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Some Country for Old Men

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There is an item in today's Cycling News following the Columbia boys on their training camp, where George Hincapie serves notice that he intends once again to try to win Paris-Roubaix. Hincapie is 35 now, but thanks to Ursula's research we aren't restricted to admiring his pluck. If you are a Hincapie fan, you can still legitimately ask yourself if this is finally the year. On the flip...

Paris-Roubaix is not unfriendly to older riders. A brief rundown of the winners' ages in the modern era, and since I too can do a little math, I will employ some addition and long division to prove my point. To wit!

  • 1980: Francesco Moser, 29
  • 1981: Bernard Hinault, 27
  • 1982: Jan Raas, 29
  • 1983: Hennie Kuiper, 34
  • 1984: Sean Kelly, 27
  • 1985: Marc Madiot, 26
  • 1986: Sean Kelly, 29
  • 1987: Eric Vanderaerden, 25
  • 1988: Dirk Demol, 27
  • 1989: Jean-Marie Wampers, 30
  • 1990: Eddie Planckaert, 31
  • 1991: Marc Madiot, 32
  • 1992: Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, 37
  • 1993: Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, 38
  • 1994: Andrei Tchmil, 31
  • 1995: Franco Ballerini, 30
  • 1996: Johan Museeuw, 30
  • 1997: Frédéric Guesdon, 25
  • 1998: Franco Ballerini, 33
  • 1999: Andrea Tafi, 32
  • 2000: Johan Museeuw, 34
  • 2001: Servais Knaven, 30
  • 2002: Johan Museeuw, 36
  • 2003: Peter Van Petegem, 33
  • 2004: Magnus Backstedt, 29
  • 2005: Tom Boonen, 24
  • 2006: Fabian Cancellara, 25
  • 2007: Stuart O'Grady, 33
  • 2008: Tom Boonen, 27

The table shows the following age range, and number of wins: 

  • 24: 1
  • 25: 3
  • 26: 1 
  • 27: 4
  • 28: 0
  • 29: 4
  • 30: 4
  • 31: 2
  • 32: 2
  • 33: 3
  • 34: 2
  • 35: 0
  • 36: 1
  • 37: 1
  • 38: 1

Average age: 30.1

By contrast, the average age of Tour of Flanders winners in the same time span is 27.3. As for the margins, while Paris- Roubaix sports a ratio of winners over 34::winners under 25 of 7::1, for Flanders the ratio is 1::5.

Reasons? I am not merely guessing that Flanders reflects the norm, I can simply look at the headline of the next post and know this is so. Paris-Roubaix is the outlier. Why? For starters, it favors a unique body type -- larger guys -- which is something you don't lose over time, at least not before the golden years. Draft horses are a small subset of the peloton, and only slightly larger is the full slate of potentialCobble Trophy winners. In other words, the sample size is easily skewed. Another is experience: it's simply too strange a race to win until you have ridden it a few times. New training techniques could be a factor, though the winners' ages aren't going up much. Older riders have been winning there throughout the last 30 years.

So don't give up George. Flanders may be slipping away, but Roubaix isn't quite yet.