For all the talk of life being on pause at the moment, much as we might prefer that, a reminder that it, in fact, isn’t. The days, like our hair and reading lists, are only growing longer while the time between visits to the fridge and our breath after running up a single flight of stairs are only going the other way.
Professional cyclists too, even while they’re not racing, are still drifting ever gradually towards the ends of their careers. I am 35 and three quarters; there are currently 35 riders older than me on the books of men’s WorldTour teams. Two, Mitchelton-Scott’s Michael Albasini and Paul Martens of Jumbo Visma, have already confirmed their retirement plans. The former was due to race for the last time at his home Tour de Suisse and, with no word at this point as to whether the 2020 edition will be rescheduled, we don’t know if Albasini’s plans have changed.
Of the remaining 33 riders, from what we can establish, eight have contracts beyond the end of this season, including Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert. The Spaniard announced last year that he would retire at the end of 2021; with the reigning Paris-Roubaix champion seeking to complete his set of Monuments, Gilbert should be with us at least until the end of the 2022 season.
Which leaves 25. Every one of them will have been considering their futures long before the word coronavirus came to take up so much space in our vocabularies. Whether we get some, all or none of the revised UCI calendar, leaked the other week, it’s conceivable that a few of these will have ridden their last professional bike races. Several will decide it’s easier to call it a day, if they haven’t already, while an unknown number will have that decision made for them. Youth is generally cheaper and, as has been especially clear lately, inexperience doesn’t necessarily mean less likelihood of winning races.
The rest of those without contracts for next year will be hoping for opportunities to prove to teams they are worthy of one more. However, even if every WorldTour team manages to remain afloat in some form, most will do so with smaller budgets. It’s easy to imagine the average roster will be reduced from the current size of 28.5 riders.
Some, such as Andre Greipel or two-time Amstel Gold Race winner Enrico Gasparotto, might be able to argue for one last job on the basis of their palmarès or profile.
The rest will want races to prove themselves worthy – and they may not get them. Two of our quarter-ton – Rory Sutherland and William Bonnet – did not even have a chance to pin on a number before this season’s programme was suspended.
Every rider, young and old, will lose a season but this situation feels particularly cruel on the seniors. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were closer in age to the juniors than the geriatrics. They’ve been able to enjoy their time in the sun, after all.
But it will be a great shame if we do not get given a chance to say a proper goodbye to hardy cult heroes like Adam Hansen and Heinrich Haussler, the only rider to rival Romain Bardet for the affections of Rouleur’s Desire editor Stuart Clapp.
“Old” dudes, we salute you.