The concept of preparation race has taken a serious blow with the four best general classification riders on the planet who are not satisfied with grand tours to devour everything in their path.

Of the five stage races of the World Tour (1st division), only one escaped them, the Tour Down Under in Australia.

And for good reason: none of them were there.

For the rest, once the four gluttons are at the table, there is nothing left to eat.

The latest example is the Tour of Catalonia, which saw Roglic's final victory on Sunday ahead of Evenepoel in a thrilling and exclusive duel that saw the former Slovenian ski jumper and the Belgian world champion win two stages each.

"Roglic and Evenepoel are on another planet here. Impossible to follow them, "reported, halfway through the race, the Australian Jay Hinley, winner of the last Giro.

The admission of impotence was the same on Paris-Nice and the Tour of Andalusia, swallowed by Pogacar with each time three stage victories as a bonus. An undivided domination that will make Frenchman David Gaudu, second in Paris-Nice: "I finish second, but second behind Pogacar!".

Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) crosses the finish line of the 7th stage of Paris-Nice on March 11, 2023 at the Col de la Couillole, near Nice (south of the France) © Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP / Archives

"100% all the time"

Same thing on the UAE Tour, fallen in the musette of Evenepoel, and Tirreno-Adriatico, archdominated by Roglic - general and 3 stages - while it was his first race in six months.

Slovenian Jumbo-Visma Primoz Roglic (L) wins the first stage of the Tour of Catalonia in Sant Feliou de Guixols in a sprint on March 20, 2023 © Josep LAGO / AFP

Of the fantastic four, only Vingegaard seems a little behind, finishing only in third place in Paris-Nice. But the winner of the last Tour de France was merciless on the Spanish race of the Gran Camino of which he simply won the four stages.

Behind, the competition, reduced to dry bread, takes the hit. "I hope I still have room for improvement, otherwise I won't continue cycling for long," lamented disillusioned Frenchman Romain Bardet after Paris-Nice.

The relentless dominance of the four cadors shows how much cycling has evolved in recent years. In the past, you hardly ever saw some great riders in the general classification before the Tour de France and they disappeared right after.

Today, they are firing on all cylinders from February to October, like Pogacar, probably the hungriest of all, who also plays the win on the classics: fourth in Milan-Sanremo, third last Friday on the E3, before the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

Slovenia's Primoz Roglic wins the Tour of Catalonia ahead of Belgium's Remco Evenepoel on March 26, 2023 in Barcelona © Josep LAGO / AFP

"Preparation races don't exist anymore. Today, you have to be 100% all the time," says Groupama-FDJ road veteran Rudy Molard, 33.


A reality that pushes the cursor of the requirement, towards a hyper professionalism that can border on overdose. "Before, we had to arrive sharp at Paris-Nice at the beginning of March. And still some had two extra kilos. Today, we are put under pressure to be in shape from the December camp," reports Benoît Cosnefroy, puncher of AG2R, who warns: "we can quickly arrive in burnout".

In this context, it is difficult to imagine careers as long as those of Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali who hung up last winter at the ages of 42 and 37.

While Roglic, 33, is already a long-term finish after arriving late in cycling, the other three - Evenepoel (23), Pogacar (24) and Vingegaard (26) - have all exploded at a young age.

"I can't imagine them holding out as long as a Valverde. Their lifestyle is so professional and they have a lot of pressure, it's very hard to hold on over time," said Belgian Gianni Vermeersch of the Alpecin team.

In the meantime, the public is enjoying well-identified champions who fight shoulder to shoulder on stage races, as do on the classics two other big cats, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Art.

© 2023 AFP