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Naesen foresees ‘two-speed peloton’ when racing resumes

Belgian rider thinks those training outdoors through spring will have the jump on those that have been stuck in coronavirus lockdowns.

Will the restarted 2020 season see a peloton racing at two speeds? Oliver Naesen thinks so.

The Ag2r-La Mondiale rider is one of many Belgians that have been training on the open roads through spring, banking big miles while rivals through Europe and South America have been stuck indoors as the world battles coronavirus. Riders in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK have also been enjoying the relative luxury of tires on tarmac since the season shut down this March.

And when racing starts, Naesen thinks this difference could split the field.

“We get cycling at two speeds,” Naesen told De Morgen this weekend. “I’m not saying that the Belgians and the Dutch are going to win all the races, but we do have an advantage over the Italians, French, and Spaniards.”

“When I lay still for two weeks in the fall, I think after the first training: I will never reach this level again,”  he continued, referring to his off-season downtime. “They have lost two months. Not allowed to come outside, do you know what that does to an athlete?”

Many of those locked down in France, Spain, Italy, Colombia and North America have been making the most of the likes of Zwift and BKOOL to keep the engines hot while in confinement, but several big names in the peloton such as Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan, and Thibaut Pinot have expressed their aversion to indoor training. In contrast, Naesen has been clocking up so many hours in the saddle since coronavirus closed down the season that he had to hide his Strava account to stem a tide of jealous criticism.

“They see on Strava how they only have 5,000 kilometers,” Naesen said of those stuck indoors. “Then they look at me: Oliver is already at 13,000. The idea that they will have to train against riders who can continue to train…”

Naesen was one of many Flandriens distraught to see the cancelation of the classics this spring, particularly given he felt he was coming in hot after strong performances at the ‘opening weekend’ of the classics. “It was easy to say that I was going to be good, but I was going to be good,” he said.

It’s not all bad news though. Not only will this year’s ‘fall classics’ see Naesen have a head start on his rivals that have been training inside, but the 29-year-old also believes himself to reach his best toward the end of the year.

“I really like it, because I usually have something in the tank at the end,” he said. “My type of rider will benefit most from it. ”

If there is a peloton at two speeds in this October’s classics, expect to see Naesen at terminal velocity.