The 2021 season has already been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with the start of the WorldTour calendar delayed while a number of other early season races have already been cancelled.
As Europe struggles to contain a further wave of the Covid-19 virus, countries are imposing various levels of restrictions in the hope of bringing an end to the pandemic this year.
But following the cancellation of the Tour Down Under and the postponement of other major races, when will the big-name riders be back in the peloton?
Étoille de Bessèges – February 3-7
The first of the French stage races this year, the men’s 2.1-ranked race Étoile de Bessèges will be the starting point for a number of WordTour teams and star riders.
Some of the biggest names down to start their seasons in this five-stage race include world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), along with the likes of Bauke Mollema and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
The race runs from February 3-7.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana – February 3-7
Starting on the same day as Étoile de Bességes, Spanish stage race the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana is another key starting point for a number of the men’s peloton.
This year’s 2.pro-ranked five-stage race is expected to feature Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
Also watch out for some of the best sprinters in this race, including Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe.
The race is still scheduled to go ahead from February 3-7, as the president of the Spanish cycling federation confirmed the event will continue.
Tour de la Provence – February 11-14
The second of the French stage races, running over four days, will once again feature some stars including Alaphilippe once again, Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal) and Fabio Aru racing in Qhubeka-Assos colours for the first time.
Vuelta Comunitat Valenciana Feminas – February 18-21
The first major women’s stage race on the calendar, this four-stage 2.1-ranked event will feature some world class talent including Annemiek van Vleuten who will make her Movistar debut and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
While the start list for this race is currently very sparse, this is likely to be a key starting point for some other huge talents in the women’s peloton.
UAE Tour – February 21-27
After the cancellation of the Tour Down Under, the UAE Tour is now the official start of the men’s WorldTour calendar with seven stages taking in each of the seven Emirates.
Since its inaugural edition in 2019, the UAE Tour has become a popular race for Grand Tour leaders and world class sprinters.
This year’s edition is set to feature Chris Froome making his debut for Israel Start-Up Nation, Fernando Gaviria and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) competing in their team’s home race, and Adam Yates racing in Ineos colours for the first time.
Last year’s UAE Tour was cut short due to the pandemic and the additional travel to the Middle East leave some concerns about the fate of this year’s edition, but the organisers appear confident the event will go ahead as planned.
Opening Weekend – February 27-28
For many people this is the official start of the cycling season, as the peloton head to Belgium for first of the spring Classics – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Expect to see all the usual competitors in this thrilling weekend of racing, with Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Van Vleuten already confirmed for the women’s Omloop, while Gilbert, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos) all expected to join the men’s peloton.