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The peloton is changing. The 2015 season saw another wave of high-profile retirements. A few more of the big names who dominated the opening decade of the 2000s pulled the plug on their respective careers.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Ivan Basso (Tinkoff-Saxo) were among the top names to retire this season, but there were literally dozens of established pros who ended their racing careers.
And things could even be more dramatic in 2016. Such marquee riders as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), and Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) could all hang up the cleats next year.
The movement is part of an inevitable generational change that is helping to reshape the international peloton. Fewer and fewer riders tainted by links to the Armstrong era remain in the peloton, a process of rejuvenation and natural selection that is helping cycling irrevocably turn the page on its collective dirty past.
There are also economic factors behind the string of retirements. As salaries rise for the top stars — the elite of the peloton now earn $5 million a season — there is less money available for established pros in the middle of the pack that still demand a relatively high salary. Teams are also shrinking their team rosters ahead of likely UCI-level reforms set to be introduced in 2017, meaning there are two to four fewer places per team at the WorldTour level. Older riders are eventually squeezed out by younger, cheaper, and more ambitious riders.
That doesn’t mean that established riders don’t hold their value. In fact, riders are enjoying longer, more fruitful careers than ever before, but it’s often a question of finding the right team with the right needs. Riders such as Matteo Tossato (Tinkoff), 41, and Manuel Quinziato (BMC), 36, are among those still going strong. Davide Rebellin, 43, just signed up for one more season with CCC-Sprandi Polkowice.
Behind the stars
Behind the major names, there are dozens of riders who quietly stepped off the bike in 2015.
Among them were classics journeymen Gert Steegmans, 35, (Trek Factory Racing), who got blown into a ditch during 50 mph wind gusts during this year’s Gent-Wevelgem, and Nick Nuyens, 35, the winner of the 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), who couldn’t find a contract by January.
Kiwi veteran Hayden Roulston, 34, (Trek Factory Racing), who won an Olympic silver medal on the track at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Jerome Pineau (IAM Cycling), 35, also quietly walked away from the peloton.
Other riders who’ve been knocking around the peloton for years, including Jussi Veikkanen, 34, Sebastian Rosseler, 34, Kevin Hulsmans, 37, Giovanni Bernaudeau, 32, Anthony Geslin, 35, and Kasper Klostergaard, 32, all turned the page in their respective racing careers.
Another to fade away was Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), 34, a two-time world champion runner-up whose many podiums included an infamous second place at the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège that continues to be investigated by Belgian officials as a possible sell-off to Alexander Vinokourov.
Pablo Lastras (Movistar), 39, one of the most experienced in the Spanish peloton, simply could not manage to recover from a fractured pelvis and femur suffered at the Volta a Catalunya in March.
Luca Paolini (Katusha), who tested positive for cocaine during the Tour, could also be out of cycling, but there is no official announcement about his future.
The U.S. peloton also saw its fair share of attrition this season. Topping the list is Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), the only American winner of the Vuelta a España, who may end his pro racing career at year’s end. A pro since 1997, the 44-year-old enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic, winning about every major North American race as well as notching top wins in Europe, with the overall at the Vuelta al País Vasco in 2010 and the Vuelta in 2013. After 2014, he couldn’t find a spot with a top European team, and raced on the U.S. circuit this summer.
Ted King (Cannondale-Garmin), 32, also hung up his cleats after seven seasons at the WorldTour level. Ken Hanson (UnitedHealthcare) and Benjamin Jacques Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), two stalwarts on the domestic circuit, also retired. Fred Rodríguez, 42, who returned to the peloton in 2011 after retiring in 2007, packed it in as well. Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), 37, is facing an uncertain future after testing positive for synthetic testosterone this summer.
Top retirements in 2015
Cadel Evans, 38, BMC Racing
The versatile Evans rode into the sunset with his head held high, placing third overall at the Santos Tour Down Under before retiring for good at his namesake race in January. The former mountain biker did it all once he turned to the road in 2011, notching 30 pro wins, including the Tour de France, a world title, Flèche Wallonne, and a mix of stages and one-week stage races.
Best moment: With the yellow jersey on the line, Evans took the 2011 Tour by the scruff of the neck on the Col du Galibier, single-handedly leading the chase to Andy Schleck to the gap to under one minute. Evans rode into the history books two days later in the 41km time trial to become Australia’s first Tour de France winner.
What he’d like to forget: Evans sometimes cracked under the pressure, both on and off the bike. His victories in the 2009 world championships and 2011 Tour quieted critics about his racing acumen, but his sometimes-sophomoric spats with the media and rivals often made for awkward moments. (see the “no touché pas” video).
Heir apparent: Richie Porte has moved to BMC for 2016 to pick up the mantle for Australian hopes in the Tour.
Bradley Wiggins, 35, Team Sky
The legendary British rider isn’t quite done yet, with the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and his Wiggins road project still on the horizon. But Wiggo ended his elite road career with trademark panache in April taking a ride across the pavé at Paris-Roubaix.
Best moment: Wiggins’ highlight reel is full of legendary moments, both on the boards and on the tarmac. His crowning achievement was his near-perfect 2012 season, capped brilliantly by the UK’s first ever yellow jersey that was quickly backed up by the gold medal in the individual time trial in the 2012 London Olympics. Wiggins’ sweetest moment came as he sat in the “hot seat” at the TT worthy of his throne as king of the peloton that glorious summer.
What he’d like to forget: As brilliant and engaging as Wiggins could be, he didn’t tolerate fools. His angry outburst during a press conference in the 2012 Tour, when asked what he thought of online comments doubting the authenticity of his performances, revealed Wiggins’ inner burning anger. His long-running spat with Chris Froome that arced from 2011 to 2013 could have been handled with more deft and maturity, but it sure was fun to watch.
Heir apparent: It will be hard to replace someone with as much charisma, personality, and winning tendencies as Wiggins. Geraint Thomas and perhaps the Yates twins can step up in the coming years, but Wiggins is in the class of riders that are one-off.
Ivan Basso, 37, Tinkoff-Saxo
The Italian all-rounder flew too close to the sun early in his career and got burned. After his embarrassing links to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal, Basso returned to the peloton a changed man. Working with renowned trainer Aldo Sassi, Basso won the 2010 Giro d’Italia without the taint of scandal. Though he never won the Tour de France, Basso was Italy’s top ambassador during the transition out of the EPO era. He retired this year after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Early detection helped him quickly rebound, and he’s set to stay with Tinkoff-Saxo in 2016 as part of the technical staff.
Best moment: The 2010 Giro d’Italia looked to be riding away from him after David Arroyo escaped in the huge breakaway in Aquila to gain 12 minutes on the favorites. The fight for pink came down to stage 19, when Basso attacked over the Mortirolo to isolate Arroyo and secure the maglia rosa for good.
What he’d like to forget: His nine-minute plus victory in the 2006 Giro is almost laughable in the context of having the Puerto scandal erupt in Spain mid-race. Basso later took a very Clintonian excuse when he finally fessed up for working with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, saying he only intended to blood dope during the 2006 Giro.
Heir apparent: Italy has already found it. Vincenzo Nibali did what Basso never could, winning the yellow jersey for Italy’s first Tour winner since 1998. Fabio Aru, winner of this year’s Vuelta a España, is also poised for bigger and better things.
Alessandro Petacchi, 41, Southeast
Italy’s “gentleman sprinter” was once one of the most prodigious fastmen in the bunch. During his prolific career, he won 22 stages in the Giro d’Italia, 20 in the Vuelta, and eight in the Tour. Victories in Milano-Sanremo, Scheldeprijs, and Paris-Tours confirmed his classics skills. The only blight was missing out on a chance for the 2005 world title in Madrid.
Best moment: His 2005 win down the Via was sublime in the Italian sense of drama and ecstasy in victory, but he was unrivaled in the sprints the season before, winning a record nine stages in the Giro and four more in the Vuelta.
What he’d like to forget: A controversial ban for high levels of salbutamol took the wind out of his sails in 2008. Later in his career, he butted heads with Mark Cavendish that led to some ill-tempered spats.
Heir apparent: Italy is still looking for its next great sprinter to continue its long tradition of fast men in the bunch.