For much of its final week, there had been an air of predictability to the Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma had replaced Ineos Grenadiers as the dominant force of the peloton and set a climbing tempo to leave Primoz Roglic, a former ski jumper, on the brink of a first Tour victory.
But Roglic leaves Paris not even Slovenia’s best cyclist, after being upstaged on the penultimate stage by Tadej Pogacar, who turned 22 today and is the race’s youngest winner since 1904.
Trying to predict how next year’s Tour plays out is a virtual impossibility, but it has the makings of matching the epic nature of a race that looked in danger of never making it to the finish line.
As a second Covid-19 wave enveloped France, the Tour’s race director, Christian Prudhomme, aptly said it had been a victory in even getting to Paris.
Quite who wears yellow in the French capital in a year’s time is some debate. A year wiser and arguably with a stronger team around him, Pogacar will surely be in contention.
With an annual budget estimated at £40million and Chris Froome freeing up £5m of that by his departure, Ineos will be much stronger next year.
Mistakes will have been learned over Egan Bernal, the defending champion who was so out of sorts in this year’s race, but they ought to have a full armoury to wrest back the yellow 12 months on.
Geraint Thomas says he has unfinished business at the Tour, while Ineos are lining up Richie Porte, third this year, back to the team to offer the necessary experience and back-up.
Adam Yates, ninth on the Champs-Elysees, has joined, with Dani Martinez, one of the best younger riders in the peloton, also supposedly in talks.
But Ineos are also grooming an understudy in Tom Pidcock, one of the most heralded young Grand Tour riders, and, at 21, already earmarked as Britain’s lead rider at this week’s World Championships in Imola.
As team boss Sir Dave Brailsford put it: “It’s like a transition. We’re bringing in some experience and some new young talent and we’re building again.”
Despite being 30, Roglic is young in cycling terms, having taken up the sport in 2012, but cannot quite be discussed in the some breath as a seeming golden generation of young riders.
Pogacar, Bernal, Pidcock and Martinez aside, there are others: Wout van Aert, an able assistant to Roglic, another Jumbo-Visma rider in the American Sepp Kuss and Movistar’s Enric Mas.
Waiting in the wings is a rider Belgium is hoping can be the next Eddy Merckx, the 20-year-old Remco Evenepoel, who has yet to make his Tour debut.
Merckx, though, made the point he is unproven: “He talks a lot but he hasn’t shown anything yet. Let’s wait and see.”
Throw into the mix the older guard still aiming to prove a point and the 2021 Tour could go down as a classic.