Mike Woods says he believes older riders can still compete with younger revelations like Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar.
The rising stars of cycling has been the dominant storyline in recent seasons, starting with Egan Bernal’s historic Tour de France victory in 2019.
Last season the young riders continued to shine as Tadej Pogačar triumphed at the Tour de France aged 21, while Remco Evenepoel won every stage race he entered, and Marc Hirschi emerged as one of the most exciting riders in the peloton.
Speaking from the ISN training camp in Girona, Spain, Woods, 34, said: “I certainly believe there are some very strong young riders coming up. It’s obvious how well they were riding last year.
“Certainly it’s a big question as to whether older guys like myself, Dan and Chris can stick it to them.”
Hirschi, who recently transferred to UAE Team Emirates mid-way through his Sunweb contract, claimed his first Tour de France stage win last season, finished second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, third in the World Championships road race, and beat Woods to victory in Flèche Wallone.
Woods said: “Marc Hirschi, incredible rider, really talented, neat me at Flèche Wallone. I thought I had him but he came right past me at the very end. And riders like Pogačar, it’s incredible.
“But one thing that you often encounter in athletics and in cycling is this question of when a young athlete reaches a peak everyone says ‘what’s next, what can they do next?’ and maybe that is their best moment.
“Getting to the top of a game is very difficult and one thing that we have on our side is that we’ve been at the top, we have big wins, particularly guys like Dan and Chris have literally been at the highest point of the sport and they have that experience.
“I really think we can still contend with them.”
Woods has joined Israel Start-Up Nation after five seasons with US WorldTour team EF Pro Cycling, thanks in part to his existing relationship with team co-owner Sylvan Adams.
Adams and coach Paolo Saldanha encouraged and supported Woods when he became a professional cyclist at the age of 27, having previously been an elite runner.
One of Woods’ biggest goals for 2021 is the Tokyo Olympics, where he hopes to compete in the road race.
He said: “I think the big question revolving around the Olympics is the quarantine. If there is a quarantine then we’ll have to do a bit of a rethink about the Tour de France, but at the moment I believe that the Tour de France is the best way to prepare for the Olympics, particularly for me.
“I always go really well after I go well after a Grand Tour and so I really hope to do the Tour in preparation for the Olympic Games.”
Recent reports suggested athletes competing in Tokyo may have to quarantine when they arrive in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, which would make it impossible for riders in the Tour de France to compete in the Olympic road race just 10 days later.
But the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics said no quarantine would be put in place, if the games are still able to go ahead, as coronavirus cases in Japan have surged recently.