Although Fabian Cancellara retired from cycling more than three years ago, the former Olympic time trial champion remains a fan and has been left impressed by the new generation of riders that have emerged in the last two seasons.
Singling out teenager Remco Evenepoel, multi-disciplinarian Mathieu van der Poel, and Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, the former Swiss pro told an audience at Sigma Sports on Thursday that, although his shoes would never be filled, he was still enjoying watching a new crop of riders emerge as stars.
"My shoes will not be filled because they're gone now but it's a new generation and a new chapter of riders. It's nice, and it's good for the sport. It was a fantastic season with young riders," Cancellara said.
The 2019 season has seen a whole host of names emerge on the world stage. Evenpoel won the Clásica San Sebastián during his first year on the WorldTour, while Van Der Poel combined his commitments with cyclo-cross, mountain bike, and road before winning Amstel Gold, the Tour of Britain and becoming red-hot favourite for the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire.
The World Championships road race was eventually won by 23-year-old Dane, Mads Pedersen, who joined Trek-Segafredo as a first-year professional the year after Cancellara retired in 2016. Bernal, who enjoyed a successful debut season in the WorldTour in 2018, came back even stronger this year to win his maiden Grand Tour in July.
"We've seen now with Evenpoel, Van der Poel and Bernal that there are youngsters coming up," Cancellara said.
The three-time winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix also suggested that an element of caution was needed when it came to hype surrounding riders who found fame at a young age.
"It's their first or second year but now we have to see how they do next year with things like pressure and the more that goes on. Let's see how they handle it but, from looking at the way that they've been racing, I think that they will continue. But the combination of the young versus the old is good to see."
Cancellara was in London for a Suplest shoe launch. He remains active on the bike but juggles his business commitments with family life and his own race series.
"I ride much less and I have to find time to ride. That's the same for 99 per cent of people," he said. "When you're a pro, you have to ride, and there were no excuses, but I still have the passion to ride."