Move over Thibaut Pinot, 26, Peter Sagan, 27, Marcel Kittel, 28, and Alexander Kristoff, 29, the thirtysomethings have taken over pro cycling in 2017.
Sure, of the four mentioned above, Sagan has had more than a modicum of success to start the year with a win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and two stage wins – and a points jersey – at Tirreno-Adriatico, but it’s been the seemingly ageless 30-year-olds who have taken the sport by storm early this season.
Most notably, Belgians Greg van Avermaet, 31, and Philippe Gilbert, 34.
Van Avermaet is off to a stellar start with four victories, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, while compatriot and reigning national champion Gilbert has racked up three race wins this season, including Three Days of De Panne, where he also picked up a stage win, Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday. He also took podiums at both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Wevelgem.
Then there’s 36-year-old Spaniard Valverde (Movistar), who sits third overall in the current UCI world rankings. Five of his 10 pro wins this season include overall victories at Tour of Murcia, Ruta del Sol, Tour of Catalunya, record fifth – fourth consecutive – La Flèche Wallonne title on Wednesday.
“It was a victory based on confidence, strength and a great team supporting me all the way,” said Valverde. “I had lots of respect to what my rivals could do, but also knew that I was in great physical condition, and I had to take advantage from it.
We knew it would still be difficult to win there, because only one can achieve it and many fight for it, but to be honest, this feels like a race made for me.
The seemingly ageless 2009 Vuelta a España winner is now a red-hot favourite for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"Liège? We'll see how we feel on Sunday,” Valverde said. “It's a race that I really like a lot and won three times. I'm in great shape at the moment, but as always, enjoying this win comes first and thinking about what's next comes after that.”
Gilbert confident of further results following recovery
While the 2012 UCI world road race champion is without question having his best run in five years, a tear to his right kidney following a crash at Amstel Gold prior to his win, forced Gilbert to withdraw from the final two Ardennes Classics.
"When I crashed, I felt pain, but once I remounted and continued the race things became better and better and the pain disappeared,” said Gilbert ahead of the Flèche Wallonne. “Unfortunately, after the finish, the lower back pain returned, so together with the team doctor I decided to go to the hospital for a check-up.
“Fortunately, it's nothing serious, and if everything goes well, in a week I will start training again.”
Gilbert remained in the hospital under observation for 24 hours before being discharged.
"It's one of my best years and looking behind on what I achieved makes me very happy,” he stated. “To be competitive in both the cobbled and the Ardennes Classics and to help the team be the best in the world brings me a lot of satisfaction.
“It's sad I won't be there for the remaining races of this week, because I was in great condition, but our squad is a strong one and I'm confident other good results will follow.”
Scarponi gives Astana hope following Aru’s Giro withdrawal
Although Astana announced last week that former Vuelta winner and two-time Giro podium finisher Fabio Aru would miss this year’s centenary edition of the Tour of Italy, which starts in his native Sardinia, due to injury, the team still held out hope of a miracle recovery.
While a follow-up exam on April 18 and subsequent ride the day after have shown remarkable improvements and decreased inflammation in his left knee, pain still exists and as previously reported the team reaffirmed on Thursday that the 26-year-old Italian will not take part in the Giro.
This leaves the door wide open for his replacement — and Astana’s only viable GC contender — Michele Scarponi. Just days after the team announced its support toward the 37-year-old Italian, Scarponi showed his first real signs of life in six years with an opening stage win at the race formerly known as Giro del Trentino – Tour of the Alps.
“We had to change our plans after Aru's injury during a training in Sierra Nevada, so now I'm here speaking about what we have to do at the Tour of the Alps and the Giro d’Italia,” said Scarponi. “The answer is: we'll try to do our best, because we worked a lot to achieve good results here and at the Giro.”
While Scarponi did in fact win four years ago at the GP Costa Degli Etruschi in 2013, unlike previously reported by race commentators, cycling pundits would have to go back two years before when he blistered the field with race wins at Catalunya and Trentino, as well as the Giro after Spaniard Alberto Contador was stripped of the title due to a doping suspension being served from a previous infraction.
"It’s my first ever victory for Astana, and the first in the season for the team too,” said Scarponi. “We have been racing well lately, but for some reason the win kept eluding us. So this win is very good also for the team’s morale."
Tour of the Alps (2.HC), April 17-21
La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT), April 19
La Flèche Wallonne Feminine (1.WWT), April 19
Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1.UWT), April 23
Tour de Romandie (2.UWT), April 25-30
Tour de Yorkshire (2.1), April 28-30
Women’s Tour de Yorkshire (1.1), April 29
Read the original article on Eurosport: Backspin: '30 is the new black’ — Gilbert, Valverde and Scarponi