The wait is over. The 2024 WorldTour season is getting underway in Australia this week at the Tour Down Under, where the women’s peloton kicked things off on stage 1 on Friday, and the men’s race set to start on Tuesday. And as we ring new year of racing, we already have plenty on our mind.
There are a few overarching themes that will start to take shape as riders take on their first races of the season. In the stage races, we’ll all have the question of whether anyone is looking strong enough to challenge Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour in the back of our minds. We’re also set for another year of Van der Poel vs. Van Aert battles in spring one-day races. Oh yeah, and there’s also an addition to the slate of big events this season that only comes but once every four years.
Here are the big questions for the men’s peloton that we will be pondering throughout the months ahead, and stay tuned to Escape Collective for a rundown of the looming questions on the women’s side too.
What impact will the Paris Olympics have on the rest of the cycling season?
We already know some of the answers to this question, with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) making certain calendar choices around the desire to go for gold(s) in Paris, but other Olympic hopefuls will also be weighing their options throughout the first half of the season as the once-every-four-years target looms.
By all accounts, the road race will be a tough one that will favor riders who can handle some climbing. Anyone who fits that description will have already been thinking about how to structure their calendar, and they will continue to do so throughout the season, hoping to succeed Richard Carapaz as the Olympic champ. That will make things interesting at, for instance, the Tour of Flanders and the Ardennes Classics, events that are likely to have similar favorites to the Olympic road race. Hopefully we don’t see too many riders pulling out of races they might win just so that they can focus on their Olympic form. But in a crowded calendar, something’s got to give. We already know that Pogačar, who is targeting the Giro d’Italia and also riding the Tour, won’t be attempting a title defense at Flanders.
And then there are the Olympics themselves, with a hilly, urban road course that takes in some of Paris’ most iconic landmarks; it will be a spectacle like we haven’t seen in a long time. A two-time Tour de France winner – that would be Pogačar, the bronze medalist in Tokyo – is among the favorites to win the road title. Tom Pidcock and perhaps Mathieu van der Poel will be contenders in both the road race and the mountain bike event. Peter Sagan might even be there!
To sum it all up: The Olympics will be on everyone’s mind all season long, and when they finally arrive, there is every reason to believe that the peloton’s biggest names will put on a show in a place at the heart of bike racing history.
Will Ineos (finally) forge a new identity this year?
How do you classify the Ineos Grenaders in 2024? Are they still a great team? The rankings say they remain among the top squads in the peloton and they certainly have the budget to be, but big wins have been very hard to come by. The teams of the past few years have had a hell of a time trying to crawl out from under the shadow of the old Team Sky.
Now, as the 2024 season looms, the squad has undergone some behind-the-scenes re-tooling. Dave Brailsford is more and more involved with Ineos’ broader sports aims and less with the cycling team. Rod Ellingworth and Roger Hammond are out, while new CEO John Allert, performance director Scott Drawer, and director of racing Steve Cummings have moved up in the org chart.
Geraint Thomas showed last year at the Giro that he is still a rider to be reckoned with at age 37, but sooner or later this team will have to look to its younger members. There are some promising names there, but the most promising of them is probably Tom Pidcock, who is more of a one-day star at the moment, with real Monument potential, not to mention his Olympic résumé and potential for more gold medal glory in Paris. His continued rise as a Classics star could represent a shift in focus for the team that once dominated the three-week races, and they have the depth (Filippo Ganna has one-day potential too) to make waves there in the biggest Classics. Maybe that’s fine, but Ineos as a bona fide one-day powerhouse would mark an interesting change.
Then again, Pidcock has GC aspirations as well, and there are other Grand Tour specialists on this team too, including rising star Carlos Rodríguez and Egan Bernal (if he can somehow recapture his pre-injury form). Maybe one or more of them could develop into this team’s next Grand Tour contender, but at the moment, that seems like an uncertain proposition. When it comes to stage races, this squad seems pretty far removed from the team of five years ago. It will be interesting to see who, if any, of this team’s big names steps up in 2024 – and if no one does, what is the future of the Ineos Grenadiers?
Pogačar, Roglič, Evenepoel: Will anyone emerge as the top challenger to Jonas Vingegaard by the time the Tour rolls around?
This already felt like the question on the minds of most cycling fans after Jumbo-Visma’s dominant display last season, and that is even truer now that a certain Slovenian has announced that he will be racing the Giro this year and thus probably won’t be quite as fresh at the Tour.
With Vingegaard appearing to be on a whole ‘nother level right now in the hierarchy of yellow jersey contenders, we will spend the next five months picking apart the results of his rivals in an attempt to ponder whether anyone can beat him and his super-team.
There are obvious candidates here. Three, in fact, and the oddsmakers agree, with Vingegaard as current the Tour favorite, and then three challengers with the next shortest odds with a significant gap to everyone else.
Pogačar is definitely still one of those candidates, but with the Giro on his calendar, it’s tough to say what kind of shape he’ll be in at the Tour. In fact, Vingegaard may be just as worried about his former teammate Primož Roglič, who will now get another shot at undisputed Tour leadership at Bora–Hansgrohe. Roglič is started to get a little long in the tooth but he sure looked strong in his two Grand Tour appearances last year and Bora-Hansgrohe is going all-in on their new acquisition. And what about Soudal–Quick Step’s Remco Evenepoel? He was looking strong at the Giro d’Italia last year before COVID-19 knocked him out of the race.
In other words, this is like three questions (or more) in one, because each of those riders has questions to answer if they want to be seen as favorites to overhaul Vingegaard. We’ll be watching as they all do what they do in races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Itzulia Basque Country, and we might even overreact to whatever they do in those events, because that’s how it all works.
And, of course, we will also have our eyes peeled in the run-up to the Tour for any signs that a new challenger is entering the fray. Stay tuned.
Can Wout van Aert get the Monumental monkey off his back?
It feels cruel to question Van Aert’s credentials considering how spectacular he has been in his career, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore that he still “only” has the one Monument win at Milan-San Remo to his name when his lifelong rival Mathieu van der Poel now counts four Monuments (and a world road title) on his palmarès. Van Aert’s Jumbo–Visma was the powerhouse squad of the cobbled Classics in 2023, right up until they weren’t when it mattered most.
Again, maybe it’s overly critical to look on the team’s victory-laden spring campaign as anything but a success, but Van Aert was a favorite for San Remo, Flanders, and Roubaix and won none of them even with a very strong supporting cast around him. Roubaix and the puncture he suffered late in the race were especially heartbreaking.
Nonetheless, it’s not as if Van Aert’s window of opportunity is closing any time soon. He’s in his prime and there is every reason to believe that he (and Christophe Laporte) will continue to challenge for big wins. The question is whether the biggest wins will remain elusive.
Unfortunately, that may mean that any success the Belgian has in races like the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad or E3 may get overlooked as everyone is focused on what he’ll do on the Monumental stage, but that would make a Flanders or Roubaix win all the more cathartic – if he can pull it off.
Can Mark Cavendish surpass Eddy Merckx in Tour de France stage wins… and can Astana climb out from relegation danger zone?
If you follow bike racing, you’re almost certainly aware that Mark Cavendish is tied with Eddy Merckx for the career Tour de France stage wins record – and that he and his Astana team are all-in on getting that win this year. The team has revamped its leadout train to support the sprint star, and he should have seven or eight chances based on the route of next year’s race.
Races like the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico will give us a chance to see how Cavendish and his retooled support squad are doing in the early goings of the year, and as the season progresses, we will see how much rider and team can improve. As all of that happens, we will also be ordering and reordering the proverbial power rankings of the WorldTour sprint field. That’s what we do every year, of course, but this year, the stakes are as high as ever, with a long-lasting record hanging in the balance.
Then again, the stakes are high for Astana right now for other reasons too. The storied Kazakhstani squad, whose roster has included countless big names over the years, was the lowest-ranked team in the WorldTour last year. With relegation in play again at the end of 2025, they have this season and the next to right the ship. That makes Astana’s all-in-on-Cav strategy a high-risk one.
Even if Cavendish achieves his sprint goals and makes history at the Tour, it might not help the team’s ranking much, because results in one-day races and general classifications are so much more rewarding in that department than stage wins. In other words, the eyes of the cycling world will be focused on Cavendish in the sprints all season, but Astana will also be hoping that someone else will actually win some races. Cavendish was the team’s only winner of a WorldTour event in all of 2023, and besides him and Alexey Lutsenko, the team is short on heavy hitters. Can anyone else step up? Or can Cavendish carry the team on his own?
We’ll find out soon enough. There are plenty of WorldTour points on offer already at the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to come. Bring on the racing!
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