“The inches are all around us.” So goes Al Pacino’s famous speech from Any Given Sunday. “In every break of the game, every minute.” The inches, or the gains in bike racing - be they marginal or otherwise - are indeed all around us, and the search seemingly never stops to find those incremental differences between winning and losing.
Matthieu Van der Poel, Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock are undoubtedly exceptional talents who would be able to win at the top level, no matter what. But perhaps - after we’ve gained all the inches we can from sports scientists, aerodynamics and data - success on the road, in the 20s, comes down to simply bike racing, in as many different ways as possible.
Over the past two decades, racing less and training more has become the dominant ideology in pro teams. Training in the modern era was effective, quantifiable, and safe. If you don’t race you reduce the likelihood of crashing, and of getting sick; you reduce the fatigue from travel and any changes in diet, and avoid the mental strain of a competitive environment. Over time, we started to see the stars of the sport in action less and less as they hid away in hotels, high in the mountains, aggregating their gains.
In January of 2021, however, we watched the same riders who would dominate the Spring Classics, the Olympic Games (MTB and road), the Tour de France, the Vuelta and an October Paris - Roubaix, fight it out across a windswept Belgian beachfront at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships.