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The Demise of Generation 90

I read about the changing of the guard in some other topic and started thinking about what we perceived as one of the most talented generations in cycling for a long time: the riders born in 1990.
Flashback to the end of 2017 and you had Quintana podiuming his 6th GT and still looking like the best pure climber in the world, Sagan winning his 3rd straight WC, Dumoulin with his first (of many, we thought) GT and a WC ITT title, Kwiatkowski winning Sanremo and Strade Bianche, Bardet with consecutive podiums at the Tour and Fabio Aru wearing the yellow jersey for a few days and winning the tricolore in dominant fashion.

But where are they know?

Peter Sagan: hasn't looked like his dominant self for at least 2 years. Struggles to win GT stages, lacks speed in the sprints, has switched to PRT level.

Nairo Quintana: still shows flashes of incredible level going uphill but consistency has completely disappeared. Has been at PRT level since 2020. No GT podiums in his last 7 attempts after podiuming 6 of his first 9 GTs ridden.

Tom Dumoulin: a big crash in the 2019 Giro led to 3 seasons of injuries, mental struggles, mistakes, a team switch and a hiatus from the sport. Seems in a better place now, but who knows if he still has the potential to win a GT?

Michal Kwiatkowski: has been fairly anonymous for 3 years now (just one professional win since 2018, a TDF stage). His decline hasn't probably been as clear because he still gets some good results here and there, but we all thought he would win a lot more classics than he did.

Romain Bardet: another rider who hasn’t been particularly bad, but the promise he showed earlier in GTs has almost vanished. No GT podiums since 2017.

Fabio Aru: the most spectacular and sudden decline among the mentioned riders, and likely one the cycling history books will remember. Went from contesting GTs to not being able to follow the peloton in a flat stage. Once touted as the next big thing for Italian cycling, he retired at 31.

Michael Matthews: not sure he deserves to be included since I don’t believe he was ever in the same tier of the other riders, and he has actually been pretty consistent recently (although with just one pro win since 2019).

Thibaut Pinot: hurts to have him in this list, but his back issues and mental struggles have completely changed his career trajectory. Perhaps abandoning the Tour when in prime position to win it in 2019 was really too much to take.

Nacer Bouhanni: again, not at the same level of the other riders, but from 2013 to 2017 he had 5 consecutive seasons with at least 1000 points on PCS. Has then failed to clear 600 points in the following 4 years.

Esteban Chaves: podiumed both the Giro and the Vuelta in 2016, then the Epstein-Barr virus, some crashes, etc and we’re now happy if he wins a stage and finishes in the top20 of a GT. An Aru-like kind of decline but with more smiles along the way.


Of course, there’s one giant counter example here: Sonny Colbrelli, who went from being a very consistent .1 and .HC winner to one of the best classic riders in the world in 2021. But overall the demise of generation 90 can’t be denied. So what has happened? Too much pressure from the fans / media / peers? A new stronger generation emerged and took over? They just got old before we thought they would? Fame, money and success sapped their motivation?
 
I read about the changing of the guard in some other topic and started thinking about what we perceived as one of the most talented generations in cycling for a long time: the riders born in 1990.
Flashback to the end of 2017 and you had Quintana podiuming his 6th GT and still looking like the best pure climber in the world, Sagan winning his 3rd straight WC, Dumoulin with his first (of many, we thought) GT and a WC ITT title, Kwiatkowski winning Sanremo and Strade Bianche, Bardet with consecutive podiums at the Tour and Fabio Aru wearing the yellow jersey for a few days and winning the tricolore in dominant fashion.

But where are they know?

Peter Sagan: hasn't looked like his dominant self for at least 2 years. Struggles to win GT stages, lacks speed in the sprints, has switched to PRT level.

Nairo Quintana: still shows flashes of incredible level going uphill but consistency has completely disappeared. Has been at PRT level since 2020. No GT podiums in his last 7 attempts after podiuming 6 of his first 9 GTs ridden.

Tom Dumoulin: a big crash in the 2019 Giro led to 3 seasons of injuries, mental struggles, mistakes, a team switch and a hiatus from the sport. Seems in a better place now, but who knows if he still has the potential to win a GT?

Michal Kwiatkowski: has been fairly anonymous for 3 years now (just one professional win since 2018, a TDF stage). His decline hasn't probably been as clear because he still gets some good results here and there, but we all thought he would win a lot more classics than he did.

Romain Bardet: another rider who hasn’t been particularly bad, but the promise he showed earlier in GTs has almost vanished. No GT podiums since 2017.

Fabio Aru: the most spectacular and sudden decline among the mentioned riders, and likely one the cycling history books will remember. Went from contesting GTs to not being able to follow the peloton in a flat stage. Once touted as the next big thing for Italian cycling, he retired at 31.

Michael Matthews: not sure he deserves to be included since I don’t believe he was ever in the same tier of the other riders, and he has actually been pretty consistent recently (although with just one pro win since 2019).

Thibaut Pinot: hurts to have him in this list, but his back issues and mental struggles have completely changed his career trajectory. Perhaps abandoning the Tour when in prime position to win it in 2019 was really too much to take.

Nacer Bouhanni: again, not at the same level of the other riders, but from 2013 to 2017 he had 5 consecutive seasons with at least 1000 points on PCS. Has then failed to clear 600 points in the following 4 years.

Esteban Chaves: podiumed both the Giro and the Vuelta in 2016, then the Epstein-Barr virus, some crashes, etc and we’re now happy if he wins a stage and finishes in the top20 of a GT. An Aru-like kind of decline but with more smiles along the way.


Of course, there’s one giant counter example here: Sonny Colbrelli, who went from being a very consistent .1 and .HC winner to one of the best classic riders in the world in 2021. But overall the demise of generation 90 can’t be denied. So what has happened? Too much pressure from the fans / media / peers? A new stronger generation emerged and took over? They just got old before we thought they would? Fame, money and success sapped their motivation?
I think there are individual reasons for each of them, and you have already named them.

But overall I would say there are three factors for this "change of guard"/ demise of the "old" ones (which are younger than me):

- they have reached an age where the body physically simply declines, especially in terms of speed/ sprinting ability/ ability to rapidly accelerate, which has become more and more important in races (while pure endurance has become less important). Of course aging is individual, but I think there is very often a seriously significant decline around the 30st birthday

- often the evolving of talent/ coming up of new athletes happens in cycles in sports, because the established athletes kind of "block" the desire for new talent - let's say you have athlete A who is very successful and very much in his prime, everyone will want this athlete, they will throw money at him, adjust a team or surroundings or training to his needs etc.... and athlete B who is a very talented youngster with still many faults, changing results or despite the talent no real results for because his best position is blocked/ he's working for the athletes of generation A etc.... he is simply not needed that much. Than everyone realizes that athlete A is either declining or still in his prime but simply, age-wise, closer to declining, and they are looking for young super talented athletes, the next superstars, build them up, give them chances, watch them more closely, simply pay more attention to their development

- obviously injuries and health problems have played a huge role for most of the riders you mentioned

I don't think a lack of motivation is really relevant for the guys you named.
 
I obviously refuse to believe that these 31-year-old kids could possibly be old!

BlueRoads said:
I don't think a lack of motivation is really relevant for the guys you named.

Apart, perhaps, for Aru.
There was a column by Pinot in a French newspaper this week that made it sound like he wasn't (as) motivated anymore, since he had achieved most of his goals and because a lot of his frends and colleagues had retired by now.
 
Early peaks with wins but the grind to trying to win every year takes a toll mental & physical. Do we have examples of riders who have consistently won from 23-25 to 33-35?
Valverde, Gilbert, Boonen, Petacchi, Cipollini, Cancellara to name a few of the last two decades.
They are all legends of the sport of course.

With regard to 1990 generation good post indeed if you look at the post 2017 wins of these riders. And like mentioned a bit 'remarkable' to see how it can also be the other way around with Colbrelli that now became a winner also in bigger races which he was not capable of in earlier years. Greg Van Avermaet also had this transformation at a later stage of his career a couple of years back (going from top 7 finisher to winner).

What year of birth would have the most epic riders in history of cycling?
 
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Aug 16, 2021
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From the name, with exception of Sagan, Matthews, Aru, Kwiat and Chaves, it's mostly head game. Dumoulin, Pinot, Quintana does not have the right mentality to matched their talent. Bouhani is well...
 
Early peaks with wins but the grind to trying to win every year takes a toll mental & physical. Do we have examples of riders who have consistently won from 23-25 to 33-35?

There's a big group of them. The riders born between 1980-1985 are probably the most successful five year group of riders in the history of the sport. There are few left and fewer winning, but their dominance is the reason that the 1990 generation (and those of similar age) didn't really get a foothold and weren't reliable winners (Sagan apart). And now teams are looking at the new riders who didn't have to race that older group in their prime.

I think people underestimate what a talented group the 1980-1985 were. Just look at the names: Froome, Contador, Nibali, Valverde, Cancellara, Gilbert, Boonen, Cavendish. Between them they mostly locked up 2008-2018 with only Sagan joining them. And that's not including the likes of Wiggins, Schleck, Cunego and Greipel etc. who all won big too.
 
There's a big group of them. The riders born between 1980-1985 are probably the most successful five year group of riders in the history of the sport. There are few left and fewer winning, but their dominance is the reason that the 1990 generation (and those of similar age) didn't really get a foothold and weren't reliable winners (Sagan apart). And now teams are looking at the new riders who didn't have to race that older group in their prime.

I think people underestimate what a talented group the 1980-1985 were. Just look at the names: Froome, Contador, Nibali, Valverde, Cancellara, Gilbert, Boonen, Cavendish. Between them they mostly locked up 2008-2018 with only Sagan joining them. And that's not including the likes of Wiggins, Schleck, Cunego and Greipel etc. who all won big too.
Fuglsang too.
 
There's a big group of them. The riders born between 1980-1985 are probably the most successful five year group of riders in the history of the sport. There are few left and fewer winning, but their dominance is the reason that the 1990 generation (and those of similar age) didn't really get a foothold and weren't reliable winners (Sagan apart). And now teams are looking at the new riders who didn't have to race that older group in their prime.

I think people underestimate what a talented group the 1980-1985 were. Just look at the names: Froome, Contador, Nibali, Valverde, Cancellara, Gilbert, Boonen, Cavendish. Between them they mostly locked up 2008-2018 with only Sagan joining them. And that's not including the likes of Wiggins, Schleck, Cunego and Greipel etc. who all won big too.
I always knew those were the best years.
 
None of them is too old.

Motivation will play a part for some I'm sure. Not that they are taking it easy but maybe they are just not living 24/7 for their career anymore, as they did when they were younger. Most of them have made good money. As a multimillionaire who is set for life the drive to go out and train on a rainy cold day might just not be as high.
Also all of them had a good amount of success and while they could probably still replicate it they likely wont reach new highs. I mean Bardet might be able to achieve another GT podium but would he be able to win one? Sagan and Kwiatkowski could maybe get another rainbow jersey time or win another monument but they have done that before...

Then its wear and tear, most of them have a history of injuries, nagging issues, bad backs, knees etc... 23 year olds just dont have that as much.

Overal I would say that natural age related decline is somewhat overestimated, atheletes in their early 30ties usually have had already 10 years of a heavy duty pro-career and accumulated a lot of physical and mental fatigue that comes with it. If there were a lot of guys who got into pro cycling late (like e.g. Roglic) we would see a lot more succesful riders in their mid to late 30ties.
 
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Fuglsang too.

If you like. I didn't mention Tony Martin either.
This is a great group of riders that have almost passed and haven't been celebrated. Meanwhile some of the media are obsessed with 'new generation' which spans from Roglic (b.1989) to Pogacar (b.1998). Some have already gone back to ordinary (Hindley, Pedersen, TGH, Hindley etc). Only Pogacar, who may be the greatest athlete ever to sit on a bike, is a great. Van Aert (27), Van der Poel (26), and Alaphilippe (29) can still create their own generation, but I don't see it at GT level.
 
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