Is early-season racing harder than ever? The pros have their say

The start of the season has seen top riders on flying form already - but is early-season racing harder than ever?

If you’ve been watching the early-season races and been thinking that the standard of racing is harder than usual, you’ll be pleased to learn you’re not alone.

For it is an almost universal opinion across the peloton who they themselves have been struck by the fitness and performances of their peers, weeks before the two biggest Monuments and two months ahead of the first Grand Tour.

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While it is the performances from the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Primož Roglič that have dominated the conversation, veteran of the peloton for 14 years Sander Armée said that elevated levels are not restricted to the stars.

“I noticed that I had the impression from the first race I did in Provence that the level was super high. On the uphill finishes everyone seems to ride super hard,” the Qhubeka-Assos rider told Cycling Weekly.

The likes of Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and Mathieu van der Poel have flown our of the traps this season (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

“Doing six watts per kilo is the standard now. Almost everyone can do it.

“The overall level is higher. 10 years ago, when you did really good numbers you would finish in the top-10, but now you end up in the top-30 maybe because everyone is going fast.

“The speed is not higher, but now more people can do it. That’s what makes the racing harder because even the guys helping the leaders can ride super hard so the bunch is harder.

“All the races are nervous and fast and except for one stage at Paris-Nice, I’ve not had many chats in the peloton this season.”

Britain’s Hugh Carthy, part of the new generation of riders who is responsible for the increased difficulty of races, echoed Armée.

“The past three or four years everyone has started the season as strong as they can,” the EF Education-Nippo rider said.

Primož Roglič has been one of the on-form riders in the early season (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

“I think everyone nowadays just trains hard in the winter and rides 100 per cent or close to top form. You have to be ready for that.

“Everyone is just pretty fast at this time of the year. You can only do what you can do.”

Simon Yates, winner of the 2018 Vuelta a España, said that a sustained high level is “normal for those guys”, referring to Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, but that “I can’t do that, so I just have to peak for the races that I target.”

Maintaining such form, however, is an unlikely task, claims Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt.

“We saw last season that the level is rising and it’s just continuing to do so this year. It will be even harder next year,” the breakaway specialist said.

“It’s even hard to be in the breakaway. It’s getting harder and harder.

“I think until the Tour de France it will be like this in most of the races, but nobody can keep this up for the whole season.”