What's up with harder racing?

Thomas DeGent and Vincenzo Nibali both said their power numbers are better than ever yet they still have been left in the dust by the rest of the peleton.

Is that something we should be concerned about? If so, how much should we be concerned about it?

Have they actually given numbers and some proper evidence instead of just speculation?

To me it sounds like 2 riders in their mid to late 30’s trying to come to terms with the fact that their careers are winding down.

Someone did tell me that the younger riders took training during Covid and it’s restrictions a lot more seriously than the older riders. Younger riders are happy to train on the turbo which some older riders still turn their nose up at. Not sure how much truth is in that though.

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We hear a lot about how older riders in the peloton are seeing a change in how talented the younger generation is (and also how the respect for the older riders is a thing of the past).

A couple things come to mind that have been brought up to me by riders in the pro peloton:

  • the peloton is deeper in talent than ever before. That makes the racing a lot harder.
  • These young riders aren’t subscribing to old school training methods. It’s more precise, more specialised, and all based on the numbers now.

Caley did a really interesting interview with Tadej Pogacar’s coach, Iñigo San Milan that discusses why these younger riders are so good these days:

CyclingTips Podcast: Worlds wins and Pogacar's coach

To summarise part of this discussion on the podcast (cut/paste from a newsletter on this topic that we did):

1. Advanced testing, better science and talent identification. As Íñigo says, they discovered Pogacar’s lactate clearance capacity was outstanding when he was first tested a few years ago. Identifying this was the first step in being able to train him effectively by knowing his underlying strengths.

2. Monitoring. Nowadays we have the tools to be able to monitor training load after every single ride and check in with the athlete every day to see how they are doing. Simple advances in communication tools, as well as tools like Training Peaks and Today’s Plan, make this possible.

Also, checking parameters with biomarkers (from blood tests) is now possible from block to block. The days of the coach checking in once a month and trusting what the athlete is doing are long gone. This means that driving an athlete into the ground with training and racing can largely be avoided, and the longevity of their careers can be extended.

3. Equipment. It’s tough to see the gains from a bike, clothing, wheels etc. in each iteration, but after 15 years there are enormous advantages that help these athletes ride up climbs as fast as a rocket-fuelled peloton from back in the '90s/2000s. Try riding up your favourite climb with a 20-year-old bike and see if you set a PB. It’s not going to happen.

4. Altitude training. This is common practice now for almost every single rider and it makes an enormous difference to performance.

5. Nutrition. Thinking in this space has advanced tremendously in the past decade. For example only 12-13 years ago carbohydrates guidelines were such that athletes used 30-50 g of carbohydrates per hour. Now common practice is 90 g per hour.

Skeptics will say there’s a sixth reason which we don’t need to get into (i.e. doping), and there are definitely reasons why older riders may have performed better by virtue of taking years to work their way into ‘the program’. But I can confidently say we’re seeing a cleaner peloton now than ever in the history of the sport and it’s an exciting time to see these young riders change the game so dramatically.

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Something has to be said for GPS + power meters and their effect on the sport.

The obvious point here is one Wade made, as a pro it you can’t slack off in training without it being noticed. There’s no more showing up to a race under trained without the team knowing.

The other point I have thought about more and more over the last few years is the impact of power and associated training methodologies on riders who have literally grown up with far more democratic access to power meters as well as more enlightened evidence based coaching philosophies.

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For whatever reason DeGent and Nibali are powering more but getting less out of it (and whether this is actually verified by stats, in terms of claimed power output) I can’t in any way understand the basic question the OP posed–how or in what way would anything to do with DeGent and Nibali have to do with any of us readers, here, in any way shape or form, much less be cause for any concern whatsoever?

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Is it simply that everybody is just getting so much more power through training and other legal factors, or is that a sign of potential doping?

I want to believe the former, but I’m curious how much confidence there should be in that assessment.

I think it’s safe to assume that teams and individuals will always rub up to the edges of what is allowable, technically, ‘nutritionally’ and so on - marginal gains and all that. The Danes and their kinesio tape being exhibit one. (And that’s in every sport.) The following is opinion only - systematic doping as in previous years - unlikely. Individuals - yep and we know that from the positives.
Improved talent id, improved equipment, improved sports science all have to play a key part.
But getting back to the initial question - is the racing harder? Is it? Has increased globalisation of the sport simply expanded the talent base and thus put more contenders into the picture?

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Just look across the spectrum of other sports the around the world. The younger generation are faster, stronger, and better trained in just about any discipline. Even in non-athletic, everyday life, as a generation people are smoking less, are better informed about nutrition, and have access to better foods and workout information.

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Pleb -

In the current “woke” world, we could almost assume that if in 1965 when Gatorade was “invented” other competitors would have considered it a PED. Things that were a-ok in 1991 (When I had a pro card) are absolutely banned today. However, seems so many love to confuse Vo2 Max with this whole claim of “Exercise induced asthma”. They then go around with an inhaler (TUE?) and off they run… In the end, it is all just evolution (to a point).

We have all seen the poster of TdF where the cyclists had cigarettes to “open the lungs”…now, instead of cigarettes we have power meters, real time blood analysis, and instant comparators to other efforts…and yes, folks are getting faster. Is it nature or is it science…that depends on perspective - and how woke you are.