The Fantastic Five

Something’s changed in pro cycling since 2020. For years the most prolific winners were always the sprinters, now five other riders, led by Tadej Pogačar, are taking the spoils.

Almost ever year this century the rider with the most wins at the end of the season was a sprinter, of sorts. The likes of Erik Zabel, Alessandro Petacchi, André Greipel, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish topped the tables. Philippe Gilbert broke this run when in 2011 he pipped Marcel Kittel by one win. Then in 2021 Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Wout van Aert jointly led with 13 wins each, and in 2022 Pogačar finished ahead of Remco Evenepoel. So far this season Pogačar leads with ten wins… ahead of Roglič.

Now this isn’t an absolute change, the sprinters haven’t stopped winning and the likes of Fabio Jakobsen are not far behind. It’s more while the sprinters remain consistent, five riders have risen up beyond them as regular, consistent winners: Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič. Among the five, Pogačar is the most prolific and regular is understating things.

Since turning professional in 2019, Pogačar has 236 days of racing and taken 56 wins. That’s a win rate of 24%. (NB it’s possible to have a win rate in excess of 100%. Win every stage in a stage race plus the overall and you can have more wins than race days but let’s go with this ratio as over time it still means Pogačar has won close to a quarter of the races he started). This is exceptional; especially in a sport where the field is typically 150-200 riders and includes terrain and tactics where others thrive.

In 2009 André Greipel’s win rate was 30% and his Colombia-HTC team mate Mark Cavendish got 27%, career peak rates for each. But take their best years and both average around 17-18%. Ordinarily brilliant but Pogačar’s changed the references here. He’s scoring like a sprinter in their prime, and he’s doing season after season.

Non-sprinters can score high. Alejandro Valverde’s win rate in 2017 was 30% but that’s for one year. He got off to a fine start but crashed hard in the Tour de France prologue and his season was over, so only 36 race days, so it’s part a statistical quirk from an abbreviated year. Had he won two stages of the Tour that year his win rate would have declined to about 20% given the extra 20 days of racing. Or crop Valverde’s stats down to best years of 2003-2019, then remove the time where he distracted and then suspended because his doping case, and we get a tweaked career win rate of 11%, solid by el Imbatible but less than half as efficient as the Slovenian prodigy. Now we can tweak stats but the point here is Valverde was prolific for his time but just wouldn’t rate today. Plus it can work in the other direction as Pogačar’s 24% rate includes a first season learning the ropes. Measure Pogačar between 2020 and today and his rate would be 28%.

“If I wanted to get shit small wins, I’d race shit small races”
– Mark Cavendish, April 2010

Cavendish’s dig at Greipel, then both colleagues and rivals, pointed out quality matters. No worry for Pogačar, as two thirds of his wins have come on the World Tour calendar. His win in the Jaén Paraiso this February was his only lowly 1.1 level win.

Pogačar is exceptional here but Van der Poel, Van Aert and Evenepoel are also dominant with a career win rate hovering around 19%, ahead of any sprinter. There are subtle differences in their career paths of course and their schedules, the “two vans” have taken some sprint wins. Van Aert turned pro in 2017 so his rate is sustained over a longer period. So the precise rate is anecdotal but all the same 18-19% is prolific.

Primož Roglič is worth mentioning too. He turned pro in 2016 and his win rate is a creditable 15%. He of course had an early career in winter sports, contract cleaning and supermarket shelf-stacking and it took him a few seasons as a pro to enter his prime. Measure from 2019 to today and his win rate, ahem, jumps to 20%.

Taken alone, Roglič winning 20% of the races of the races he starts is impressive. But it’s the combined effect with the others cited above that is astonishing. Adding up their win rates gets us to 95% but of course it doesn’t mean there’s a 5% chance left for the field, far from it. But it does mean if we have some of these big five riders on the start line there very likely to win. Ironically our Fantastic Five have only race together once: the 2021 Worlds road race in Leuven… and of course Julian Alaphilippe won.

In case you’re wondering about the sprinters, Fabio Jakobsen’s career win rate is 14%. Delivering sprint wins is valuable and he’s probably the most bankable sprinter now although this season suggests there’s no pecking order. A Super Six rather than Fantastic Five? Not yet, his win rate last season was an impressive 20% so another year like that and he can become part of this cartel of riders winning so often. But that’s the point, for years a sprinter like Jakobsen would top the tables when it came to wins, now he’s a percentage point behind Roglič so the sprinters are playing catch-up. One factor is there are fewer opportunities for sprinters, with race organisers trying to spice up stages to enliven TV audiences and this can have a double-counting effect, a pure sprinter is thwarted by a short climb at or near the finish but this rewards one of the Fantastic Five but that’s a story for another day.

Normally if the same riders were winning all the time things might feel boring, a monopoly. Yet for now it’s still exciting to watch. Because for all the stats, the entertainment is not how much they win, it’s in how they win and they’re often not afraid to make bold moves and attack early. Maybe it’s because they know they’re bound to win?

88 thoughts on “The Fantastic Five”

  1. As you point out with Valverde, doing a grand tour dilutes your win rate. Pogacar has won three stages and ended up on the podium of all of the grand tours that he has done but this is a lower win rate than he has managed the rest of the time. With Valverde doing two grand tours in a year and the same being true for quite a few sprinters, they will be reducing their win rate. The ‘fantastic five’ have generally finished one grand tour in a season and approached every other race with the intention of winning, they don’t seem to do many races to build form or start with the intention of solely working for others.

    • I don’t mean to suggest that they are selfish, more that they are always the team leader. There are many examples of them working very hard in support of teammates or even gifting wins.

  2. As pointed out, the TdF in the old days had nearly only sprint finishes in the first week. Also van Aert and Roglic being on the same team effects the win ratio as the other 3 are team leaders.

    • The old days though seemed to have less sprint stages in the second and third weeks, breakaways often thrived. I keep wanting to compare the number of sprint stages from year to year but the more you look, the more subjective it gets. And that’s just the routes, then comes the difference in how things were raced. It’s a head scratcher.

      • That’s one of the things I love about pro cycling compared to sports like kickyball; the amount of variables, be it environmental changes that can happen within a specific race day or route changes year-on-year. It never gets boring.

  3. Fascinating to see the numbers. I knew Pog was good, but not this good.

    Inevitable question got to be how does he compare to Merckx?

    • Good question, for the Merckx the win rate was 34% between 1965-1977 (818 race days / 284 wins), amazing.

      There were sprinters then too and he often got the better of them directly. But comparisons are hard. It’s said he won 500 races but not all of these were as a pro. Among his pro wins counted for the ratio above some of these included criteriums and smaller races, the kind that don’t exist today and the ones that remain aren’t counted as wins today so it’s not a like-for-like comparison.

      It’s partly why I didn’t want to go far with history, just looking at the winners this century where the most prolific have been sprinters, it’s probably the same going back further, perhaps as far as the early 1980s when Hinault (25% for 1976-1986) might have topped the tables.

      • Are they clean merckx wasn’t. I’m not saying they’re doping. Racing was different years ago for riders wiggins said if there was a few riders on a climb and one did all the work you’d let them take the stage. Now it doesn’t matter they just attack for the bonus seconds

        • I take Wiggins comment with a grain of salt. Did he “let” Chris Froome win on Planche de Belle Filles in the 2011 Tour de France? Froome did the work on the climb and won the stage simply because he was stronger, as I saw it. Wiggo sounds like a “there’s no respect in the peloton anymore” guy. He’s got every right to have cranky opinions about the sport given his achievements. But it seems like the same chip on his shoulder that motivated him as an athlete is driving his negative view of racing today.

        • You mention ‘clean’ and then you mention Wiggins, who we know for certain was taking a powerful PED when he won the Tour de France.

        • So, the problem there is the bonus seconds.
          More importantly, having these bonus seconds results in riders being more likely to wait for a sprint in order to win these rather than from attacking from further out, e.g. Roglic.
          It can also lead to a rider winning a grand tour despite riding the course slower than another rider, as I believe happened in the 2011 Vuelta when Cobo beat Froome (before Cobo was DQ’d for blatantly being more lit up than a Christmas tree).

      • Take out Merckx’s learning and declining years (66-68 & 76-77) and his win rate is even more astonishing, particularly as he didn’t pick races and optimise form but rode all the monuments, most second tier classics, several one week stage races and often two GTs per season.
        Saying that, Pogacar is thrilling and I can’t recall a recent monument that has been as enjoyable as 2023 Flanders.

      • The thing that impresses me also about Pogacar’s classic’s wins at least is who he is versing. In boxing, when looking back at someone’s career, the number of wins dont matter as much as who you beat. Pogacar beating Wout and Van Der Poel is very impressive – although I know little of Merckx’ history so I dont know if he was beating similarly competent classics specialists.

        • This is true in general, but what is also true is that his Lombardia win last year is definitely the most predictable bike race I have ever seen (barring perhaps the later Armstrong Tours). It was blatantly obvious it would come down to him v Mas and that he would win. And I don’t think anyone called it any differently.

        • A few of Merckx’s rivals (keep in mind some less important races now were bigger back then, and some biggish races now less important then):

          Felice Gimondi. Winner of all 3 GTs; 3 “Monuments” (they weren’t called that back then) — MSR, Lombardy, PR; WC; numerous other races (Romandie, GP des Nations, Parix Brussels …). His palmares would be blindingly bright if he hadn’t been racing in the Age of Merckx. If Pog is the Merckx of today, there is no modern Gimondi.

          Roger de Vlaeminck: Mr Paris-Roubaix. All 5 “Monuments”, including PR 4x; Tirreno-Adriatico (6x); numerous other classics such as Het Volk (now Het Nieuwsblad), KBK, Emilia, Paris-Brussels… If we’re going down the modern analog path, this could be MVDP if he keeps going.

          Jan Janssen: TdF and Vuelta, PN, PR, Dauphine Libere, TdF Green Jersey, among others.

          Luis Ocana: TdF and Vuelta, Dauphine Libere, GP des Nations, Catalunya, Basque Country …

          Walter Godefroot: RVV, PR, LBL; TdF Green Jersey and stages, stages in Giro, Vuelta, Dauphine, PN, etc; Gent-Wevelgem, Bordeaux-Paris, Henninger Turm (now Eschborn Frankfurt) …

          Other stage racers: Raymond Poulidor, Lucien van Impe (Vingegaard might be a modern analog), Roger Pingeon, Joop Zoetemelk …

          Other classics: Eric Leman (including RVV 3x), Freddy Maertens, Marino Basso, Frans Verbeeck (not the painter) …

          And probably others I missed (and not including end of career/beginning of career overlaps, such as Rik van Looy, Julio Jimenez, Francesco Moser …) I don’t know why people claim that the level of competition today is higher than it was back then. Directly comparable, no (too many changes in training, no. races, nutrition, road surface, technology, etc), but level of competition was at least as high.

        • Merckx was riding in the era of Gimondi, De Vlaeminck, Godefroot, Motta, Poulidor etc. finishing as riders like Moser and Hinault came to the fore- all decent one day riders.

          He won 19 Monuments and 3 Professional World titles. Across those 22 races, spread over 11 seasons, the other podium finishers were as listed below (some finishing multiple times second or third). Those marked with an asterisk were themselves winners of at least one monument or the World Title. Of those listed who *didn’t* win a monument or world title, Hoban and Verbeeck were classics winners; Thévenet a Tour de France winner; Peterson won a Giro; Guimard and Martinez both won jerseys at the Tour de France (Green and Polka Dot respectively).

          So the evidence is that not only was Merckx winning, but he was doing so against quality opposition, or at least, amongst the best riders of his era.

          (*) Basso * 3
          (*) Bitossi * 2
          (*) De Meyer
          (*) De Vlaeminck * 2
          (*) Gimondi * 4
          (*) Godefroot * 4
          Guimard * 2
          (*) Janssen
          (*) Leman
          (*) Moser
          (*) Motta * 2
          (*) Pintens
          (*) Poulidor
          (*) Rosiers
          Van Schil
          (*) Van Springel * 3
          Verbeeck * 4

          • It’s brilliant to see this level of debate and respect and other people being as list geeky and me!!!!

            Just makes you think Merckx and Pogacar are competing not only at the top but also during an extremely special time in cycling against various legends in their own right.

            Sagan felt like a phenomenon during the previous generation but how the newest riders have so quickly shifted him into the shade that his presence in races is just an afterthought truly shows you how special what we currently have is…

            MVDP and WVA alone are talents that genuinely seem game changing – what they do/can do makes it feel like a privilege to watch. The fact that we also have Roglic, Vingegaard and Pogacar himself let alone to Remco, Alaphilippe and then some of the coming youngsters and riders a level down – Ayuso, Pedersen, De Lie, Pidcock…

            I was stunned by The Cycling Podcast almost unanimously say this is the best cycling they’ve known during the careers but as someone who’s watched nearly as long I simply do not know how you can say anything different?

            And as someone who enjoys sprints and loves Cavendish I find it hard to put up much of an argument for the need to fight to save sprinting… the new breed of climber/rouleur/sprinter mash ups are just far more exciting and make for better racing.

            I just hope cycling in general can build on this magic crop of riders so it can become more of the norm rather than a freak occurrence.

  4. An interesting piece of work for someone with the time would be how do the current ‘Fab 5’ compare with other fab generations? Like say did Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Moser and Maertens or Kelly, Hinault, Fignon and Lemond have similar numbers?

  5. An observation of mine that might be completely unfounded and skewed by this spring would be that whilst Van Aert, Van der Poel and Pogacar seem to lock horns fairly regularly Evenepoel generally doesn’t come and play with them as much? You’d think he has the engine for the classics, if not the bike handling. And god knows QS need him.

    • Yes, I was trying to find a race they’d all done together and the hard bit was finding Evenepoel. It’s partly because Pogačar is willing to do the spring classics but also Tour de France overlaps where normally Evenepoel won’t start until 2024, by then in his sixth season as a pro.

      Handling? It was a weakness and cruelly exposed on the sterrato stage of his first Giro and his Lombardia horror crash. But he’s worked on this now and made great improvements. arguably won the Worlds because he took a corner faster than everyone else and that was enough to get a gap.

    • Evenepoel is a 2000 guy, even Pogi who’s stunningly young is a 1998 (not to speak of MvdP 1995 and WVA 1994, add Alaphilippe 1992 if you please… Roglic an outlier for obvious reasons born back in 1989). Other random terms of comparison who just looked they can start really thriving in some big road races might be Vingegaard and Ganna, being both 1996, as, say Powless, Pedersen being marginally older (1995). Pidcock is a 1999! I think that maybe we’ve partially lost perspective due to a series of exceptional cases plus some other effects, but we should still take age into account.

  6. Does it seem like evenepoel avoids the big 3? head to head with healthy roglic, lost. WC aside (in Australia which seems really popular with euro pros). he benefits from strange occurrences. MvdP attacked in Australia, large crash in LBL, under-valued Vuelta, it reminds me of Ineos winning their last TdFs & GdI with shortened stages and removals of key climbs, but with everyone there and full races they have no chance. If he really were that confident and impressive he would come after these 3 (looking at what he/QS do versus say).

    • Yes, for all his bravado it has been curious the great lengths he’s gone to avoid racing against the best. Given what seems like a healthy ego and the fact that he’s 23, I assume he could absorb a few losses and still be ok emotionally. Will PL pull him into LBL now that SQS has been basically AWOL (for them) from the Classics so far?

      • LBL was one of 5 races that were on Remco’s schedule even before the season started (LBL, Giro, San Sebastian, Lombardia, & worlds*). Everything else is “preparing” for those… (although wins are always fun, of course).

        * the riders for the worlds are to be selected by the national team coach of course, but everyone would be very surprised if (a healthy) Remco would be left home…

    • As above. For once, and dare I say a little too late, Quickstep are acting with a pinch of common sense, no need to push in the opposite direction.

    • Remco is the youngest out of the 3 and it basically took him the whole season of 2021 to come back from his injury. Most of the favourites where still in the race in lbl also I don’t get your issue with the wc title all the big guns where there and none of them had issues (aside from mvdp). Same goes for the vuelta, does the second tdf of pogacar not count because his only rival in roglic crashed out? For this years lbl it was already announced that he will race so no worries.

  7. One other point about comparing with the likes of Merckx, Maertens, Kelly etc is that modern riders ride far fewer races. For example, it wouldn’t have been unusual in those days to ride 120 – 130 days in a season. That gives more opportunities to win, but also must mean much greater fatigue at certain parts of the season. Sean Kelly, in his 1984 wonder season, rode the Tour of the Mediterranean, Paris Nice, Tour of the Basque Country, Criterium International, Tour of Switzerland, Milan San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris – Roubaix, Liege – Bastogne – Liege, Henninger Turm, all before he even got to a Grand Tour … (He won two, and had two second places, in those four monuments, plus winning three of the stage races overall and numerous stages).

    By contrast, from Procyclingstats, Evenepoel rode 68 days in 2022; Roglic rode 56; Pogačar rode 54; van der Poel rode 49; Van Aert rode 48. So the modern riders are riding less, but hitting those races they do ride much harder.

    • More opportunities to win as you say and more fatigue but also a share of these races where the aim was training, weight loss etc while today as you say, these five top riders pick their events and race hard. Pogačar’s plan is to finish in Liège and then we won’t see him in a race again until the Tour of Slovenia in late June and the Tour de France right after.

    • [PCS alert]
      I’m a little too lazy to check other sources, but the 1984 season by Kelly is listed at 78/80 race days.
      PCS often lacks some smaller details for past riders, but in this case they look consistent with what you write above.
      That’s a lot more than current top athletes do, and Kelly had some other actually stakanovian seasons like 1985 or 1987.

      De Vlaeminck, indeed an early example of opting for specialisation in order to maximise his winning chances against an absolute monstre like Merckx, rarely had more than 60 racing days a season on the road. Yes, he had some CX and track, too, but the vans do as well (or more). He often stood close to 40 or 50.

      Merckx went past the 80 race days mark a handful of times, but he had many seasons around 60 or 70 race days, too, which was Maertens’ standard. Gimondi apparently used to focus on 50 to 60 race days.

      It looks pretty much a logical strategy in order to match Merckx, or at least give it a try. Thevenet did pretty much the same.

      Of course, as I said, perhaps it’s a issue with PCS data. There are several better sources for the past, but I won’t check now.

      Again, *if it was more or less true*, this is a lot (or a little) more than today’s big names, but surely not twice as much, and not as the most normal thing through a whole career.

      Valverde or Nibali rode quite a lot, again in the 70-80 race days range, same for Bettini, Boonen and Cancellara, while Gilbert looks the real present day stakanovist among top level champions. OTOH, Froome or Contador during their best years were more in a trend of racing slightly less, say 50-60-at most 70 race days, but it must be said that competing in GTs takes a greater toll on GC men.
      Lemond, Fignon, Hinault or Indurain don’t look as they raced that many days each year, either. A low seventy looks the highest possible mark and happens once or twice at most in a whole career, fifty-some or sixty-some being the most common options (obviously a peculiar story, not considered by my above lines, for Lemond from 1989 onward).

        • “All these stats and comparisons seem great for the dead-of-winter but smack in the middle of the spring classics season?”

          That’s precisely why I didn’t chech other sources 😉
          Next time, tho, I’ll just ask ChatGPT to do that for me…

          Jokes apart, figures help to adjust perspective, they are needed in the context of the above comment they answer to. That said, what’s really funny is that if I’d just write “man, that’s what De Vlaeminck or Lemond did”, you yourself would most probably jump as so many other times asking how the hell could I prove that… ^___^

          Depending on available time I’ll write down or not what’s needed to substantiate my claims, but note that I’ll do that much more when, as this was the case, I’ve the feeling it might be a lacking source, whereas if it’s solid is when I’ll stick with the “shortcut” version.

    • Thevenet was always saying at french TV few years ago that the difference between his time and now was is also the size of the peloton : now the peloton can be entirely different from one race to another, yet in the 60’s or 70’s the peloton was more or less the same all year, with more or less the same riders. Basically, with some geographical differences (more Italian riders in the Giro, more French riders in the Tour, etc), Merckx was beating the same guys all season long. Thevenet was thus saying that it was harder to win everywhere, because you meet the specialist for each races. I don’t know if it’s entirely true ; surely it was truer when he was commenting, 15 years ago. I remember Van Petegem was racing three weeks in a season, or almost… But what’s impressive for sure with Pogacar is that he can beat the specialists in every race, more than any other in the 5 that you’re talking about.

  8. Fantastic analysis and write up Inner Ring! Out of curiosity, and to understand the meaning of win rate numbers more fully, what is the theoretical maximum win rate one of the fab five could achieve? Fair to assume it’s in the 120% range?

      • Yes, it’ll vary according to the amount and type of races ridden. It does help boost the % for a stage racer like Pogačar over, say, Van der Poel but just, MvdP’s won stage races as well.

        • Maybe, maybe not. A GC rider can get the “bonus” of a GC win, but doesn’t actually have to win any stages (not that that’s likely with Pog…) Points riders like Van Aert and Van der Poel pretty much have to win stages to win that competition.

  9. I know it’s not the same, and a smaller field of competitors etc, but if you add cyclocross for WvA & MvdP, the %s must become really quite astonishing…

  10. Not that I have checked the stats, but I seem to recall this idea that current pros train more and race less, as in not many treat racing as training anymore. Would that be a contributing fact to the higher win rate?

  11. Sagan would be worthwhile to include on this list. Like WVA, won bunch sprints as well as big 1-day races. Win rate in the ~15-20% range in his prime years.

    • I could be wrong here but my guess with Sagan is it’s less the “win rate” that’s extraordinary but the “top 5” rate. He’d have been off the scale in his consistency in his peak years. It was sad to see the manner of his DNF in his final Flanders last weekend: I hope he has better luck this Sunday.

  12. I think the other point here is that there is just no dominant sprinter these days in the mold of Cavendish, Cipollini etc. These days they seem to have a purple patch and then fade.

    • Plus, who wants to put an 8 man sprint train together anymore?

      1. Can’t earn enough points in total
      2. You’re doing a lead out for MVP and WVA?

      Sagan and Cav are relics of 4-5 years ago?

      • Yeah, remember all those races Sagan won behind his 8-man sprint train? 😉 I think it can be argued that all 5 of these riders have had stronger support riders than Sagan did.

        • MvdP, not really as much. Pogacar, only recently, and far from in so many of his key victories.

          Whereas, well, no arguing is possible re: Jumbo, of course.

          Question marks re: Remco because due to QS’s shift in attitude and perspectives, he hasn’t always had the needed or most appropriate support, although the quality was potentially there. But I wouldn’t make any greater effort to argue about this, indeed.

          I think we might be underestimating Sagan’s gregari’s contrbution because they were often pure gregari from the very beginning of their careers, but several of them were very specialised in doing that job and could be present supporting their captain close to the final 50 kms of the hardest Monuments or TDF stages, which hasn’t been that common for the above-named, surely not until these very last months.

  13. The World Ranking is partly to blame for sprinters/sprint finishes declining and the fab five rising.

    The relegation point system is forcing the promo to simply race for points and wins are a distant second.

    If you don’t have one of these generational talents how do you compete for wins?

    By staying in the world ranking.

    I applaud the Fab 5! Chapeau.They show up and put on a show.

    But frankly the racing mirrors F1. Only a small few win regularly. The rest are pack fodder just trying to gain more points to stay in the show.

    • “But frankly the racing mirrors F1. Only a small few win regularly. The rest are pack fodder just trying to gain more points to stay in the show.”
      Oh gawd please. Please no! The rest are (unlike F1) not just pack fodder. Instead they’re out there to help a team leader for the most part and unless their bike breaks and they can’t get a replacement in-time, it doesn’t make the difference between winning and losing – totally opposite to F1.
      May it ever be so because the day I believe the guy crossing the finish line first couldn’t have done it riding the bike the guy who finishes last used – I’m done with the sport!

    • Frankly, I don’t see any correlation between fewer sprints and the ranking system. Except for Lotto, none of the teams that were in the mix for relegation had a top sprinter so they would not have been bringing back the break if there were no points on the line. And it wasn’t by design that Ewan wasn’t competitive in the sprints.
      QS, Bora, Jumbo, Alpecin, they were not bothered with relegation and they had the sprinters. None of them is completely dominant, that matters. Because if you go for the sprint, only the win matters. It’s harder to make your team work for you if they are not convinced that you will finish it off.

    • Visible, and going to places that never (or no longer) get to see the WT pros compete. E.g., Wout and Pidcock went to the Dublin World Cup cyclocross round. Great to see them up close.

      I don’t think there’s been world level racing in Ireland since the (Pat McQuaid organised) Tour of Ireland in the 80s.

      • Correction, apparently that ran till 1992. With another run from ’07 to ’09 – but not quite the same level of entrants (I guess some of that is due to Ireland no longer having 2 of the best in the world).

  14. This is such a brilliant article.

    It’s so obvious we’re currently in a golden age and great to read this kind of high level analysis.

    Was also really nice to see many other commenters saying Sunday was either the best or one of the best Flanders they’ve seen. It feels like most fans know the level of what we’re currently privileged to watch. It’s magical.

    So much better than the points/relegation chat of last year (laughing emoji!)

    I’m aware INRNG has rarely, if ever, gone in for top ten lists as clearly they are a little silly and maybe not worth talking about till you have a genuine contender but I would love to see an INRNG top10 Flanders (of those watched by INRNG) as 2023 surely has to be in there.

  15. Q, and as touched on above; Do the counted race days for WVA and MVP include their cyclocross races?

    All this with the stats and historical analysis; Procycling’s annals are a palimpsest and not a volume. There is no way to turn back pages for straight comparison.

    • Just road racing days and “turning pro” means riding for a Pro Conti team or World Tour, so Van der Poel’s years with Correndon when it was in the third tier didn’t count above, likewise Roglič’s two years with Adria Mobil, both Conti teams.

  16. Great stats.
    In cycling as in other pro sports the comparison between the ages should possibly not be conducted to hard.
    Obviously i never got to watch races in the 70’s but like every other sport the depth across the entire sports should be much greater now. Training is a much greater science for better or worse. I feel that even in the 20 years i have been watching pro racing the depth has increased massively. And watching races from the 90’s looks like a different sport almost.
    Which makes it all the more impressive that these guys have such records. Especially when you consider the quality of the wins.
    I would not put Evenepoel with the others quite yet. Not enough years at this level.

    • That was my first impression, but finishes that used to be sprints are now torn apart much more often. And the chances for a breakaway success are improved too.
      So not that simple.

      • Rob MD was asking this above too. It’s hard to work out what qualifies as a sprint stage, you sort of know one when you see it but does a climb 20km from the finish change things? Two climbs?

        Also you can’t work backwards by counting results, ie the days when sprinters win. For example as a student of all things 1989 Tour de France, one of the reasons why the race is so interesting beyond the 8 second finish in Paris was that stages you’d assume go to the sprinters had attacks, breakaways, riders jumping away in the final kilometres.

        • For the Tour de France there is a “Coefficient” scale for difficulty where Coefficient 1 is a very likely mass sprint i.e. flat stage. I do n’t know how far this goes back in time, but I would think it would be a good starting off point. The Giro likewise has the star scale with 1 for easiest i.e. flat stage and 5 for hardest.
          Anyone with time on their hands and a copy of the road books could do an interesting study.

  17. For my money Pogačar is the superstar among these superstars. First of all, he’s ruling the roost at an age when WvA and MvdP were doing the road race version of sitting at the children’s table: junior, N.cup, or .2 races. He already has far more wins than either, in fewer years, plus his wins are about 70% WT races (with almost all the rest being .Pro). Neither MvdP nor WvA even won a WT race in their first two professional years (!), and at this point only 17 out of MvdP’s 41 wins are WT. I know it’s impossible to compare riders from different eras, but Pog’s the only modern rider I can think of who can be considered potentially at the level of Merckx. And by that I mean achieving dominance from a very early age, maintaining that dominance over a long career, winning a very wide range of races, and maintaining incredible consistency.

    Roglič is my pick among this group as the guy who has squeezed the most out of his physical gifts. Like Pogačar, he also has a very high percentage of WT races in his win column.

    I’m surprised it’s only dedicated sprinters who are being considered as the recent generation’s most prolific winners. I think an obvious benchmark rider is Sagan. From 2011 to 2018 he took 104 wins in 633 race days, 16.4%, with the vast majority at WT level. And that includes a coupe of years with 91 race days (!) – clearly too much, leading to diminishing returns in 2014 and early talk of retiring). If Sagan had been choosier through this period, as these fab five have been, it’s hard not to imagine that his win rate would have been significantly higher. Consider that is fewest race days of is entire career (50 in COVID-marred 2022) is more than either MvdP or WvA ave ever done in any single year.

    • When comparing nr of race days, you have to take into account that Sagan didn’t do cyclocross or WC XCM/XCC, and although he did take part in the Olympics with the mountain bike, that wasn’t enough of a target to influence his road schedule.

      • Well, the article is about the domination of these five riders in road cycling, and the high percentage of wins they take. But if some of these riders (WvA and MvdP) spend much less time riding in road races because they’re cyclocrossing, and the other three are being more selective in general, then their relatively high percentage of wins is less meaningful over the course of the season. My point is that, to take a hypothetical, a rider winning 25% of his races but who is only racing 30-40 race days a year and also targeting less competitive races during a portion of those days, then it’s not necessarily as impressive as winning 12% of a 75-90 day race program that is almost exclusively WT road races.

    • Of course Pog is other-worldly, but I think you’re overlooking the fact that WVA and MVDP began their careers in cyclocross and remain likely the two best cyclocross riders of all time. They were winning Elite World Cups and (!) Elite World Championships as juniors – absolutely unmatched in CX, then they decided to bring their gifts to the road.

      This being a road cycling blog, I do see how their CX exploits are overlooked a bit, but comparing Pog to MVDP/WVA from a full career perspective, yet only counting road racing is quite imbalanced.

      • Not overlooking that part of their careers at all. As you point out, this is a road cycling blog, and we’re talking about the domination of the road cycling calendar. I have no doubt that if these two devoted themselves exclusively to road cycling starting at age 20, as Sagan did, then they’d have many more wins. But that’s theoretical. And I think you mischaracterize this discussion when you wrote, “but comparing Pog to MVDP/WVA from a full career perspective, yet only counting road racing is quite imbalanced.” This is not a full career perspective, of any of these riders.

      • MvdP’s MTB exploits are often overlooked by the road biased cycling media. CX, less so as it’s an off shoot of road cycling.
        However, 3 XCO World Cups, 10 XCC World Cups, and a XCO European title tells you the guy is good on any bike. Such success & versatility is the sign of pure talent/ skill…..

    • I partly agree with you, but Sagan’s share of victories in very very top competitions is surprisingly limited (when speaking of “winning a race”, while it’s obvious that his green jerseys were a notable feat, even more so with ASO twisting the rules against him, but they don’t belong as much to this debate). IMHO he’s still well above WVA who suffers from some comparable issues (plus different ones, while having clear advantages which Sagan hadn’t in terms of gregari, when he’s not working as one, of course). Sagan’s also still a little ahead of MVDP, too (dunno how long, though…), yet already behind Pogi. Sagan chose to harvest loads of wins in stage races, some of them of dubious quality, WT or not, rather than racing more Classics, and that made his palmarés lighter in weight – same applies to victory rates. Had it been all epic Tirreno or Giro stages, like the ones he actually won, well, fine, but Amgen, Pologne, Romandie etc.

  18. Evenepoel seems to choose only races he can win, fair enough. Pogacar seems to choose races to find out if he can win them, which is a great thing and why he won RvV this year.

    • Why all the hate on this fellow? I’m not a big fan as he seems one of those “supercharged hemi-engine in shopping-cart chassis” types but claiming he chooses only races he can win seems pretty facile IMHO, even with “fair enough” tacked-on.

    • He’s 23, he rode the Giro and was sub-par, learned from that, and then won the Vuelta. Now, he’s going back to the Giro, and next year the plan is to do the Tour. Seems a sensible progression, and I think better than what so many riders do which is ride the Tour year-in year-out with little or no chance of winning it. Why not go for the Giro, which he might well win, rather than the Tour, which he very probably won’t? Especially as he has many years to ride the Tour.
      You can’t compare anyone to Pogacar and have them look good.
      There was a whopping amount of hype about Evenepoel from very early in his career, and a lot of people – me included – got a bit sick of it. But that’s not his problem, and last year he showed it wasn’t just hype: Vuelta, LBL and is the world champion. That’s a phenomenal season at any age.

      • But you haven’t actually replied to what I suggested, which is that Pogacar enters races because he can- what promoter would refuse him?- then discovers if he can challenge for them. Where did I suggest that Evenepoel is lacking talent? He’s a realist, sure, but the romantic will always win more hearts (and probably less races than they might have).

        • They both pretty much only choose races that they think they can win. It’s just that Pogacar can win so many more. I suspect that Pogacar knew before he ever raced the Ronde that he could do reasonably well in it – he probably knew he was good at repeated small climbs, etc., and had probably tried himself out on cobbles.

          Pogacar is not in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, nor was he in yesterday’s Scheldeprijs, whereas MvdP, for example, has entered both. Why? Because Pogacar does not think he can win either of those races. Entering Paris-Roubaix would win a lot of hearts, as would going for the Giro-Tour double, but Pogacar is not trying either of those – because he doesn’t think he can do it.

          Also, Pogacar has a good chance of winning the TdF, so he’s racing that. And because that is in July, he can do more races now, whereas Evenepoel has a grand tour in May, which limits what he can do now much more. Ergo, he didn’t do the Ronde. Once he’s racing the Tour, and not the Giro, he’ll almost certainly enter the Ronde.

        • Well, *that* Lombardia and *that* Giro were quite much above Evenepoel’s set of skills. Later he also entered an Emilia with little success perspective, or think last year’s Tirreno, Itzulia or Suisse. I’m not so sure that he himself or everybody else was more sure about his winning chances at the Vuelta than Pogi’s at Ronde. Not sniping at inrng, quite the contrary, but our host rarely gets far off the blank rating riders in a preview, and, well, have a look at Liège 2022 and the mere two (2) chainrings for Remco, quite below WVA, Alaphilippe or… Kwiatkowski. Of course, later on, Remco attacking on the Redoute and winning solo looks the most obvious result, why not?

      • Remco’s first Giro was too quickly after his injuries. He had his power back (did really well in some early stages), but (because of a lack of training) not his endurance/stamina to race 3 weeks.

  19. I suspect that “the decline in sprinters’ stages” is another of those commonplace half-truth which don’t necessarily stand a check against facts. To start with, some sort of… time cut… should be defined. Yes, we’ve got less bunch sprints than in the 2004 Giro, but when we say “now” and “then” what are we actually speaking about? I think that in a previous post on the subject I showed that the number of sprint stages at the TDF had remained quite steady in the last dozen of years or so.
    As pointed out by other above, other elements factor in, mainly how confident a team is about his sprinter’s winning chances and hence the self-fulfilling prophecy which ends up raising the break’s option if teams don’t feel 100% sure of their sprinters.
    Plus, what can be noticed, say, at the Giro is the reverse trend of taking away those little bumps before what can all the same become a bunch sprint. And it was precisely the Giro where they were “first” (in recent times) discovered and often put at good use, as they didn’t deny the sprinters but at the same time produced 20′-30′ of great racing in the finale instead of 5’… So, if you just count you may apparently see today as many sprinters stages as before, but they’re actually less selective, not at all harder for the fast wheels. If anything, the Giro (which this paragraph is limited to) has started a trend of heavy loading the very first part of stages with easier second halves, in order to set a clear dicotomy of sort between break or sprint, tehoretically with less to no tension involved for the GC men despite some altitude gain. The Vuelta is often offering the same pattern. This wouldn’t really imply any problem for any decent sprinter (again, in the recent past I cited sprinting guys with the least attitude at all towards climbs winning stages with serious mountain passes at the beginning, granted a flatter second half). But if the team aren’t really betting themselves for a bunch sprint, well, that’s where the break goes… why work with you whole team all day long if you can buy a single lottery ticket (and TV time) with one man in the break? Of course, I don’t agree with such a perspective (FDJ working for Démare at the Giro was a great show and self-promotion… a pity they don’t sell their product in Italy 😉 ), but it often looks like the most common strategy nowadays, notwithstanding whatever course or fab five.

  20. For years I’ve been saying that if you are the strongest rider you’re better off attacking early rather than leaving it for a (albeit reduced) sprint: think Valverde, as an example.
    The dogma in cycling, for so long, was ‘save your energy’.
    I’m delighted that these brilliant riders have shown that by riding with aggression and daring you can succeed more – it’s fantastic to watch.

  21. By far the best discussion of a interesting post of all the years I’ve been reading this blog. The level of knowledge and analysis of all readers is truly impressive! Thank you all for the discussion!

  22. By far the best discussion of a interesting post of all the years I’ve been reading this blog. The level of knowledge and analysis of all readers is truly impressive! Thank you all for the discussion!

  23. By far the best discussion of a interesting post of all the years I’ve been reading this blog. The level of knowledge and analysis of all readers is truly impressive! Thank you all for the discussion!

  24. There’s lots of talk about Pog doing the classics, which is all very well. However, I can’t help wondering if these classics ridings are hurting his chance at TDF.

    Of course, last year was just one datapoint. We will see if it makes a trend this year.

Comments are closed.