Jalabert, Head of the Old Warriors
– Reported by La Gazzetta dello Sport –
MILAN – 12 August, 2002 – Thirty five years for Cipollini, the same age for Tafi, one year more for Museeus, thirty one springs for Bartoli, almost thirty four for Jalabert. If not for the twenty eight years brought to the table by Paolo Bettini, one could say that all of the classics this year have been won by riders in their third decade. The fact, in reality, is not new: more than one case, one must speak of real and true tendancy. When you get older, you get better. Especially when you speak of the one-day races, races of the World Cup require experience, astuteness, and the capacity to endure the longest distances. It’s not a fluke that Mario Cipollini finally lived his dream by capturing Milan-San Remo in his fourteenth season. Nor that the walls of Flanders were conquered by the massive legs of Tafi, or the cobbles of France taken by Museeuw, or that Amstel was the signal of return for Bartoli, nor was it a fluke that Jalabert took his second San Sebastian.
In 2001 it was more or less the same. Zabel was 31 years old when he won his fourth Milan-San Remo, Bortolami triumphed at Flanders at almost 33 years old, Camenzind ruled Liege in his 30th year, Dekker took Amstel at 31, Virenque was reborn at Paris-Tours at 32. The only exception was Bettini again (in Zurich) and the young Di Luca (Lombardy). The secret? “It’s a question of maturity, experience, and determination to win the grand classics”, responded the on-form Jalabert after his second consecutive win at the Basque Classic, San Sebastian. In several months the Frenchman will hang up his wheels, hoping that he will do so after pulling on the jersey of the World Champion in Zolder. Seeing what’s happened before, nothing is impossible. One who seems to know that well is Johann Museeuw, who overcame injury to take Paris-Roubaix, Hamburg, and is now focusing on his third World Cup win this season. “I expect to have another good race in Zurich. Then I will be among the protagonists at Paris-Tours”.
Of the rest, one doesn’t need to look further than the testimony of Cipollini. “With the years I’ve learned myself much better – said the Lion King during his incredible season in which he’s won Milan-San Remo, his third Ghent-Wevelgem, and six Giro stages – I know what I can ask of my body. The physical part responds slower than it did in the past, but the motor is still there. And then there is the experience, fundemental for staying at the top, at least as long as you have the motivation to”. It’s true that the Tuscan fastman has never ridden an entire season, but the fact is that Cipo has stayed at the top of the game despite the great influx of new talent on the scene. One who knows this well is Cipo’s German rival, Erik Zabel, who puts in massive amounts of kilometers in the off-season to stay fit while also competing in the six-days during the winter. For him the reward is the work. Just like for SuperMario, for Museeuw, and for Jalabert. Without exceptions. Will this mean that the older guard will become todays fashion?