Fausto Coppi is said to have observed, “Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.” Then again, Fausto Coppi never came up against a generation of young riders like the one which is laying waste to all the old assumptions that talent is nothing without experience.
On the sporting side, young riders are winning races at unimaginably young ages at the moment. Egan Bernal won the Tour de France at 22 in 2019. Then Tadej Pogačar won it at 21 the following year. And again at 22 last season. Remco Evenepoel skipped the U23 category altogether and won Clásica San Sebastián at 19. In women’s cycling, Lorena Wiebes only recently turned 23, but she already has 40 wins. Outside professional road cycling, entirely new disciplines are springing up - the gravel scene may be well over a century newer than road racing, but it is thriving and creating new participants and audiences for the sport.
We’re celebrating cycling’s youthquake in Rouleur 111, which is landing with subscribers this week, and is also available to buy here.
And what better way to embrace the creativity and energy of youth than to put a white jersey on the cover of the magazine? Ours is a white jersey with a difference: we gave the pupils of Dulwich Wood Primary School licence to decorate it with their original bicycle drawings.
We’ve interviewed a few different young riders, each at slightly different stages in their careers, and from very different sporting and cultural backgrounds. Andrew Curry went to visit German prodigy Marco Brenner, who is just one of the latest examples of a talented junior who has gone straight to the WorldTour, bypassing the U23s. Brenner represents DSM, whose roster has the youngest average age on the WorldTour, and who have been notable for focusing on developing youth, even at the cost of losing older, more successful riders.
Our Rouleur Italia editor Emilio Previtali chatted with Vinicius Rangel, Movistar’s young Brazilian rider, about his plans and ambitions in cycling. Rangel personifies the principle that one should never forget to tackle life with the heart of a child: he owns a portrait of himself made by a friend, as the character Son Goku, from the Dragonball manga. He also tells Emilio that one of his ambitions for the year, beyond winning bike races, is to feel snow for the first time.
Sepp Kuss Credit: Sean Hardy
And the editor of Volata magazine, Olga Àbalos, enjoyed an engaging interview with Sepp Kuss, a rider who is further along his career than Rangel and Brenner, but who still typifies the younger generation of riders. Kuss might be one of the strongest climbers in the world, but he still exudes youthful energy, which is perhaps a legacy from his route into the sport: mountain biking.
Though young riders are doing so well in their early 20s, they still have to learn how to be a bike racer. Joe Laverick, a U23 rider with Hagens Berman Axeon and a talented writer, has given us a first-hand account of cycling’s toughest finishing school: the Belgian circuit. Racing in Flanders can chew up and spit out the unwary and the unlucky, but it is also the ultimate testing ground for a young rider. Laverick’s first three results in Belgium were: DNF, DNF, First, all achieved in and around fitting racing, training and travelling to races in with studying for his A-Levels. Happily, Joe got good A-Level results, and his racing results aren’t too bad either.
Go Pogi Team! Credit: Alen Milavec
Kate Wagner has already covered Tadej Pogačar winning the Tour de France, and is an expert on Slovenian cycling. She went to Ljubljana last year to visit the team from which the double Tour winner emerged, and to find out how he has invested in it and given his name to it, in order to foster the next generation of talent. Will the next Slovenian cycling star emerge from the Pogi Team?
The Bäckstedts. Credit: Benedict Campbell
Rouleur’s Youth Issue also features Isabel Best’s visit to one of the most successful cycling households in the UK: The Bäckstedts. Isabel sat down with all four of the family: Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus, British champion Megan (née Hughes), junior Gent-Wevelgem winner Elynor and junior world road champion Zoe to find out the secrets of their success. (A lot of nature, a lot of nurture, some very long drives in a campervan and highly efficient laundry logistics). Former Rouleur editor Ian Cleverly also visited WorldTour professional Alex Dowsett’s parents to find out how they supported a haemophiliac son in a sport that is more susceptible than most to injuries.
Though a small number of male riders are skipping the U23s to head to the WorldTour, the lack of a U23 category at all in women’s racing has made the jump to the Women’s WorldTour an extremely challenging one. Despite the high-profile exceptions, almost all male riders race in the U23 category, where standards are extremely high, but which offers a stepping stone to being able to compete in the biggest races of all. Rachel Jary spoke to some riders who have found the step up difficult, and asks why the UCI has dragged its heels for so long about setting up a U23 category.
And for a bit of light relief, Rouleur presents Petit Rouleur: our fun activity section including spot-the-difference, a fiendish cycling crossword and every cycling fan’s favourite game, Where’s Wout?
Rouleur 111, The Youth Issue, is out now. Please subscribe and support Rouleur’s immersive, high-quality coverage of the world’s greatest sport.