In the last 30 years of professional cycling the number of riders able to perform in both three-week stage races and ‘Monument’ classics has markedly decreased. Have we witnessed the slow death of the all-rounder?
One suggestion for this shift is that while the characteristics of the Classics have changed little over the years, generally favouring riders who can produce explosive efforts over shorter periods, Grand Tours have increasingly favoured lighter riders. One need look no further than the increasingly mountainous Vuelta for evidence, and the Spanish tour is only the most extreme example of a ramping up of intensity by organisers of all three Grand Tours.
As a consequence, training and preparation has become more specialised. In particular, Grand Tour competitors have focussed on reducing body mass to increase power to weight ratio. While much of this weight loss has come in the form of reduced fat mass, creating the emaciated appearance that characterises today’s stage race contenders, this extreme whittling down also reduces muscle mass, at the expense of the absolute power demanded by many one-day races. Compare and contrast the physiques of Chris Froome and Fabian Cancellara, or Wout Poels and Tom Boonen. The modern GC rider's calling is written all over his skeletal features.
Training has become more flexible, too. The contemporary pro is likely to follow a more dynamic programme than his forebears, who would have trained in much the same way throughout the season, maintaining the hard graft, but cutting back on the miles in winter.
As training methods have progressed, this "dynamic variation" can be focussed with great precision. A targeted approach, coupled with the demands of specificity in modern professional cycling - the ever-widening gulf between grimpeur and rouleur - mean that when a rider’s early strengths and weaknesses are identified, training is likely to become focussed on eliciting success in a relatively narrow range of events. He is marked early for success as a climber, sprinter, puncheur etc, and his preparation targeted accordingly.