It's easy to get caught up in personalities. We do all the time. With our loved ones and with our heroes, we admire what we call "good qualities" and deplore what we call cheating. We look up to Stuart O'Grady and throw darts at Ricardo Ricco. This is the way of the world, no?
But reality says otherwise. It says that the world of personalities, the world of the ego, is a myth. Now I'm not about to get into spirituality here but I am dabbling in sadistics in this post. Specifically I'm asking the question when do pro cyclists begin to decline in ability? Ultimately its true that regardless of how good a cyclist is, how hard they train, how much EPO they take, how smart they are, whatever- they start to lose their abilities, their stamina, and perhaps their interest in competing well enough to win.
But at what age does this happen? When does the body begin to give out, when does the mind get interested in other things? This is where sadistics comes into play because with 100+ years of records we can see riders improving, then declining: an arc in ability that mimics the arc that our lives take from birth to death. (Isn't that our ultimate interest in sports is anyway?) So below the fold I'll take you on a journey with the most accomplished names in cycling to see at what point we peak in ability that thus begin that inevitable decline.
There's many ways to find the peak year of cyclists but what I did here was look at the winners of the greatest cycling races held to dat: the winners of the three Grand Tours, the five Monuments, and for completeness, the winners of Paris-Tours. That's nine races, eight of which have had winners for about 1000 years now. 832 winners in fact, though of course the best riders of all won these events multiple times. Let's cut to the chase and get to the bottom line and then we'll look at interesting aberrations.
|Race||Winner's Avg. Age|
|Giro di Lombardia||26.90|
|Ronde van Vlaanderen||27.22|
|Tour de France||27.80|
|Vuelta a Espana||28.21|
Often one hears announcers saying how 30+ year olds are smarter or better in some way but the facts say that's not true. There are of course individuals that can win one of the Big Ones when they are 30+ but the odds are against them. Take Eddie Merckx. He won these races 30 times and only four times did he win after his 30th birthday: LBL when he was 30 and MSR at 30 and 31 and Flanders at 30. So averages are fine and all but lets take a closer look at the distribution of winners by age:
This bar graph is a bit hard to read. Realize that the tallest bar is 28 years old and contains not only the average but the median age. Once you se that you then see that older than 28 the numbers of winners drops faster than younger than 28. There's also a bit more of an extreme tail for the older winners. Let's pare this down a bit and just look at Grand Tour winners: