Somebody asked me the other day (whilst quaffing coffee outside Nicos) what the standard of riding is like compared with when i used to ride 25 years ago, im not totally qualified to answer this as 1 Road Race in 25 years does not give me much of a sample to comment on ..... however it did give me some food for thought on a similar question:
Just over a year ago i thawed out from a Walt Disney style state of suspended animation after 25 years off the bike, (apart from putting on 3 stone, losing my hair and a few associated marbles i was as good as new) i decided to get back into the biking sphere
I bought a second hand road bike off of flea bay and joined the i team i looked around and beganto appraise my surroundings......
Something had changed........
1) Where have all the Testers gone? There used to be a really vibrant timetrialing scene with many active participants producing super fast times, it seemed that you could not go out on a weekend without seeing TT event, these were usually run on flat dual carriageway style circuits and partipated by huge gear pushing animals with chainrings the size of a giants plate, the bikes whistling as the strangled air made its way through home drilled out bike parts, Roadies did time trials but it was a hidden dirty secret in the same vain as royal familys hide idiot cousins (we know they are there but not generally acknowledged).
Nowadays it seems a lot less high profile and the courses are hillier and seem to be at non-standard distances, its not such a big deal to be spotted riding one, its even encouraged to improve power....
2) Whats all this diversity? Nowadays we have a lot of cross pollenation between disciplines, we have Mountain bike riders, Roadies, Tri-atheletes (not normal people), sportive riders and pleasure (club) riders all being respected amongst the community, seeming to be all part of the "Brethern of Cycling". It used to be that that you chose your discipline and stuck to it never to be mixed again or risk the wrath of your peers (getting caught cycling with a saddlebag, a tester, your Missus or the CTC simply not worth the berating that you would get, have you ever been beaten with a tubaler tyre .... trust me it leaves marks!
All those years ago you had choices of (in order of importance)
d) CTC (shiver running down my spine)
e) Tuggo (someone who rides a bike but is not associated to a club and has no style) Tuggo
f) Waster (everyone thats left behind)
Mountain Biking and Sportives now being such a huge promoter and source of feed for other cycling disciplines nowadays, its unthinkable that we could exist without them.
3) Where did all this science come from? 25 Years ago we had 2 methods of training....
a) Balls out .... this meant going all day as hard as you could for as long as you could , i can remember rides where we rode to Lulworth Cove and back with just a small bottle of water and no coffee stop (in the ice and wind)Eating WAS cheating.
Interval training .... this was where we used to take a sprinting distance, time the the distance and continue to sprint that distance all the while your time was less than the original sprint time (or you couldnt sprint anymore because the VOMIT on your handlebars is preventing you from having a safe grip on your cinelli Giro's) yes this actually used to happen.
c) Racing .... yes racing was training (actually it was most of the training).
Nowadays its all power meters, heart rate monitors periodization and not stressing your body unless you plan to!
The fall of the Eastern bloke contributing to the increase in the science more than anything else i suspect along with the re-emergence of the USAs love of the bike
Even the Drug Cheating has gone all scientific, resulting in Interpol chasing crazed Chemists across Europe, no more Heath Robinson attempts at cheating such as Michel Pollentier squuzing a bag of his Aunties (best)Urine out from under his armpit through a tube wrapped around his torso (daft thing was his actual urine turned in a negative result)
4) Where did all the races go? .... There seemed to be Road Races every week from the gunshot of Perfs Pedal, some of the courses were dangerous and never on closed roads, we had kermess's being run on every seafront and different times of year, track meetings (Kingsbury Cup etc) were available in volume, it was possible to (for an ornery Jo like me) to be able to enter stage races, Southdowns velo 3 day (sorry to swear) GS europa 2 Day, nowadays (im guessing because of the increase in traffic and lack of cooperation from the old bill) we dont seem to have the volume of races today
However we have lots of organised sportives ....
5) Where are the cotter pins? What can i say about the bikes? the technology today is fabulous, bikes weighing in at less than 6 KG, what we used to ride would be todays equivalent of weight training, today we have electronic gear changing etc also.
Clothing, you used to be able to get any colour clothes you wanted (as long as it was black) and we used to have to nail the cleats on, (anybody remember the unwelcome feeling of a nail poking through your sole (and soul) as you begin a 100 mile road race, trust me it was difficult to ignore...... (and forget)
6) Are the riders fitter and faster today?
Its difficult to tell facts will tell us that the top Road Races are getting faster and faster, but is the average rider faster?
It used to be that there were only 1st, 2nd, 3rd cat riders and originally points were only given down to 3rd place, later extended to 6th, points were hard to come by but there were many more races.... nowadays we have the elites to contend with as well and points are available down to 10th place making every position worth sprinting for!
I have noticed that most riders climb pretty well today where this used to be the domain of a few, there are lots of Criterium style races which require great speed and sprinting.... on balance i think riders are faster today .... faster than me anyway.
I guess i get what i deserve for spending 25 years as a waster