• (L to R) Remco Evenepoel, Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogacar and Pavel Sivakov (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
There's been a domination at the top of the Grand Tour scene for years now, but a new generation is coming, as Jamie Finch-Penninger writes.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

20 Aug 2020 - 7:53 AM  UPDATED 20 Aug 2020 - 9:39 AM

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"History doesn't move in a straight line. It zigs and zags. Sometimes goes forward, sometimes moves back. Sideways."

Former US President Obama's reaction to the election of his successor, President Donald Trump noted the disparity between the progressive, liberal surge that carried him into the White House for eight years and the reactionary conservative response of the Trump election.

Cycling can sometimes mimic that predictable politcal procession as the inexorable mountain train of the strongest team in the race grinds its way towards the summit and yet another win for its leader.

Team Sky, now INEOS, soon to be INEOS Grenadiers, was at the heart of that progression to a more numbers-oriented peloton, a technocratic revolution in cycling training and racing. 

That has been their way at the Tour de France, with victories for Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas for the five of the past seven Tours.

But they were both dropped from INEOS' 2020 Tour de France team, not unceremoniously, with at least the promise of riding the Vuelta a Espana and the Giro d'Italia in leadership roles. 

No sentiment shown as Froome, Thomas left off INEOS' Tour de France team
INEOS have chosen strength over sentiment for the Tour de France leaving four-time champion Chris Froome and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas off the team.

The old will always get old and be replaced by younger, better riders.

The unstoppable reign of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome throughout the most recent period of grand tours, both taking seven overall wins over their careers (I'm sure Contador will claim he has nine victories if you asked him), that must end at some point. 

I'm not yet writing off Froome. Who would have thought he'd return to anywhere near professional cycling given the life-threatening injuries he sustained in his crash during an ITT recon ride at last year's Dauphine.

He'll be a force again.

Rather, this is to herald the generation of riders who will replace the likes of Thomas and Froome. The news is good as the cycling world has a new crop of truly great youngsters. 

We've seen this impressive rise of improbably young riders in recent years, with Egan Bernal, Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogačar and Pavel Sivakov all winning major races. Bernal is the oldest of these at 23. 

Bernal (INEOS) became the youngest winner of the Tour de France since the 1904 edition with his victory last season. The Colombian is the consummate professional, conducts himself with a calm manner and climbs like a demon.

Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), 20, has swept all before him this season, winning all four stage races he's competed in this year before his horrific crash at Il Lombardia. He's so good it's hard to fathom really, straight out of juniors into the professional ranks, and he wins in the same dominant fashion at times as he did in the juniors.

Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), 21, is the wild card, on a lesser squad in UAE Team Emirates, but is always fighting for top results, including third overall in his debut grand tour, the 2019 Vuelta a Espana. He is ultra-competitive, never just sits in and settles for a lesser result when he can take the win. He's reminiscent of Alberto Contador in that regard, even when the Spaniard was past his best, he wouldn't settle for a minor GC position, he'd go all out with long-range attacks to go for the win.

Sivakov (INEOS), 23, is perhaps the least credentialled, with 'only' wins overall at the Tour of Poland and the Tour of the Alps to go with ninth on the general classification at the Giro d'Italia.

But he's arguably the rider most important to this ejection of Froome and Thomas.

The INEOS mountain training camps are things of near legend, the foundation they have built a winning team on for years. In the absence of Bernal, 2020 saw Sivakov outclimb Froome and Thomas at the camp, and subsequent races prove a new pecking order has emerged within the premier grand tour setup.  

For what it's worth, I think Australia has a few young guns we could be talking about as grand tour contenders, with Jack Haig and Lucas Hamilton the top riders in that conversation. However, they haven't yet showed they deserve the same billing as the other young stars of the sport. 

We won't see Evenepoel on the road for a while after his sickening crash, but we'll be lucky enough to see Bernal, Sivakov and Pogačar in action at this year's Tour. 

Evenepoel suffers horror crash off bridge at Il Lombardia
The Giro Il Lombardia was raced under a cloud after a horrific crash for Belgian star Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) while at the front of the race.
Evenepoel claims maiden professional win at 19
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) confirmed his prodigious talent, winning his first Tour in the professional ranks at the Baloise Belgium Tour.

They're not the only three favourites by any stretch of the imagination and if history tells us much, it's possible the unexpected will interrupt the seemingly inevitable narrative.

In 2020, a year that has thrown plenty of curveballs at the world, we've witnessed a cycling season delayed, Tour de France champions left out, and just last weekend Daniel Martinez, 24, triumph at a tumultuous edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Plenty will point at the wealth of other candidates focusing on the Tour, pick your favourite from Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, Steven Kruijswijk, Richie Porte, Miguel Ángel López, Adam Yates, Mikel Landa, Emanuel Buchmann, Fabio Aru, Nairo Quintana or Thibaut Pinot. I'm not sure anyone would be surprised if one of those riders was on the top step in Paris.

The reality with cycling is that unless you are one of the greats, or even if you are, it is difficult to win more than one Grand Tour.

Right now Andy Schleck, Michele Scarponi, Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Horner, Fabio Aru, Tom Dumoulin, Simon Yates, Richard Carapaz and Primož Roglič all have a single grand tour win to their names (as of yet). 

The cadre of youngsters look like they will be the greats of the sport for years to come. Like Froome or Contador they will relegate other brilliant riders to the minor places, have them shrugging their shoulders and wondering 'what if'. 

It's hard to say if that domination is going to be in full force this year or next, or two years down the line, but it is coming. 

Maybe it's a zig or a zag this year with a Pinot or Roglič win but it's hard to deny brilliant talents of the likes of Bernal, Evenepoel, Sivakov and Pogačar.

They are the riders I will keenly watch at this year's Tour de France, not just for the future, but for the excitement they bring to the cycling world right now.