Pro cycling has returned from the COVID-19 shutdown, and the new compressed UCI schedule means that races are now occurring at new points in the calendar, with many races overlapping on the same day. This current week sees multiple professional road races occurring across Europe, from the BinckBank Tour, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the Low Countries, to the Giro d’Italia in Italy.

It’s a huge week of racing, with top stars of the hilly classics, cobblestones, and grand tours all doing battle. How will things shake out?

Here’s your helpful guide for the races going on this week.

 

BinckBank Tour

The Kapelmuur makes its return to the WorldTour peloton at the BinckBank Tour. Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

September 29 – October 3

Live coverage: Neither Flobikes nor NBC Sports Gold are carrying BinckBank Tour, so it’s up to you to track this one down on the pirate sites. Beware of viruses and pop-up advertisements for online gambling sites.

What to know: Ah, the BinckBank Tour, the often-overlooked — if punishingly difficult — stage race across the Benelux region known for bad weather, huge crashes, and cobblestone action in… August? Since 2005 this race (previously called Eneco Tour) has catered to cobblestone crushers, time trialists, and bunch sprinters alike, and its lineup of previous champions includes Tom Dumoulin, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Viatcheslav Ekimov. It’s a very hard race, with stages that regularly take in famous stretches of roads from the Flemish classics and hills from Amstel Gold Race. But it falls at such a strange time in the calendar that the action is often overlooked.

This year, the race’s new home on the calendar makes it a perfect lead-in for the upcoming Flemish classics. As such, some of the biggest names from the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix will sharpen their form before the battles on the pavé.

The route: Stage 1 (132.1km) is a mostly flat and zig-zagging odyssey through the crosswinds from the Flemish coast to the bunch sprint in Ardooie. Stage 2 (10.9km) is a short and flat ITT in Vlissingen that could decide the overall. Stage 3 (173km) is another sprint day, and stage 4 (196.1km) is a hilly affair in Amstel Gold Race country. Stage 5 finishes things off with a cobblestone kick in the teeth that includes four back-to-back ascents of the Kapelmuur and Bosberg before the finish in Geraardsbergen. Ouch.

Who to watch: Sorry cobblestone fans, there’s no Wout van Aert, Greg van Avermaet, or Peter Sagan. But Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale), Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) and Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) will be in attendance. Also, Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) is making his return to racing following his Tour de France injury, and Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren) will try to win a bunch kick. For North Americans, keep your eyes on Travis McCabe and Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), and Logan Owen (EF Pro Cycling).

La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

van der Breggen
Van der Breggen is the heavy favorite. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

September 30, 2020

Live coverage: NBC Sports Gold

What to know: The women’s peloton exits its double-whammy of the Giro Rosa/UCI World Championships and heads right back into a huge block of racing, with famed race La Flèche Wallonne kicking off classics season on its new date in September. The green, budding fields of early spring will be replaced by browning leaves. It will probably rain. The race will again conclude with the sprint to the top of the Mur de Huy, so set your alarm clock to sound with 15 minutes remaining in the race to see what you need to see.

The route: The 123-kilometer route takes in two ascents of the Mur de Huy, with the Côte de Chemin des Gueses again acting as a last-ditch springboard for doomed breakaways just 10km before the final push to the line.

Who to watch: Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) may someday teach a short course on how to win this race, as she is the five-time defending champion, and — let’s just call it what it is — the most successful rider, man or woman, in the event’s history. Alejandro Valverde has won it five times as well, but not in succession. Also keep an eye on Annemiek van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Unfortunately, there isn’t a detailed start list yet.

La Flèche Wallonne

Flèche in September. Yep, we know it’s weird… Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

September 30, 2020

Live coverage: NBC Sports Gold

What to know: This is a fantastic race to see in person, as it’s usually held on a sunny Wednesday in early spring, when the sun shines and the beer flows atop the Mur de Huy. Whether or not that ambiance translates to the fall is yet to be seen. Similar to the women’s event, La Flèche Wallonne boils down to a feat of strength on the Mur de Huy. Will it again this year? Probably — and that’s reason enough to watch. Should a breakaway rider win on the steep climb, well, that would be reason to anoint the 2020 season as the strangest in decades. This year the race has attracted a smattering of Tour de France GC riders, neopros, guys coming back from injury, and the usual strongmen of the Ardennes Classics.

The route: At 200 kilometers Flèche isn’t quite at Monument level, but these are 200 hard kilometers. The usual route includes three ascents of the Mur de Huy, with the Côte d’Ereffe and Côte du Chemin des Gueses acting as springboards for breakaway riders. Still, set your alarm to watch the battle up the Mur.

Who to watch: Two-time defending champ Julian Alaphilippe is not in attendance, but Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) is. This year is a fairly open race, with no odds-on favorite in attendance. Keep an eye on Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling), and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).

Giro d’Italia stages 1-2

But the Giro in October is even weirder! Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

October 3-4

Live coverage: Flobikes.com

What to know: The 2020 Giro kicks off on Saturday on the island of Sicily. Stage 1 is a 15km individual time trial into Palermo that will give us a glimpse of which GC stars are on form, and which ones are a few watts behind. Stage 2 on Sunday is a hilly affair that concludes with the punchy 3km climb to the Piaza Vittorio Emanuele in Agrigento that isn’t particularly steep.

The route: Sunday’s route is 149km and hilly, and the finish should produce some fireworks as puncheurs and GC men all try to win.

Who to watch: This year’s Giro is teeming with GC stars who were overlooked or injured for the Tour de France. Then, there are the GC stars who simply fit the Giro’s course better. Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) was deemed to be too slow for the Tour, while Steven Kruijswijk crashed and injured himself at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Jakob Fuglsang’s TT prowess made him a contender at this year’s Giro. Going down the line, we see Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), and others.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes

Watch for Annemiek van Vleuten to take flight on the climbs. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

October 4 

Live coverage: NBC Sports Gold

What to know: How will La Doyenne be raced differently in the fall? It’s the big question for the men’s and women’s edition of LBL, as the race again traces a hilly route across the Belgian Ardennes to finish in the industrial town in Belgium’s Wallonne region. La Flèche Wallonne will give us a glimpse of who is riding high ahead of Liège.

The route: The 124km route starts in Bastogne and finishes in downtown Liège after taking in a rapid succession of steep hills, among them the Côte de la Redoute, Côte de la Vecquee, and the often-decisive Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.

Who to watch: Defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is among the favorites, and how she recovers from her recent wrist surgery could decide the overall. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) is the favorite, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) among others to watch.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Jakob Fuglsang will not be in attendance this year. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

October 4

Live coverage: NBC Sports Gold

What to know: This year Liège goes up against the Giro d’Italia, so a host of pre-race favorites have had to choose one of the other. This includes defending champ Jakob Fuglsang, who is skipping the race to do the Giro. There are a few storylines to follow at this year’s edition, namely how the peloton will react to a hilly race of this length and difficulty at this odd point in the season. Also, whether or not Tour de France riders have an advantage over riders who have competed less is a story to watch.

The route: It’s long, at 257 km, and agonizingly difficult, with a profile through the Ardennes that looks like shark’s teeth.

Who to watch: Similar to Flèche, this year’s edition appears to be wide open. Wout Poels (Bahrain-McLaren), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) are ones to watch, alongside recently-crowned world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Decuninick–Quick-Step). Philippe Gilbert will have just completed the BinckBank Tour. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be in attendance as well. And at the moment, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is slated to race too.