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.