30 June 2016

Who will win this year's Tour de France?

I don't know!  That response happens to be one of the best responses a scientist, or anyone for that matter, can give to a question.  No reason to assert a claim without data and evidence to support the claim.  As a scientist, I'm trained to make conclusions based on data and evidence.  But I've had a lot of fun in recent years publishing Tour de France stage-winning-time predictions on this blog.  My research students and I have honed a physical model for a dozen years now.  The recipe is fairly simple.  We take stage profile data, add some cyclist power output, toss in some air resistance and road friction, and then mix the ingredients up with the laws of physics.  A tasty summer treat indeed!

But the question that serves as this post's title is one I'm asked by media every year.  It's a fun question because I can't possibly know what will happen over the course of a gruelling three-week-long race.  Will there be big crashes?  Injuries?  Which stages will be hit with bad weather?  Cycling teams certainly aren't sharing their strategies with me.  I do freely admit, though, that publishing our winning stage-time predictions prior to each stage being run has made the science much more exciting -- and the science was already exciting!

For the first time, I made a prediction for the overall winner.  I did so with all the caveats mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Will I feel bad if my pick doesn't win?  As long as he competes well and doesn't get injured, no, I won't feel bad.  There are a handful of elite riders with strong teams who have legitimate shots at winning cycling's most famous race.  I picked one of them -- but I'm not revealing the name in this space.  At least not yet.  I was recently interviewed by TOUR Magazine, which is based in Germany.  My prediction for the overall winner sits on page 36 of the current issue (July 2016).  Because the magazine was gracious enough to chat with me about my Tour de France research work, I'll throw the magazine a little love and ask that if you're really interested in my pick, you'll go there.

The 103rd Tour de France begins day after tomorrow (Saturday, 2 July).  I've been invited by the Department of Mechanical Engineering here at the University of Sheffield to give a talk on my Tour de France and World Cup football research.  My talk will begin at 2 pm on Friday, 1 July and will be held in LT 15 in the Sir Frederick Mappin Building.  I plan to unveil our Stage 1 prediction during the talk.  I'll also post our prediction after the talk in this space.  If asked during Q&A, I may even offer my pick for this year's winner!

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