Different programs/Different fitness levels
The current European season is tough AND long. In the past riders could do many races and win all season long. Eddy Merckx, one of my favorites, won many races all season long. These days most riders must try to focus on specific parts of the season. Few can go the whole season now AND be good the whole season. Some prepare early for the classics which are mostly in March and April. Then there are those (like Lance) who are trying to be fit by mid June and into July. Then there are those who focus on the later part of the season like the Vuelta and the worlds.
Today on the schedule was a 5 hour ride with one solid/stiff climb. Yesterday they did almost 6 hours in the saddle, so some were feeling a little less than 100% today. It’s January so for some this many hours in the saddle is tough.
We headed south on the 101 all the way to Santa Barbara. Then we headed east for a bit then north and started to climb and climb and climb. The climb was about 10 miles long. About half way up, a few riders started to drop back from the group. Now it is not a race and the group is not going anywhere near full out. Very easy tempo for everyone. So, it is a little odd for me to see some stars (and climbing stars) to be at the rear of the group going UPHILL! It’s even more odd to see them drop off the back of the group. But my thoughts about their fitness are soon gone as I realize their 2003 goals/program. A few of these riders who dropped off the back were there to help Lance in July AND be on top form for the Vuelta. They probably took a huge chunk of time off the bike in the winter as all riders do. But, later than most. They probably have done their first hard and long rides here in Solvang camp.