to within a second of the podium on stage 15.
The battle between Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley at Sunweb and Geoghegan Hart was a thrilling tale full of endless possibilities and we saw some almost unbelievable support performances from Rohan Dennis, who shaped the final result.
This all came to a dramatic conclusion in the stage 21 time trial in Milan, with Hindley and Geoghegan Hart tied on time in the closest final Giro stage in the race’s history, all resulting in Geoghegan Hart becoming the fifth Grand Tour winner in history.
For a British cycling fan, this all makes the Giro the best GT of 2020.
Vuelta a España
Last, but definitely not least, the Vuelta a España kicked off during the final week of the Giro and went on into November in a shortened, 18 stage-long race around northern Spain.
Several top names aimed for the GC with two stand-out names being Roglič and 2019 Giro winner, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).
The race was very climb focused after the stages in the Netherlands were cancelled due to the pandemic, so the race started with a summit finish in the Basque Country on the famous Arrate climb above Eibar, where Roglič showed his strength taking the stage and the red jersey.
The race was stable up to stage six, which was originally meant to go to the Tourmalet, but because of Covid rules the race was not allowed to enter France, so went to the summit finish of Aramón Formigal where some raincoat trouble meant that Roglič lost time and red to Carapaz.
The next summit finish came around and Roglič looked back on top, closing to just 13 seconds behind Carapaz, stealing back red just a few days later after taking a stage that was meant to be for the sprinters, taking the 10-second bonuses and a three-second gap.
This caused controversy as the organisers did not apply the three-second rule, with riders protesting ahead of the following stage.
The Angliru was where the lead changed yet again, with Carapaz retaking red, but it was Preston’s Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) who threw his arms in the air to take his biggest career victory
Roglič did kick back as the only time trial of the race came around, taking the stage and red which he then held all the way to Madrid despite a late final effort from Carapaz on the penultimate mountain stage.
Why the Vuelta a España was the best – Chris Marshall-Ball
The Vuelta may have been three stages shorter than the other two Grand Tours, but the Spanish race burst into action on day one when Primož Roglič claimed the red jersey straight away. The opening week proved full of mountain drama as the GC race began to form instantly, with big names like Chris Froome and Thibaut Pinot falling away, and emerging stars like Hugh Carthy showing their force.
Roglič’s hopes of holding red all the way to Madrid weren’t quite straightforward in the final 10 days with Richard Carapaz proving to be the best in the mountains, shown with his valiant effort on the penultimate stage. But ultimately, Roglič’s time trialling ability powered him to victory. No other Grand Tour was full of drama from the first to the last second like the Vuelta.