And you thought Egan Bernal was young when he was awarded the Tour’s final maillot jaune last year at the age of 22.
Pogačar stole the show and the yellow jersey in the penultimate time trial of this year’s race Saturday to set himself up to become the youngest Tour champion of the post-WWII era. The young Slovenian’s incredible 36-kilometer ride into cycling’s history books capped a Tour de France highlighted by youthful stars, including Neilson Powless, Sepp Kuss, Marc Hirschi, Daniel Martinez and Lennard Kämna.
Cycling’s generational shift has been evolving through recent seasons with the rise of Bernal and Pogačar in 2019 and the consistent tide of youthful faces stepping up to the WorldTour.
“For several years, we have observed a shift in the age of maturity,” Ag2r-La Mondiale performance director Jean-Baptiste Quiclet told AFP. “It’s clear and clean. Not so long ago, a standard career among professionals ranged between 24 and 34 years old. Now the range is more like 20-30 years. The standard is for rejuvenation.”
While Pogačar will seal the yellow, polka-dot and white jersey of best young rider in his debut Tour, not that far behind him is Spanish hopeful Enric Mas, who took fifth overall and claimed second in the youth category. The young Spaniard stepped up to lead Team Movistar in a year in which it was refocusing on youthful home talents after the exit of former leaders Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa at the start of the season.
Team Sunweb epitomises the generational shift on display at this year’s Tour and in the WorldTour as a whole. The German squad fielded the youngest team in the race, with its Tour eight averaging just over 26 years of age. Inexperience sure didn’t hold them back, as the team rode aggressively and intelligently throughout to take three stage wins via 22-year-old Marc Hirschi and 26-year-old Søren Kragh Andersen.
“We do not specifically recruit young people,” Sunweb boss Iwan Spekenbrink said. “But what we love are those who maintain a high level in the youth categories, a progression solid and linear.”
Like Movistar, Sunweb is also looking to develop young talents with an eye to the future as it faces the exit of elder GC leaders, with Wilco Kelderman leaving the team in 2021, and grand tour star Tom Dumoulin moving to Jumbo-Visma last winter.
The Tour de France has a history of young winners that went on to dominate their era, with Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi and Laurent Fignon all winning a grand tour before their 24th birthday. However, back then the success of youth was more of a rarity.
Quiclet pointed out that the development in technologies and training methods, along with the multiplication of development teams, has a large part to play in the youthful new face of cycling.
“Even they [junior riders] have technicians, training facilities, nutritionists,” points out the French coach.
Even weekend warriors are tech’d up to the max. If you go out on your local group ride in 2020 and don’t have a power meter and heart rate monitor, you’re off the back before you’ve even turned a pedal.
“Today the amateurs no longer have much to envy the pros thanks to increasing training methods,” said Cofidis coach Samuel Bellenoue. “They have all the info on the preparation for WorldTour level.”
Couple the advance in training science with what Quiclet called the “globalization of cycling,” and developing riders from across the globe can be discovered and trained up with the sophistication afforded to WorldTour riders. South America in particular has become a mine of young talent, with the likes of Bernal, Sergio Higuita, Daniel Martinez and Ivan Sosa all being scouted out by European agents at a young age.
Tour rookies Kuss and Powless both played starring roles at this year’s race. Coloradan rider Kuss marked himself as one of the best climbers and most valuable teammates in the peloton through his work for Primoz Roglic, while Powless made his way into countless breakaways through the three weeks of the Tour.
Together with the likes of Quinn Simmons and Ian Garrison, North America is quietly producing a new crop of young stars that will ensure it’s not all Europeans and South Americans dominating racing in years to come.
Oh, and did we mention Remco Evenepoel?
Before the 20-year-old’s dramatic crash at Il Lombardia last month, the Belgian wunderkind had dominated both the winter and summer racing blocks, and was targeting his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia. While Evenepoel is out of action for the rest of the season with a broken hip, he has time on his side, and could become a stage race rival to Pogačar and Bernal for years to come.
— AFP Contributed to this report