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Throwback Thursday: The ‘Class of 1990’ and the generation that marked a decade

So many big names were born in the same calendar year they became known as the 'Class of 1990,' and would win cycling's biggest races.

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Peter Sagan uncorked an attack in the critérium race ahead of the 2010 Santos Tour Down Under that served as the warning shot at the dawn of a new decade.

All the big guns were there, including Lance Armstrong in his ill-fated comeback tour, when a then-unknown rookie from Slovakia rode the entire peloton off his wheel. Everyone was wondering, who is this kid?

Well, soon enough, everyone found out.

A few weeks later, Sagan landed in Europe and promptly won two stages at Paris-Nice. The Sagan Era had begun.

Also read in Throwback Thursday:

In many ways, Sagan is the poster child of his generation, the famous “Class of 1990.”

So many big names were born that calendar year it’s almost uncanny. Tom Dumoulin, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, Taylor Phinney, and Thibaut Pinot are just a few, and the list goes on.

All of those riders would go on to dominate and set the tone for the ensuing decade.

Flash forward to 2022, and the “Class of 1990” is no longer the new kids on the block. Sagan turns 32 next week, and so will everyone else in this calendar year.

Are the likes of Sagan and Pinot finished? How much more do they have in their legs? Or will they follow the example of Alejandro Valverde, and race for another 10 years?

James Startt and Andrew Hood look back in this week’s Throwback Thursday.

Much was made of the “Class of 1990” — do you see them getting even better, or have they already topped out?

By the middle part of the decade, no one could stop Peter Sagan. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

James Startt: Well, it really depends on the rider. Dumoulin is far from over and if anything, his break last year has given him a chance to recharge his batteries and return to the sport with new freshness. I think he has many more races to win and it would be a real shame for him to simply ride support at Jumbo.

Also read: Tom Dumoulin not afraid to share in comeback

And I certainly do not believe that Sagan is over the hill — far from it. He is entering that age where he might have less pure speed, but still plenty of power. He is also entering a period where the smaller races inspire him less and he is only truly motivated by the world’s biggest races. I certainly don’t see why he cannot win another Roubaix or worlds title.

Bardet for me is very much the same rider that he always was. He is an opportunistic rider who must find opportunities on the spur of the moment in a race. That is where he has been most dangerous in the past and where he will continue to strike in the future. Where? You never know. Who would have expected him to finish second in Strade Bianche? But he did. And he will continue to have big rides when we don’t expect it.

The only rider I see as really fading is Quintana. I think his injuries of the past year or so do not bode well for him and I have a hard time seeing him finishing on the podium of the Tour again, so for me, he is clearly on the decline.

In his debut Tour de France, American Taylor Phinney took advantage of a race-long breakaway to claim the first polka-dot jersey of the 2017 Tour de France. (Tim De Waele / Getty Images)

Andrew Hood: Injuries, setbacks, and poor health inevitably take their toll on any professional cyclist. We’re already seeing that play out across this magical generation. Pinot is pestered by demons inside of his head and on his back. Quintana’s knees might be shot. Sagan is a pedal stroke short of the monster he once was.

For me, the biggest loss from the “Class of 1990” was Phinney. Much is made of the antics and personality of Sagan, but Phinney was (and is) a star on and off the bike. He had all the trappings of a major breakout star.

Also read: Taylor Phinney opens up about retirement

His backstory, his motor, and his engaging personality were enough to propel him into the mainstream. Of course, for that narrative, you need the results. And they would have come if it were not for the horrible crash at U.S. nationals in 2014 that cut him out at his prime.

Though their ages don’t bundle so succinctly into such headline-friendly efficiency, today’s generation of Pogačar, Pidcock, van Aert, and van der Poel assure that cycling is in good stead for at least a good part of the next decade.

It’s hard to say who will be the Valverde of the “Class of 1990,” but someone will ride well into a second decade in the pro ranks.

Nairo Quintana, shown here in 2014, seemed destined to become Colombia’s first Tour de France winner. (James Startt/VeloNews)

When did you realize that this group of riders was special?

Hood: Sagan was a splash right from the gun, but remember it took him a while to win a “big one.” Of course, that question annoyed him to no end, and he finally hit an incredible run of three-straight world titles, wins at Flanders and Roubaix, and an unprecedented run in green at the Tour.

For me, the most dramatic coming-out party of the “Class of 1990” was Quintana. No one had barely heard of him in his rookie season in 2012, but everyone certainly knew who he was by July.

Also read: Nairo Quintana still believes in the ‘yellow jersey dream’

That summer across France he achieved what the entire Colombian cycling nation had produced up to that point, winning a stage, finishing second on the final podium in Paris, and winning the best young rider and polka-dot jerseys.

Perhaps no rider had as much impact on his home nation as Quintana. He truly opened up the modern Colombian era that created a straight line to Colombia’s first yellow jersey with Egan Bernal in 2019.

Of course, Quintana desperately wanted to be that rider, but he won a Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España along the way in his trailblazing decade.

Tom Dumoulin, shown here in the 2018 Tour, continues to be a force in the peloton. (James Startt/VeloNews)

Startt: For each rider it was different. With Sagan, it was pretty much immediately. I mean when he won those two stages in Paris-Nice as a neo-pro in 2010 that was pretty telling.

And then there was that first Tour de France in 2012 where he won three very stages and the first green jersey. Heck, he even finished in the top-50 overall. He could just do anything it seemed.

By the time he won three world championships we had come to expect greatness from Peter. And he delivered.

With Quintana, it was definitely his first Tour in 2013 where he won the last stage in the mountains, the best climber jersey, and the white jersey awarded to the best young rider. That was more than promising.

As for Bardet, I would say it was in the 2016 Tour when he attacked and won that big mountain stage to Saint-Gervais to move fifth to second overall. That was just a huge ride.

Finally, for Dumoulin, that moment didn’t come until 2017 when he won the Giro and really showed that he was much, much more than a time trial specialist.