Sean Kelly has implored today's pro riders to bring more balance to their lives by taking proper breaks during the off season and not focusing on their weight too much.
In a blog post (opens in new tab), the former Irish pro says he watched earlier in the year as many riders suffered broken bones and the likes of Nairo Quintana and Adam Yates put in sensational early-season rides, drawing comparisons as to what life was like during his time in the peloton.
Kelly says when the season finished during his time racing, riders would hang up their bikes for six weeks but still continue with small amounts of exercise. He goes on to say for Quintana and Yates to have performed as well as they have at races such as the Tour de La Provence and the UAE Tour, he believes they must have been training "really hard" throughout winter and that he thinks they were close to Tour de France levels of fitness, which in the long-term he believes is "not sustainable".
"Given that I won Paris-Nice seven times this system seemed to work pretty well. Nowadays, however, many professional riders never get off the road bike all year round. They may do a bit of stretching in the evening but many just ride their bikes all the time. This leads to a lowering of bone density and this is what causes so many broken bones. The teams nowadays are just worried about results and there is little concern for the long-term health of the riders," Kelly wrote.
"For Quintana and Yates to be able to perform as they did in February of this year, they had to have been training really hard on the bike throughout the winter. Too hard. They were close to Tour de France level fitness at that time of year, and in the long term that is not sustainable."
Continuing his analysis of the potentially problematic differences between pros in 2020 and 1980, Kelly says riders focus too much on their weight and their diets allow them to be "bike-fit" but not "healthy-fit".
"Weight is another issue that has become too much of a focus. In the search for marginal gains riders are now worried about every extra gram. They eat like sparrows and many are always hungry, for food that is. Again a bit more balance is needed," Kelly says. "By having such restrictive diets they are missing out on many natural minerals and vitamins etc. They may be super bike-fit, but they are not a healthy-fit."
As for his advice, Kelly admits it would be hard for a pro rider to break the current mould but suggests it should be a topic given more attention.
"Don’t worry if there is a bit of fat on your plate and don’t get carried away with any of these fancy fad diets. Drink a few beers or a glass of wine and relax. And my advice, especially for us sportive riders who are carrying an extra 10kg is to relax about the beer belly. A small one is a sign of health. For the pros, this is going to be difficult to do because everybody wants to be in peak condition for racing and to be able to perform at the levels that teams demand. However, in my mind this is something that needs to be seriously looked at."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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