Ahead of Milan-San Remo tomorrow it is becoming clearer and clearer that the new wave of bike racers with cyclocross backgrounds has essentially ‘broken’ road cycling.
Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock have all won the rainbow bands at some point in their CX careers before moving over to the road, while reigning maillot jaune Tadej Pogačar was a national champion in the discipline.
Speaking on Eurosport's The Bradley Wiggins Show podcast, Sir Brad explained his perspective on the way road racing is going.
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"Two of the best riders in the world are from cyclocross, there’s another one on his way in Pidcock," Wiggins said on the podcast.
"There was a time when cyclocross riders didn’t really make that impact on the road scene. Now they can time trial, they can race. I never really did a CX race but it’s brutal, isn’t it? Races are run and being ridden like that now, so it seems to be suiting their style."
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What exactly do these cyclocross converts have that traditional road racers don’t? Eurosport commentator Adam Blythe explained it’s not so much that the CrossCrew® have bigger engines, it’s the way those engines are tuned.
"They’re going under threshold, then over it for a minute, it’s just constant on and off," Blythe said. "They’re making these two-to-three-minute flat-out efforts then dropping back down to their threshold."
This ability to put in huge efforts and then dip back to a sustainable level is a hallmark of cyclocross racing, as is the shorter, more intensive style of racing – typically with races no longer than an hour.
"It’s just one hour full gas, and being able to recover, the way that they do. It’s just incredible," said Blythe.
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While the ‘Team Sky era’ of racing was determined by the British team’s ability to sit at a high wattage, with riders who weighed just about as little as possible, and consistently do the same power for long periods of time – this new, emergent style of racing flips that on its head, Wiggins explained.
"Racing’s changed now," he said. "Riders aren’t as willing to sit and let teams put on a train and ride all day, these guys at Ineos train at threshold numbers all the time, over and under.
"This whole thing about getting super skinny and being super efficient at threshold, it’s not that it’s invalid, but you’ve got guys like [Julian] Alaphilippe that came close to winning a Tour.
"It’s almost like there’s no emphasis on weight and power and numbers, they just get out there and race."
Blythe added that the ebb and flow of form seems also to be a thing of the past.
"Now, we’re seeing riders at their best as soon as they come into racing," he noted. "Pogačar won his first race of the year. They never have these dips any more."
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Some parties have suggested that Van der Poel may see a downturn in his performance after his massive, stage-winning attack in Tirreno-Adriatico when he toes the line tomorrow at Milan-San Remo.
However young riders, Blythe suggested, are able to recover faster between racing days as well as between individual efforts.
"I don’t think Van der Poel will pay for it on Saturday, I think this is why young riders are good these days. They’re so young their bodies can recover at a click of a finger almost."
Old man Blythe went on to say: "When I was young they backed you off a bit, but when you think about it, bodies are younger, they’re able to recover quicker, they’re able to cope with a lot more stress."
Pidcock, Van der Poel and Van Aert are all in action in Milan-San Remo tomorrow live on Eurosport and the Eurosport Player.
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