Changing of the Guard

Posted: March 25, 2014 by kirisyko in Bike, SykOtic, Triathlon
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Changing of the Guard

Watching as the most decorated Australian triathlete in history, Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander – one of the world’s greatest of all time – cross the line in a most-respectable fifth at the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne on Sunday, one couldn’t help but notice the emotions pouring from the five-time world champion.

After 8 hours, 5 minutes and 47 seconds, Crowie was done. That was it. Finished.

Fifth by anyone’s standards in arguably the most difficult one-day endurance sport on the planet is a monumental accomplishment, not so for the former King of Kona who has sat on the thrown an amazing three times (2008-09, 2011) in his 20-year pro career.

In an interview last week prior to the race, Crowie told Southern Spin, “I don’t know any other way than to race to win. Second is not an option. It’s not why I do this.”

Now approaching 41 years of age come June 22, one of the last legend’s of the sport has stepped down, announcing his retirement from Ironman, and while the two-time Ironman 70.3 (2006, 2011), may still compete in regional half-Ironman distance races, he will no longer race the staggering 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run.

But who will take his place?

For Australians, men like 2012 Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs would be the safest bet. The 32-year-old has many good years left in him, but a disappointing 32nd place in 2013, gave rise to Luke McKenzie, also 32, whose spectacular second-place finish has many looking at the Queenslander with a ‘cool hand’.

But the sport of triathlon is not the only sport undergoing a changing of the guard, so to speak. The world of professional cycling is in the midst of its own youth movement.

Later that evening after watching Crowie’s teary-eyed Ironman curtain call, a new wave of Aussie pro cyclists on the other side of the world continued their ride to prominence as mountain bike-turned-road cyclist Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) courageously joined a group of seven at the 15-kilometre mark of the epic 298-kilometre Spring Classic – Milan-San Remo.

Southern Spin first met the 2011 Herald Sun Tour winner at the this year’s Tour Down Under while the 25-year-old Canberra native sat surprised at his fourth-place general classification standing behind then-race leader Cadel Evans (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre), and one notch above Richie Porte (Sky).

He was thrilled just to be sitting amongst such illustrious company.

How quickly he is coming of age as he was one of six still remaining in the break before falling off the pace with 75 kilometres to go giving him more than 200 kilometres of air time, and a season’s worth of experience.

The 26-year-old Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) would go on to win the race over such beleaguered veterans as Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). While still relatively young at 33-and 28-years-of-age respectively, the mileage is adding up and the wins are becoming scarcer against the likes of 28-year-old three-time world trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and 24-year-old two-time Tour de France points classification winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

For cycling fans in the Southern Hemisphere, Haas is not the only shinning star on the WorldTour horizon nor is he the only alumni from Avanti Racing Team strutting his stuff at the top level.

Founded in 2000 by Tasmania’s Andrew Christie-Johnston and Steve Price, and known by various names, the Avanti team has excelled in propelling its riders to the top as Garmins’ Steele von Hoff, Sky’s Nathan Earle and extremely potent Porte are all testament of Christie-Johnston’s magic touch.

On Monday, during stage 1 of the seven-day Tour of Catalunya, Eurosport commentators Carlton Kirby and Magnus Backstedt opined on a loaded field which included Aussie’s Porte, Cameron Wurf (Cannondale), Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) and eventual stage runner up Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge), who was edged ever so slightly by Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano).

While Ironman triathlon may still be searching for the heir apparent to Crowie’s throne, a new era in pro cycling has begun with Chris Froome (Sky), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Sagan leading the way.

Make no mistake, there is still room for the Alberto Contadors, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Evans of the world, but their window of opportunity is quickly closing, and in their place await a new generation anxious to kick them out the door.

Perhaps the biggest test awaits with the much-anticipated show down between the 29-year-old Porte and the 37-year-old Evans at the Giro d’Italia in May. The 2013 Paris-Nice winner will be looking for his first Grand Tour win of his career, while the 2009 world road race champion and 2011 Tour winner looks to hold off Father Time a bit longer. Either way, the evolution of professional cycling is amongst us and if there is one thing that history has always shown us, is that evolution always wins out in the end.

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