Lots of HIIT at altitude, while living at lower altitudes. Almost all of the Grand Tour contenders to blocks at altitude, anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks. That’s roughly the length of time it takes for your body to create more red blood cells. The red blood cells, as you recall, carry the oxygen needed to your muscles. This helps with recovery at when at lower altitudes and exerting oneself.
I can anecdotally confirm that live at altitude and go to lower altitudes at how much more you can do. Back in 2000 when we moved from SLC to Austin, the 1st several weeks were great for me as an athlete. I had a lower HR, and felt like I could recover faster. Moving back to Salt Lake, it took me about a month to feel like I could do anything more than just a recovery ride plus some short intervals.
Based upon my reaction to altitude, and what not, I’m not too worried about the football team next week, in that regards. Just worry about them with the humidity/dew points. They’ll sweat alot, they’ll need electrolytes. But they’ll recover fine as long as they take care of themselves and drink optimally.
You are correct in that training has become more nuanced, especially for the elite athletes. I’m enough of a retro grouch that I still used perceived effort, and compare to Watts, Heart Rate, and Cadence. The elite riders will dive even further, testing for VO2 max, and other areas that I haven’t even worried about in years. Nutrition and day of nutrition plays hugely important roles. You may recall that Jumbo-Visma has been doing some supplements that help keep lactic acid to a minimum. They’ve also been using ketones to help with recovery. I don’t know how that works, but the idea is to push past the perceived effort block.
I suspect I could keep going and going. There are libraries out there just on sports nutrition and recovery. When I first started, it was carbo loading, electrolytes, lots of miles (long slow days on road), and only a bit of intervals. As time went on, much less carbo loading, more and better electrolytes, more nuanced nutrition, more HIIT, less long slow days, and more on board tech. Power meters came into vogue in the '00s, but have only recently become more affordable, and in greater varieties (pedals, bottom brackets, crank arms, etc).
But back to your main question. Elite riders do blocks at altitude, still put in lots of time on the bike, but the rides are more structured. Most elite riders don’t necessarily live at altitude, but they do train there. So, yes Boulder is still a great place to live because you can train at even higher elevations. Similar to living in Salt Lake. Many of the Americans like to live in Girona, Spain then go ride in the eastern Pyrenees. Many Euro riders live in/near Monte Carlo (taxes and terrain).
You’ll still run into genetic freaks like Peter Sagan, or Tadej Pogacar, and even Lance Armstrong (who IMO didn’t need to dope, he was that good and his VO2 max is still talked about today). They are just people who are good athletes. Same vein as elite football and basketball players.
Sorry to have created a small dissertation. I know more than I probably need to on the subject, even if I can’t apply it to myself much right now.