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Mathieu Van der Poel

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Reasonable people will agree that one data point is not conclusive, unless it is really off the charts. But that is exactly what the apologists do; they focus on single data points and explain them with the usual nonsense: a once-in-a-generation talent (all six of them), marginal gains, weak competition, the weather, and so forth. As if we are all idiots who have no awareness of those things and they are here to enlighten us.

All of these wiseguys ignore the context:

1. It's not an anomaly, it's a pattern. Whether it's about climbing times or average speeds, records are being broken left, right, and centre.

2. This increase in the level of performance did not happen gradually, it was an abrupt change that occurred around 2020. This is well-documented on this forum, for example here: https://forum.cyclingnews.com/threads/power-data-estimates-for-the-climbing-stages.8839/page-138

3. Along with the increase in speed, we also saw a remarkable change in the nature of performances:

- The era of specialisation is over; we suddenly see riders who excel at every kind of terrain and discipline, winning combinations of races that were previously thought to be practically impossible to win.

- These same riders also experience almost no changes in form; they are able to perform at an exceptional level the whole year around.

- They are able to do these things while riding a lot faster than the previous generation, breaking record after record.

- All of the elite riders excel at time trialling, regardless of body type. Races are now frequently won through incredible individual efforts.

4. Despite the large increase in the general standard of performance, we suddenly see extremely young riders, even teenagers, win major races.

5. All of this began to manifest itself at the exact same time.

Any proposed reason for what is happening must be able to explain all of those things.

As for the graphic, we can see that the average speed in fact gradually became less volatile. We can also see that it was stable from 2012 to 2019. There was no race in 2020, and in 2021 we had the first rainy edition in a long time, which suppressed the speed. The massive increase in the level of performance since 2020 should be obvious to anyone but the blind and cannot be explained by "marginal gains".

I am not discounting at all that its a pattern and we see a trend of extremely high race speeds. But I am surprised that "Moto Cancellara would finish OTL today" is seen as a serious argument that led to 3 pages of discussion. Yes, this edition had an avg. speed of 39 km/h only but not because Cancellara was not capable of more in any circumstances but obviously other factors as well. How else would you explain next year he did over 42km/h (and still lost to Vansummeren)? Or 2013 he did 44 km/h? Same Cancellara, right? So, thats just a weak argument by selectively picking data. Showing patterns and trends is a better way of making a point. Or conceptually - I also think climbing times make a way better comparison (still with weaknesses) than Paris - Roubaix, considering the enormous fluctuations.

Similar point actually for the Arenberg chicane - I read several posts like "wow, ridiculous speed and they even had a chicane". What do we credibly think, entering Arenberg with 30 km/h instead of 60 km/h costs riders in terms of time? 30s? If at all? So thats again a total non-event in terms of average speed.

The real argument should really be - we see record speeds in 90% of the races. Thats obviously suspicious and should raise eyebrows.
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Yes I think there are always odd outliers produced by race circumstances, tactics, weather conditions, so single data points and the odd warp-speed race alone can indicate whatever you want it to, it proves nothing. The problem is that the graph above isn't some sort of outlier or fluke, you plot the speed of pretty much every big classic and Grand Tour in the past 4 years and it will show the same thing.

If the increase in speeds were due to multiple marginal optimisations in technology, nutrition, training over many years then the data would look a bit more linear, things getting slowly faster. It is not change itself that gives it away but the rate of change, a massive noticeable spike in 2020 is hard to explain away with opaque references to more carbohydrates and 'these young lads being a different breed'. Sky won 7 Tours, Froome would be pack fodder on some of these climbs, are they now saying that everything they did in the 2010s was incorrect?

I always thought eventually with advancements that they could reach the level of Armstrong, but they already have done, the big red flag being waved is how much they are starting to look like Indurain, Pantani and the Gewiss-Ballan's of the world. No legal change in approach I know of can make anywhere near the difference like the unrestricted Erythropoietin and transfusion usage they had in the 90s.
Great analysis!