clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Redemption For the Ages

And a reminder that youth doesn’t always need to be served

106th Giro d’Italia 2023 - Stage 21 Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,

Father’s Day is a few weeks off in the U.S. but you wouldn’t have known it yesterday in Rome, where the celebrations at the conclusion of the 2023 Giro d’Italia featured kids and their dad seemingly all day long. Levom Roglič, the scion of overall winner Primož, hammed it up on the podium like the weight of past disappointments had been lifted from his shoulders, not Dad’s. More subdued was the reaction of Macsen Thomas, whose dad Geraint had finished second impressively, if also in disappointing fashion. Macs read the room, just like Levom did, and found the right note to strike. Given that we were in Italy and long-time resident Mark Cavendish won the final sprint, there were undoubtedly some Cavendishes running around, and as many other dads rolled home in time to embark on vacation, it was no doubt a family affair.

Wait, hang on... did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? Great food but no atmosphere!

Ahem. Anyway, something sorta interesting did just happen at the Giro d’Italia. What was billed as a potential coronation of youth pivoted rather decisively, and excessively if you’re a Tao Geoghegan Hart or Alexander Vlasov fan, toward an Old Guy procession. Those two left on consecutive days — Vlasov turning up ill after the first rest day and TGH crashing hard the next day — in the immediate wake of Remco Evenepoel’s withdrawal, and a few other young riders like Pavel Sivakov didn’t make it to the Dolomites phase either. João Almeida, the guy on the podium with no kid to show off, was left alone to represent the young guys/not-Dads, and he did a perfectly acceptable job of keeping Damiano Caruso (35 — another dad) and Thibaut Pinot (33) at bay.

Hey, why don’t skeletons fight each other? They don’t have the guts!!!

I don’t need to recap the basic facts wherein the maybe-past-prime Roglič narrowly denied Thomas the distinction of becoming the oldest rider (37) to win the Giro d’Italia. But I do want to point out that this entire Giro was more than just a redemption for the Slovenian’s recent disappointments. It was a table-flipping of the sport’s entire narrative! Suddenly, it wasn’t all about the Kids Taking Over. Suddenly it was about the old guys persevering through crashes, terrible conditions, and long, exhausting stages by sheer force of will and/or dad strength. This is a thing! And Cycling needs to respect it! Or else.

Did I tell you about how I used to work at a calendar factory but I got fired because I took a couple days off?

Look, worshipping youth is an even bigger phenomenon in sports than in the rest of humanity. We are often quick to dream on the potential greatness of athletes as soon as we catch a glimmer of it, even after years of watching this promise go undelivered at a rate of like 99%. I’ve been guilty of it for years as a cycling fan and in other sports as well. Even worse, the evolution of athletes’ power has sent salaries skyrocketing for the established guys. In sports like baseball or football, where you need a couple dozen contributors to win, the cost of acquiring a veteran player starts at generational wealth and climbs from there... which in turn means that inexpensive young players aren’t just fun to watch but essential to a team’s ability to compete.

57th Tirreno-Adriatico 2022 - Stage 5
Remco vs Tadej
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Cycling doesn’t have team salary limits and young riders can command pretty high salaries nowadays, if their power numbers and early palmares are exciting enough, but the dynamic is similar to ball sports anyway. Look how EF stretches their dollar every year. It works. So we prize young excellence for its practical effects on top of its essential nature. I probably have a couple dozen posts from 15 years ago talking about the Rabobank youth factory which I’m not proud of, but not embarrassed by either.

What’s remarkable about the last few years is that the young-greatness hit rate suddenly soared past the 1% mark we were used to, like a post-war currency exchange rate. Suddenly real greatness was staring at us from all corners of cycling, a veritable pack of hungry hyenas circling, ready to bring down and devour the power structure of the Froome-Sagan years. We have seen youngest winners of races like the Tour de France and the classic monuments since the days of Merckx, or Coppi, or Henri Cornet. [Youngest-ever records are hard to break!] I don’t really even need to say any of this... you all know the story already.

The other day I told my wife she should embrace her mistakes. She gave me a hug!

So the Giro’s celebration of non-youth feels notable, like maybe let’s not swing the pendulum too far in one direction. If the youth explosion is tied to more advanced training from a younger age, so too are guys like Thomas, on sophisticated teams, benefiting from training and diet and other marginal gains that keep riders at an elite level well past the conventional wisdom says we should consider their “prime.” I think part of why some of us have fallen out of the habit of respecting the older guys is down to training, where for much of the last 20 years the older guys came with closer ties to doping, and as they aged out we were either suspicious of continued results or relieved to see them fade away. I don’t think I am the only one who felt that way. But we are in another era now, and the older guys in the peloton came up after Operación Puerto and the line that was drawn in the sand then.

102nd Giro d’Italia 2019 - Stage 14
Fratelli vecchi
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Anyway, the Giro has been kind to older riders of late. We had quite a lot of winners over 30 in this century: Simoni, Savoldelli, Di Luca, Menchov, Basso, Scarponi, Hesjedal, Contador, Nibali and Froome, winning after their 31st birthday. We’ve seen Landa, Caruso and Nibali all take podium spots in more like their mid-30s, just in the last few years. Some of this is just the Giro’s place in the world as the second-best race that you can’t send your Tour de France guys to, so you can take those results with some salt. But then 36-year-old Thomas was third in the Tour just last year, and 35-year-old Richie Porte got on the podium in 2020, so maybe older riders are just really good sometimes.

Anyway, it’s fine to be happy for Roglič and his exuberant offspring. It’s nice to get happy stories for a guy who probably deserved one (it’s not like he’s never won anything, but yeah). It’s cool to see old BC Track-mates Thomas pulling for Cav down the Via dei Fori Imperiali and watch the Manx Missile throw his arms in the year. I’m happy for all those guys. But mostly I’m happy for all the dads out there, who can take this in and feel, oh, 5% less outmoded than we did the night before?

Why did the math book look so sad? Because it had too many problems!

106th Giro d’Italia 2023 - Stage 21 Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images