09 July 2015

Štybar wins it on a BEAUTIFUL day for racing!

Unlike yesterday's stage, today's stage was fought for in the most gorgeous of weather.  The scenery was so amazing that I scrawled a note to myself:  bike some of those roads someday!  With about 115 km (71.5 mi) left in the stage, I grabbed this screen capture of the peloton (click on the image for a larger view).
Does that look wonderful or what?  With about 90 km (56 mi) to go, I grabbed this image of the peloton (click on the image for a larger view).
That road would be so much fun to bike!  I love the windmills (I wish my country utilized wind power more!).  Helicopters kept flying by the Alabaster Coast, so I grabbed the screen capture below (click on the image for a larger view).
I've been atop the white cliffs of Dover before, and I've walked the beaches of Normandy, but I've never been up close to the Alabaster Coast.  Something new for the "to visit" list!

During the 2013 Tour de France, our model came in quite slow on several stages.  That year saw speeds that were unheard of in the past.  There were even whispers about nefarious means of achieving those speeds.  The pace this year has been in the other direction.  I knew we would be too fast yesterday because of the terrible weather.  When today's stage began, and the weather looked impeccable, I thought we had a real shot at a great prediction.  There were three breakaway cyclists and the peloton looked strong.  But as each hour went by, it became apparent that we were going to be much too fast again.  Instead of speeds being above 40 kph (25 mph), they were considerably below that speed.  I kept wondering when the peloton was going to kick it up a notch.  I obviously can't get inside the riders' heads, but it seemed at times as if they were simply enjoying the breeze and scenery.  And who could blame them!

Only in the last 20 km (12 mi) or so did cyclists really crank it up, sometimes reaching speeds as great as 62 kph (38.5 mph).  An unfortunate crash happened with only about 900 m (0.56 mi) left (click on the image for a larger view).
Last year's winner, Vincenzo Nibali, and current yellow-jersey wearer, Tony Martin, were among those involved.  The crashed marred the final sprint, won by Czech cyclist Zdeněk Štybar.  Below is a comparison between reality and our prediction.
  • Stage 6:  4h 53' 46" (actual), 4h 24' 45" (prediction), 29' 01" fast, (-9.88% error)
Štybar was ecstatic when he was the first to cross the finish line (click on the image for a larger view).

When Ben Hannas and I began modeling the Tour de France in 2003, we were thrilled to be under 10% on any given stage.  But as the years went by and our improved models hit stages much better than 10%, I got annoyed when our predictions came close to 10% of reality.  What would have made me happy a dozen years ago bothers me today.  Our prediction wasn't that good!  I don't know why speeds weren't greater on such a perfect-weather day.  The riders certainly know what they are doing, and they are employing strategies better than anything I could formulate.  Below is today's winner's average speed.
  • Stage 6:  10.86 m/s (39.11 kph or 24.30 mph)
Despite three short category-4 climbs today, that average speed is closer to a fast stage in the mountains!  It's 4% slower than yesterday's average speed, and yesterday's stage, essentially the same length as today's stage, had all the rain and crosswinds.  Even the time schedule on the Tour de France web site thought the average speed today would be in the range 41 kph (25.5 mph) -- 45 kph (28.0 mph).  Teams' strategies obviously called for a slower pace today.

Tomorrow's Stage 7 picks up in the commune of Livarot and takes cyclists 190.5 km (118.4 mi) southwest to the commune of Fougères.  It's a flat stage about the same length as the previous two, and has just one category-4 climb near the start.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 7:  4h 32' 22" (prediction)
Perhaps it's because this year's Tour de France has such a stark split between early flat stages and late mountain stages that cyclists are holding back a little right now.  I don't like our predictions being so off, but it's a lot of fun trying to figure out why!

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