25 May 2022

When Empathy is Impossible

The slaughter continues.

My wonderful wife, Sally, stopped me dead in my tracks yesterday when she informed me that elementary school children were killed in Texas.  Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is now likely known to most Americans.  That is where 19 children and two adults were murdered.  I've tried to explain reasons for mass shootings to my overseas colleagues who are just as perplexed as I am for why killings continue with little to no action taken to prevent future killings.  I wrote a blog piece after Sandy Hook in late 2012.  I wrote another blog piece in early 2018 after Stoneman Douglas.  I doubt the words I write in this blog piece will add much to what I've already written, but I'll attempt a slightly different angle.

Webster's second definition for "empathy" is:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.  As a parent of two incredible daughters, it takes no effort for me to empathize with the parents who lost their children yesterday.  It also takes zero effort for me to empathize with those who regret that yesterday's perpetrator had been killed, only so that something worse -- more painful -- could happen to that evil individual.  But I predict that it is impossible for me to empathize with yesterday's shooter, even though I know next to nothing about him.  I am not wired for "vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, ..." of someone who enters a school and opens fire.

I suspect that nothing in my previous paragraph is especially disagreeable.  Let me change that.  I struggle mightily to empathize with those who love guns.  I've held various opinions on that topic during more than half a century of life.  The empathy I feel for a parent whose child was murdered is effortless for me to experience.  Most of the time, though, empathy is hard.  Empathy requires effort and, sometimes, a lot of work.

I own a .30-06 Savage rifle that sits in a gun cabinet about 200 miles (as the crow flies) from my home.  I hunted with my family for a few years, mostly in an effort to understand hunting culture.  I enjoyed it.  My family loved deer meat, and I felt better about eating deer I killed than I did eating meat that came from factory farms.  I've been a vegetarian for over five years, but the reason for that choice has nothing to do with guns.  I've no interest in hunting because of my diet choice.  But I also have no interest in the rifle I own.  And here is where empathy is hard for me.  Regardless of conversations with hundreds of gun enthusiasts over several decades, much study on the history of guns in America, and my own experience of owning a gun, I've been incapable of empathizing with those who adore guns.  Facebook friends have recently posted the need to arm teachers, and despite my best efforts, I cannot get my mind in a place where I could ever imagine the efficaciousness of such a strategy.  I wouldn't bat an eye if I had to give up my gun as part of a national effort to eliminate gun use.  I understand that there are those who will read that previous sentence and be unable to empathize with me.

Far from being the first to point this out, people are tribal.  Social media, with it's headlines-only approach to disseminating news, is but part of the reason why diametric sides of an issue are on opposite sides of a vast chasm that used to be filled with nuance.  Like empathy, nuance requires a lot of work.  Reading long articles and books, talking to people from all walks of life, and spending serious time cogitating in a sans-cell-phone environment are just some of the ways people begin to develop nuanced views.

Consider the following 10 questions.
  1. Do you believe in a god?
  2. Should abortion be legal?
  3. Should capital punishment be legal?
  4. Should research be performed on stem cells?
  5. Do you think animals should be killed for food if non-animal food options are readily available?
  6. Do you support Donald Trump?
  7. Should torture ever be used during an interrogation?
  8. Should private citizens of adult age be allowed to own guns?
  9. Should marijuana use by private citizens of adult age be legal?
  10. Do you support government-funded, universal healthcare?
Perhaps my biases have been partially revealed by the way I asked each question even though I tried to pose questions that did not suggest a preferred answer.  Does asking "Should abortion be legal?" imply something different about me compared to asking "Should abortion be illegal?"  I've no idea.  Each of the above questions is meant to evoke an immediate "yes" or "no" answer.  But I can imagine objections to insisting on binary responses.  Those objections would be founded in desires for nuance.  Any one of my questions could occupy classroom discussions during a semester-long course, and entire books could be, and have been, devoted to addressing my questions.  If you had to answer "yes" or "no" to my questions, could you do so?  My guess is that most people could, even though they would be yearning to offer slews of caveats.

Now for a simple math question.  What is the number 2 raised to the 10th power?  It won't be hard to come up with 1024.  Because each of my 10 questions sought only a "yes" or "no" answer, there are 1024 distinct ways of answering those questions.  That means if you and a thousand people answer my questions, there is a chance, albeit vanishingly small, that each one of you could have a unique set of answers.  And if you feel passionate about each of your 10 responses, you could look upon the answers given by the other thousand people -- and want nothing to do with each and every one of those people.

Yesterday was 24 May 2022, the 144th day of the year.  The massacre in Texas was the 27th school shooting this year.  That's one school shooting per 5 days and 8 hours.  How does this problem get solved when tribalism reigns supreme, nuance is all but gone, and empathy is hard to come by?  I know people who would have nothing to do with me if they were aware that my answer to a particular question on my list differs from theirs.  How does someone in the pro-gun culture talk to a person who wants to eliminate guns?  Sure, they likely agree that shooting children is evil, but neither might be able to empathize with the other on what to do with guns.  The traditional political spectrum has been replaced with a Möbius strip; left and right meet at a twisted point behind the part of the spectrum where nuance used to sit.

While people shout at each other, try to cancel each other, and refuse to do the hard work of empathizing with each other, the slaughter continues.

08 February 2022

Skating History!

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva is the first woman to land a quad jump at the Winter Olympics.  After seeing Valieva's performance, I knew I had to analyze her history-making jump, which was the first jump of her routine.  Check out Valieva as she initiates her quad.

Valieva's right leg is bent with lots of stored energy while her left leg and right arm are extended so that she can pull them in fast, doing work to get herself spinning.  In the next image, Valieva leaves the ice.

She's already spun half a turn.  Her arms and legs are moving inward so as to reduce her moment of inertia and increase her spin rate.  The image below shows Valieva after her first turn.

Isn't that wonderful!  Valieva has moved her arms and legs as close to her spin axis as she can, minimizing her rotational inertia.  Her skirt hasn't been thrown outward; it's horizonal so that tension in the fabric can provide the inward force necessary to keep the skirt moving in a circle.  A great look at Valieva near maximum height is in the image below.

The image below shows the completed third turn.

Now it's time to return to the ice with a completed fourth turn, as the image below shows.

The guy on the left has a great look at history being made!

From the first image above to the last image, Valieva needed just 0.93 seconds.  I estimate about a sixth of a second for Valieva's third turn, which leads to a rotational rate of about 360 rpm.  That rotational rate is about 80% of the rotational rate for helicopter rotor blades!  She jumped from the ice with a speed of about 7 mph and reached nearly 20 inches in height off the ice.  That's a great jump!

18 July 2021

Wout van Aert Sprints for Hat Trick and Tadej Pogačar Repeats!

Wout van Aert won his third stage of this year's Tour de France.  After winning a mountain stage and a time trial, he showed what an all-around talented cyclist he is by winning a sprint stage.  He held off Mark Cavendish's attempt to set the record for stage wins.
Racing was very slow at the start, making me worry that our prediction would be too fast.  Serious racing did not begin until the last three or four laps of the seven famous laps in Paris.  Had the race ended with six laps, we would have been nearly perfect.  But the extra lap gave us a fast prediction.
  • Stage 21:  2h 39' 37" (actual), 2h 33' 04" (prediction), 06' 33" fast (-4.10% error)
I do not like seeing another stage prediction off by more than 3%, but I am bothered less on the final stage because I never know how much ceremony will play a role in the first half of the stage.  We have usually hit the last stage quite well, but this year's prediction was a bit fast.  The beauty of being wrong is learning something!  We will have a lot to dissect with this year's Tour de France.  Check out van Aert's average speed.
  • Stage 21:  11.32 m/s (40.75 kph or 25.32 mph)
That is definitely a slow average speed for the final stage.

Cycling a safe and sound Stage 21 meant that Tadej Pogačar would secure his second straight Tour de France win, and that is just what he did today.  Pogačar not only won the yellow jersey, he won the polka dot and white jerseys, just as he did last year.  Who can beat this guy over the next few years?
Pogačar will face a serious challenge from this year's runner-up, Jonas Vingegaard, shown on the left above.  Vingegaard gave Pogačar his most worrisome moment this year.  Coming in third is Richard Carapaz, the first Ecuadoran to earn a podium finish.  It was wonderful seeing the cyclists' kids on the stage, too!

I have noted in this space before that the science is what motivates me to model the Tour de France.  Learning how elite cyclists do what they do fascinates me.  Posting stage-winning time predictions on my blog interjects some additional fun into my research.  My students always get a kick out of seeing how close we get.  Noah Baumgartner worked with me again this year.  We will have a lot to do with post-race analysis.  We hit 13 stages to less than 3% error.  For the other eight stages, some were close to 3% error, some were not.  Weather and team strategies played role, as did a lone cyclist going ballistic on a couple of stages.  All 21 stages will provide fertile ground for learning.

17 July 2021

Wout van Aert Takes Time Trial!

Belgian Wout van Aert won his second stage in this year's Tour de France with an impressive individual time trial.  Just seven other cyclists could get within a minute of van Aert.
At least our prediction was within a minute of his great ride!
  • Stage 20:  35' 53" (actual), 36' 40" (prediction), 00' 47" slow (2.18% error)
I am happy with that prediction.  What made me even happier was watching van Aert really crank up the speed.
  • Stage 20:  14.31 m/s (51.50 kph or 32.00 mph)
I certainly know what that speed is like in a car, but not on a bicycle, especially as an average speed for more than half an hour.

One of the seven riders who came within a minute of van Aert was this year's Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogačar.  He will ride into Paris tomorrow, cross the finish line as the winner for the second straight year, and also collect the white and polka dot jerseys.  He still has two months to go before turning 23!

Tomorrow's mostly ceremonial stage begins in Chatou.  Riders will travel 108.4 km (67.36 mi), first going west, and then making a counterclockwise circle back east to Paris.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 21:  2h 33' 04" (prediction)
It will be hard to not root for Mark Cavendish to break the record!

16 July 2021

Matej Mohorič Wins Another BLISTERINGLY FAST Stage!

Matej Mohorič did in today's Stage 19 what he did in Stage 7.  He blew away his competition -- and our model! -- with a stunningly fast stage.  He rode the final 25 km (16 mi) as if he were riding a time trial.  He stayed in his biggest gear and grinded out those final 25 km in the blink of an eye.
Check out Mohorič's obliteration of our model.
  • Stage 19:  4h 19' 17" (actual), 4h 37' 30" (prediction), 18' 13" slow (7.03% error)
Yeesh, that is not a good error.  But look at Mohorič's average speed.
  • Stage 19:  13.31 m/s (47.90 kph or 29.76 mph)
I cannot believe he averaged nearly 48 kph (30 mph) on a 207-km (129-mi) long stage!  The Tour de France organizers estimated 45 kph (28 mph) as the top average speed on their time schedule.  Mohorič also blew away the Stage 7 time schedule.  When he decides to go for a stage win, he goes all out!

The peloton and the yellow jersey came in nearly 21' after Mohorič crossed the line.  As with Stage 7, we did a great job modeling the peloton!  We will have to think about power outputs on stages where lone cyclists are likely to go bananas!

Tomorrow's Stage 20 is a 30.8-km (19.1-mi) individual time trial.  Picking up in Libourne, cyclists will head around a clockwise loop to the east and finish in Saint-Émilion.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 20:  36' 40" (prediction)
I doubt much will change in the GC classification after tomorrow's stage, but it will be exciting to watch nonetheless!

15 July 2021

Déjà Vu on Stage 18!

Tadej Pogačar continues to dazzle cycling fans.  I thought I was watching yesterday's stage when today's Stage 18 nearly had its winner.  Inside of half a kilometer, Pogačar simply accelerated past his competition.  He makes cycling up a tough climb look easy!
Our prediction was a bit slow today, but not too bad at just outside the 3% error I want to be under.
  • Stage 18:  3h 33' 45" (actual), 3h 40' 36" (prediction), 06' 51" slow (3.20% error)
Speed was fast and the elite climbers set a torrid pace up the final climb.  Check out Pogačar's average speed.
  • Stage 18:  10.11 m/s (36.41 kph or 22.62 mph)
Pogačar is on a different level.  He has nearly a six-minute lead in the GC classification.  Winning back-to-back brutal mountain stages is amazing!

Tomorrow's Stage 19 is a long, flat stage to get cyclists to the final individual time trial.  Beginning in the commune of Mourenx, riders will travel 207 km (129 mi) north to Libourne.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 19:  4h 37' 30" (prediction)
Will Mark Cavendish break the record tomorrow?

14 July 2021

Is the Tour de France Over?!?

What an unbelievable battle on the climb to the summit of Col de Portet!  WatchinTadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, and Richard Carapaz attack and battle on that climb is something I will never forget.  Carapaz made a late surge for the stage win, which left Vingegaard behind for a bit, but Vingegaard caught up.  Pogačar got inside of half a kilometer and just blasted forward for the stage win, which he got.
Can anyone take that yellow jersey from Pogačar?  I do not see it happening.  The Tour de France looks to be over.  We had another great prediction today.
  • Stage 17:  5h 03' 31" (actual), 4h 58' 23" (prediction), 05' 08" fast (-1.69% error)
I love that error with such a difficult final climb!  Check out Pogačar's incredible average speed.
  • Stage 17:  9.80 m/s (35.27 kph or 21.91 mph)
Tomorrow's 129.7-km (80.59-mi) mountain Stage 18 begins in the commune of Pau and takes riders southeast to the ski resort at Luz Ardiden.  Cyclists will face two hors catégorie climbs, including the stage's end.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 18:  3h 40' 36" (prediction)
I cannot see Pogačar finishing tomorrow's stage with less than a five-minute lead in the GC classification.

13 July 2021

Patrick Konrad Outduels Pursuers to Take Stage 16!

With just over 36 km (22 mi) left in today's stage, Patrick Konrad broke away from the lead group and went for the stage win.  He took care of the last couple of climbs, navigated wet roads, which slowed descents, and took his first Tour de France stage win.
Our model was back on track today.  The wet roads made me think we would be a tad fast.
  • Stage 16:  4h 01' 59" (actual), 3h 56' 52" (prediction), 05' 07" fast (-2.11% error)
Konrad had an impressive average speed.
  • Stage 16:  11.64 m/s (41.90 kph or 26.04 mph)
Tomorrow's Stage 17 is not for fainthearted cyclists.  The 178.4-km (110.9-mi) mountain stage begins in the commune of Muret and takes cyclists southwest to Saint-Lary-Soulan.  The first two-thirds of the stage is fairly flat.  But two category-1 climbs will then greet riders.  The stage ends with an hors catégorie climb to the summit of Col de Portet.  How will riders' legs be when they begin climbing?  If there is ever a time to challenge the yellow jersey, tomorrow is the day!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 17:  4h 58' 23" (prediction)
The final climb will be exciting to watch!

12 July 2021

Stage 16 Prediction

Tomorrow's 169-km (105-mi) medium mountain Stage 16 begins in the east Andorra town of El Pas de la Casa.  Cyclists will ride northwest until they reach Saint-Gaudens back in France.  Racing will be fast at first, but then two category-2 climbs and one category-1 climb in the Pyrenees will allow fans to watch the climbers shine.  Two brutal mountain stages follow Stage 16.  Will the yellow jersey be challenged tomorrow, or will GC challengers wait for the two stages to follow?  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 16:  3h 56' 52" (prediction)
We have hit two thirds of the stages to this point.  The ones we missed have either been won by a crazy-fast time or stages in which the GC contenders did not fight too hard.  Strategies are always fun to guess!

11 July 2021

Sepp Kuss Wins a Stage for the USA!

Racing was a bit slower than I expected because there were no serious attacks on the yellow jersey.  But how our prediction would do was out the window when I had the chance to root for fellow countryman Sepp Kuss.  He was pursued by Alejandro Valverde, but Valverde could not catch up.
I was standing in my office while Kuss crossed the finish line.  That was exciting!  Our prediction was too fast.
  • Stage 15:  5h 12' 06" (actual), 4h 55' 58" (prediction), 16' 08" fast (-5.17% error)
I wanted to see more attacking on the yellow jersey.  With tomorrow's rest day, I thought GC contenders would push a bit more today.  But check out Kuss's average speed.
  • Stage 15:  10.22 m/s (36.78 kph or 22.85 mph)
That's a great average speed!  As a middle-aged physicist watching the Tour de France in my office, it is very easy for me to root for faster speeds!

Tomorrow is the second and final rest day of the Tour de France.  Cyclists will relax where they finished today, in Andorra la Vella.  Teams will discuss their strategies for the next three stages in the Pyrenees.  I will post our Stage 16 prediction tomorrow.

10 July 2021

Mollema Rides Away with Stage 14 Win!

With about 40 km (25 mi) left in today's stage, Bauke Mollema simply made up his mind to go for the stage win.  And before long, nobody could get closer than about a minute to Mollema.  He crossed the finish line with no one in sight.  What a great ride!
Our prediction did well today, though we were closer to the peloton, which crossed the line nearly seven minutes after Mollema.
  • Stage 14:  4h 16' 16" (actual), 4h 23' 19" (prediction), 07' 03" slow (2.75% error)
That makes 10 stages we have hit to better than 3%.  I like the four we got under 1%, but I will definitely take today's result after Mollema went all out and beat our prediction.  Check out his average speed.
  • Stage 14:  11.95 m/s (43.01 kph or 26.73 mph)
Tomorrow's 191.3-km (118.9-mi) mountain stage begins in Céret and takes riders west into Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra.  Three big climbs and a fast downhill finish will make for an exciting day of racing in the Pyrenees!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 15:  4h 55' 58" (prediction)
Michael Woods grabbed the polka dot jersey from Nairo Quintana today.  Will Woods hold onto that jersey tomorrow?  Guillaume Martin jumped from 9th to 2nd in the GC classification today, and also shaved more than a minute off Tadej Pogačar's overall lead.  Will the yellow jersey be seriously threatened before Monday's rest day?  It will be fun to watch!

09 July 2021

Cavendish Ties Merckx!!!

Mark Cavendish was set up beautifully by his Deceunick--Quick-Step mates in the final kilometers.  And then the Manx Missile did what he does best -- blast past his competition.  He's now tied with Eddy Merckx for the most Tour de France stage wins with 34.  What an amazing sprint to make history!
That's the look of a man with his 4th stage win in this year's Tour de France and his 34th overall.  Our model was back on track with today's stage.
  • Stage 13:  5h 04' 29" (actual), 4' 59' 08" (prediction), 05' 21" fast (-1.76% error)
Cavendish had a great average speed, given that temperatures exceeded 30 C (86 F) and cross winds surpassed 18 kph (11 mph).
  • Stage 13:  12.04 m/s (43.33 kph or 26.93 mph)
Tomorrow's Stage 14 is a medium mountain stage that picks up in Carcassonne and takes riders south to Quillan.  There are five category climbs in the 183.7-km (114.1-mi) stage.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 14:  4h 23' 19" (prediction)
It's now time for the climbers and GC contenders to make some noise!

08 July 2021

Nils Politt Blows Away Competition!

Nils Politt was all about winning today's stage.  We were headed for a great prediction today until Politt made a solo attack and simply barreled his way to the finish line.  As I wrote and feared yesterday, we were too slow with our prediction.
We had our second-worst prediction in this year's Tour de France.
  • Stage 12:  3h 22' 12" (actual), 3h 39' 30" (prediction), 17'18" slow (8.56% error)
Check out Politt's average speed.
  • Stage 12:  13.14 m/s (47.30 kph or 29.39 mph)
The time schedule on the Tour de France web page estimated 45 kph as the top average speed.  Suffice to note, Politt's average speed was amazing!  I love the image below.
That's Mark Cavendish in the green jersey, leading the peloton across the finish line.  Cavendish officially finished 14th today with a time of 3h 38' 05".  The next 126 riders received the same time.  Our model actually nailed the peloton!  But our goal is to hit the winner's time.  I hope we do better tomorrow!

Stage 13, at 219.9 km (136.6 mi), is a long, flat stage, which commences where Stage 12 ended, in Nîmes, and takes riders southwest to Carcassonne.  The route is not too far from the coast, so winds could play a role.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 13:  4h 59' 08" (prediction)
Tomorrow's stage is a mostly flat travel toward the Pyrenees.  Five medium mountain and mountain stages follow tomorrow's stage!

07 July 2021

We Nearly Nail Wout van Aert's Great Ride!

Wout van Aert showed today why he's such a dominating young force in cycling.  He left his competition behind on the final climb and won today's Stage 11 of the Tour de France by more than a minute.  For all the attacking that took place, Wout van Aert withstood all challengers to set up an emotional ride across the finish line.
I was actually hoping he would push a tad harder to the finish line so that we could have a shot at a perfect prediction.  That's a silly thing to root for!
  • Stage 11:  5h 17' 43" (actual), 5h 16' 02" (prediction), 01' 41" fast (-0.53% error)
We really nailed that stage-winning time!  Check out Wout van Aert's average speed.
  • Stage 11:  10.43 m/s (37.56 kph or 23.34 mph)
That's a terrific average speed for such a grueling mountain stage!

Tomorrow's Stage 12 is flat and relatively short at 159.4 km (99.05 mi).  It begins in the commune of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and takes riders southwest to Nîmes.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 12:  3h 39' 30" (prediction)
It's always hard to read a stage like this one.  It's flat and fairly short, so the GC contenders are likely to stay together in the peloton.  There could be some attacking and a few riders going all out to win the stage.  I don't think we'll be fast, but we could be slow.

06 July 2021

Hat Trick for Cavendish!

Today's Stage 10 of the Tour de France was a bit sluggish for most of the race.  The peloton moved through some beautiful parts of France, but speeds were fairly slow.  Only in the final 30 km (19 mi) or so did frantic racing begin.  Speeds shot up, cross winds helped break up the peloton, and sprinters jockeyed for position in the final kilometers.  And once again, the Manx Missile shot past his competition to earn his 33rd Tour de France stage win, just one behind the great Eddy Merckx.  Check out Mark Cavendish just after he crossed the finish line.
Cavendish now has three stage wins in this year's Tour de France.  We were a tad fast because of the slow pace for most of the stage.
  • Stage 10:  4h 14' 07" (actual), 4h 07' 59" (prediction), 06' 08" fast (-2.41% error)
I'm just happy to be under 3% error!  The fast pace during the final part of the race brought up the average speed to a pretty good clip.
  • Stage 10:  12.51 m/s (45.03 kph or 27.98 mph)
Cavendish will have a few more shots to tie Merckx.

Tomorrow's mountain Stage 11 begins in Sorgues and ends to the northeast in Malaucène.  The final part of the 198.9-km (123.6-mi) stage will be a joy to watch.  There will be two climbs to the 1910-m (6266-ft) summit of Mont Ventoux.  The first climb will be category 1; the second will be Hors Catégorie.  The second descent off Mont Ventoux will make for a blisteringly fast finish.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 11:  5h 16' 02" (prediction)
Will the yellow jersey face serious attack?  It will be fun to see!

05 July 2021

Stage 10 Prediction

Beginning in Albertville, the home of the 1992 Winter Olympics, tomorrow's flat Stage 10 takes riders 190.7 km (118.5 mi) southwest to the commune of Valence.  I've no idea what the weather will be like, and I certainly don't know if the yellow jersey will be attacked.  I suspect the yellow jersey will cross the finish line with the peloton, just prior to some of the top sprinters going for the win.  But the fun of the Tour de France is not knowing all the strategies ahead of time!  Below is our prediction for Stage 10.
  • Stage 10:  4h 07' 59" (prediction)
Barring a major crash, Tadej Pogačar should retain the yellow jersey after tomorrow's stage.

04 July 2021

Ben O'Connor Dominates Stage 9 -- and Nearly Grabs Yellow!

Ben O'Connor made Australia proud today with a dominating ride that showed what an incredible climber he is.  After yesterday's seemingly super-human performance by Tadej Pogačar, the yellow jersey looked safe on Pogačar.  But O'Connor had the ride of his life today and vaulted up to the overall lead for several kilometers during today's stage before Pogačar exploded at the end of the final climb to maintain the yellow jersey.  O'Connor is now second in the general classification, 2' 01" behind Pogačar.  Instead of putting an image of O'Connor at the line, I'll opt instead for a shot of O'Connor on the podium.  He won the stage by more than five minutes!
As O'Connor said after the race, today's conditions were "atrocious."  It didn't take long after the stage began for me to realize that our prediction was going to be much too fast.  It was pouring the rain for much of the stage.  And it was cold; temperatures dipped below 9 C (48 F).  With such treacherous conditions, all I can do is note that we can't know the weather on each stage prior to the start of the Tour de France.
  • Stage 9:  4h 26' 43" (actual), 4h 07' 31" (prediction), 19' 12" fast (-7.20% error)
Cyclists were changing jerseys, getting waterlogged, fumbling with gloves to keep their hands warm, and constantly eating gels to maintain energy balance.  With stages like today's that are riddled with horrible weather, we simply have to eat a fast prediction.  Check out O'Connor's average speed.
  • Stage 9:  9.05 m/s (32.60 kph or 20.25 mph)
All is not lost today with modeling because I get to learn a lot more about cycling in poor weather.  We hit two thirds of the first nine stages quite well.  Two other stages saw faster-than-expected speeds, and today's stage had weather issues.

Tomorrow is the first of two rest days in the Tour de France.  Cyclists will remain in Tignes for their much-deserved day of rest.  I'll celebrate 4th of July here for the rest of today, and tomorrow I'll post our prediction for Tuesday's Stage 10.

03 July 2021

Dylan Teuns Takes Stage 8!

Lots of rain today made me think our prediction would be too fast.  But I underestimated just good elite cyclists can navigate fast descents on wet roads.  Speeds reached around 80 kph (50 mph) on the descents.  I was in awe of how lead riders flew downhill, narrowly missing gravel and walls.  Dylan Teuns was amazing in winning the stage, but fans will remember Tadej Pogačar defend his Tour de France win with an incredible attack near the summit of Col de Romme.  And then Pogačar ate up his competition as he took on Col de la Colombière and secured the yellow jersey with nearly a two-minute lead when today's stage finished.  Check out Teuns crossing the finish line, thinking of his recently departed grandfather.
Our modeling got back on track today.
  • Stage 8:  3h 54' 41" (actual), 3h 58' 34" (prediction), 03' 53" slow (1.65% error)
Speeds were again fast, but not well beyond what we predicted, as happened on the previous two stages.
  • Stage 8:  10.71 m/s (38.55 kph or 23.96 mph)
There were moments when my jaw was agape while watching Pogačar fly up the mountains.  Just like the most elite of great athletes, he almost made riding up those 10% and greater climbs look easy.

Tomorrow's 144.9-km (90.04-mi) Stage 9 begins in the eastern French commune of Cluses and takes riders mostly south to Tignes, high in the Rhône-Alpes.  Lots of great climbing, including an uphill finish, await riders tomorrow!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 9:  4h 07' 31" (prediction)
We are looking for another fast stage tomorrow.  If Tadej Pogačar does tomorrow what he did today, he'll head to Monday's rest day with the Tour de France all but locked up.  He is his only competitor now!

02 July 2021

Mohorič Wins a CRAZY Stage7!

Slovenian Matej Mohorič won a wild stage today.  Crashes and a shakeup in the general classification were part of a second straight stage that had me shaking my head at the winner's average speed.  This super-long stage was FAST!
As Mohorič said in his post-race interview, he can keep up a great pace on a long stage.  Check out how he did against our prediction.
  • Stage 7:  5h 28' 20" (actual), 5h 47' 52" (prediction), 19' 32" slow (5.95% error)
That's about twice the error I like to see.  We were better than yesterday, but I want us back under 3%.  Mohorič biked this stage like it was the only stage in the race.  He was flat-out great in the saddle today.  Check out his average speed.
  • Stage 7:  12.64 m/s (45.52 kph or 28.29 mph)
I thought we would be too fast today!  The Tour de France organizers had 43 kph (27 mph) as the top average speed estimate in their time schedule.  The various attacks kept pace up.  Mathieu van der Poel retains the yellow jersey after a strong ride.  Last year's winner, Tadej Pogačar, fought hard at the end and stayed in contention, despite losing more than three-and-a-half minutes off the yellow jersey.

We did better modeling Mark Cavendish today, who came in 153th place, than we did modeling the winner.  The incredible speeds yesterday and today will certainly be something we need to study!

Tomorrow's Stage 8 is the first mountain stage.  It begins in eastern France in the commune of Oyonnax and goes 150.8 km (93.7 mi) southeast to Le Grand-Bornand.  Three category-1 climbs await riders in the latter half of the stage, and a downhill finish should make for a fast sprint to the line.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 8:  3h 58' 43" (prediction)
After the last two stages, I can't help but wonder if a rider will go ballistic tomorrow and come in well under our time.  However our prediction fares, I can't wait to see the climbers on Col de la Colombière!

01 July 2021

Cavendish Wins #32!

Mark Cavendish continues his remarkable Tour de France career with his 32nd stage win, putting him just two behind the great Eddy Merckx.  I was rooting against our prediction because the pace was blistering today.  It was so much fun watching today!  I rooted for Greg Van Avermaet and Roger Kluge to hold on in the breakaway, but the peloton caught them with just 2.5 km (1.6 mi) left.  And then I rooted for the sprinters to give viewers something exciting, and they didn't disappoint.  Speeds nearly hit 60 kph (37 mph) in the final sprint to the finish line!

Below is how we did with our prediction.
  • Stage 6:  3h 17' 36" (actual), 3h 36' 46" (prediction), 19' 10" slow (9.70% error)
After five great predictions, we finally have a bad one.  We can't hit them all under 3%!  Racing was so fast all stage long; I knew early on that our prediction was headed for trouble.  Check out the average speed for the Manx Missile.
  • Stage 6:  13.55 m/s (48.77 kph or 30.30 mph)
That average speed was just 2.23 kph (1.39 mph) less than yesterday's individual time trail!  Ponder that last sentence for a moment.  I continue to be amazed by what elite cyclists can do.

Tomorrow's Stage 7 is very long at 249.1 km (154.8 mi).  I don't think I've seen a stage that long since 2000's Stage 14, which was 249.5 km (155.0 mi) long.  Starting in Vierzon, cyclists will head due east to Le Creusot.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 7:  5h 47' 52" (prediction)
A stage like tomorrow's is tough to predict strategies.  Lots of little climbs in the latter half of the stage lead to the stage being classified as medium mountain.  Two mountain stages follow tomorrows stage.  Will the peloton move slowly or will there be a need to keep up with several attackers?  If the climbs at the end slow cyclists down, we'll be too fast with our prediction.  I definitely want to see the winner come in with a time under six hours!

30 June 2021

Breathtaking Time Trial from Tadej Pogačar!

For much of today's individual time trial, we had a shot at perfection.  Stefan Küng came in with exactly our prediction.  But the defending champion, Tadej Pogačar, began tearing up time splits.  I knew perfection would slip from our grasp.  Pogačar's ride was amazing!  He looked like a machine on his bike.  Check out Pogačar crossing the finish line as Küng sees himself slide into second place.
We still had a great prediction with our third stage under 1% error.
  • Stage 5:  32' 00" (actual), 32' 19" (prediction), 00' 19" slow (0.99% error)
Now hold your breath for Pogačar's average speed.
  • Stage 5:  14.17 m/s (51.00 kph or 31.69 mph)
He hit a top speed of 74.4 kph (46.2 mph).  The 22-year-old Slovenian is amazing!  Mathieu van der Poel rode an inspirational final kilometer to hold onto the yellow jersey.

Tomorrow's 160.6-km (99.79-mi) flat stage begins in Tours and takes riders southeast to Châteauroux.  Cyclists will have to conserve a little for the three brutal stages that follow.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 6:  3h 36' 46" (prediction)
I'll be curious to see if there is a lot of attacking to set up positions before the mountains.  Will we be too slow with a few breakout riders setting a torrid pace???

29 June 2021

Manx Missile Wins #31!

The last kilometer of today's Stage 4 was about the most exciting kilometer of racing I've seen.  Brent Van Moer looked to have a real shot to win out of the breakaway, but he was caught inside of 200 m.  And then Mark Cavendish did what he's done so well in the past.  He flat-out fired past his competition toward the finish line.  Cavendish was so emotional after his win.  Congrats to the Manx Missile for being BACK!

Cavendish will don the green jersey tomorrow.  We had another great prediction today.
  • Stage 4:  3h 20' 17" (actual), 3h 23' 45" (prediction), 03' 28" slow (1.73% error)
I'm getting nervous because a terrible prediction has to be coming soon!  But for now, I'm pleased with how my model is performing.  Cavendish's average speed is below.
  • Stage 4:  12.52 m/s (45.06 kph or 28.00 mph)
It will be a joy seeing Cavendish in green tomorrow during the first of two individual time trials.  Beginning in the northwest commune of Changé, cyclists will travel 27.2 km (16.9 mi) in a clockwise circle to Laval.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 5:  32' 19" (prediction)
I can't wait to see some fast racing tomorrow!

28 June 2021

Merlier Takes Stage 3!

Traveling over the weekend meant I couldn't watch the Tour de France.  I did, however, notice that our predictions for the first two stages were quite nice.  Below is a quick summary.

  • Stage 1:  4h 39' 05" (actual), 4h 36' 19" (prediction), 02' 46" fast (-0.99% error)
  • Stage 2:  4h 18' 30" (actual), 4h 17' 14" (prediction), 01' 16" fast (-0.49% error)
Not too bad for the first two stages!  I'll have to watch them on replay at some point in the future to see if I can understand what we did well with our model.

Today's Stage 3 was marred by several bad crashes.  Even the last sprint was tough to watch as Tim Merlier claimed victory.
We were a little slower today with our prediction, but we still came close to Merlier's actual winning time.
  • Stage 3:  4h 01' 28" (actual), 4h 07' 58" (prediction), 06' 30" slow (2.69% error)
The crashes will take some of the deserved headlines away from Merlier, who cycled great today in winning his first Tour de France stage.  Check out his average speed.
  • Stage 3:  12.62 m/s (45.45 kph or 28.24 mph)
Tomorrow's Stage 4 commences in the commune of Redon, and then takes riders 150.4 km (93.45 mi) northeast to Fougères.  Our prediction for the flat stage is given below.
  • Stage 4:  3h 23' 45" (prediction)
I certainly hope there are no crashes tomorrow!  If we miss much tomorrow, I think we'll be slow.  But then again, cyclists may conserve a little for the next day's individual time trial.

24 June 2021

It's Tour de France Time!

For a myriad of reasons, I've not written a blog post in quite some time.  But with the Tour de France commencing this Saturday, it's time to get back to blog writing!  The world's most famous bike race starts in the far western part of France, in Brest.  My University of Lynchburg research student, Noah Baumgartner, and I have our model ready for stage-winning time predictions.  We take terrain data and the laws of physics, plus some measured parameters associated with cycling, and then toss them all into a computer to predict the time needed for the best of the best to complete each stage.   We don't focus on a single cyclist, but instead focus on what the best cyclist for a given stage could do.

A prior commitment has me out of town over the next three days, which means I won't be able to watch the first two stages.  I'll write more detailed blog posts when I return next week.  For now, I'll give our predictions for the first three stages.
  • Stage 1:  4h 36' 19" (prediction)
  • Stage 2:  4h 17' 14" (prediction)
  • Stage 3:  4h 07' 58" (prediction)
As has always been the case for my Tour de France work, the science is what interests me the most.  Studying the race, including a post-race analysis, will provide me with lots of insights into elite cycling.  Blog post predictions in this space have always been an element of fun that I've infused into my scientific work.  We don't know exactly what weather will be like on a given stage, we aren't privy to teams' strategies, knowing when riders need to relieve themselves isn't on our radar screen, and we can't predict crashes.  The stages we really miss are the ones that teach us the most.

I'll be back on Monday to watch Stage 3, though I may have to sneak a peek while I'm away to see how our predictions fared on the first two stages.  Enjoy the 108th edition of the Tour de France!

12 October 2020

My 15 Seconds with the Chairman of the Board

I turned 50 just over five weeks ago in what many people think of as the crappiest year we have had in some time.  Setting aside the global pandemic and the egomaniacal imbecile in the White House, 2020 has been a brutal year for sports fans.  The pandemic has wrecked havoc on the sports calendar, but I am thinking of something more brutal, something I will get to in a moment.  I grew up near West Virginia's capital city, and I was obsessed with baseball.  When I was not playing the game, I was reading about the game.  I collected baseball cards, read box scores in the paper, and read anything my parents bought me that was connected to baseball (Baseball Digest, baseball books, etc).  Numbers have a way of staying in my head, and they dance for me when my mind hears the music of sports.  Batting averages, pitchers' ERAs, award winners, World Series stats, and so on.  They live in my brain like the birthdates of my daughters.

Did I look at baseball players as heroes?  Not really.  But I sure did admire many players I never saw play, and there were scores of players who I loved watching play as I grew up.  Some names, like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, were so famous and beloved that I felt bad if one of their stats was lost in my head.  By five years old, I was well on my way to earning my nerd credentials.  Now past half a century in age, I am like anyone else at this point in life.  I cringe a little when I see the name of someone from my youth who has died.  Consider these names who have appeared in obituaries in this brutal year of 2020:  Don Larsen, Jimmy Wynn, Al Kaline, Bob Watson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and now Joe Morgan.  Names from my youth, like Tony Fernandez, Matt Keough, Biff Pocoroba, and Claudell Washington are forever in the past.  Those latter names may not be known to many outside of baseball, but I surmise that even non-baseball sports fans know the names Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Joe Morgan.  They are legendary figures in baseball lore.

There is another name, a Hall-of-Fame name, I need to add to the above list:  Whitey Ford.  He died a few days ago (8 October 2020), almost making it to 92 years of age.  When he turned 90 two years ago, I began this blog post in my mind.  I was by no means anxious for him to die!  But living too long past 90 is rare.  And I had something in mind connected to a part of my youth when thinking about the great Whitey Ford.

He threw his last big-league pitch more than three years before I was born.  I wasn't even four years old when he and his good friend, Mickey Mantle, went into the Hall of Fame together.  By the time I started learning of his World Series heroics and his amazing career winning percentage, I saw only "Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford" in the stories I read about him.  It is weird getting to know a baseball player's career, especially when the entirety of that career predates one's existence.  Even weirder is meeting a famous baseball player, and during the few seconds of shared space, trying to imagine that player holding the 1961 AL Cy Young Award or picking up his first World Series ring in the year my parents were born.  I never got a chance to meet Bob Gibson, and some argue that Gibson was a better pitcher than Ford.  They were very different pitchers, but even those on Ford's side of the argument cannot argue with the amazing lineups that helped Ford win 69% of his games.  Ford's winning percentage is one of many pieces of evidence to illustrate that a pitcher's "win" really is a team stat.  Wherever Whitey Ford ranks among the great pitchers is irrelevant to me.  I got to spend 15 seconds with him.

It was the 19th of June, 1980, a Thursday.  School was out for the year and I was already playing Little League baseball.  And though I was a bit more than 11 weeks from my 10th birthday, I was already into world events.  We were in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis, but a miracle on ice in February of that year made it as clear as can be that sports can lift a nation's spirits during rough times.  Not only was I a budding scientific nerd, I was precocious on the political front, with faint memories of watching one of the three 1976 presidential debates between Ford and Carter.  Come 1980, I was for Reagan all the way.  But before the November election came a day on which I met three baseball legends.

A few days before 19 June, my dad saw a notice in the local paper, advertising that Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford would be visiting our minor league team's ballpark.  At that time, the Charleston Charlies played AAA baseball in the International League at Watt Powell Park, which was off MacCorkle Avenue, 35th Street, and South Park Road in Charleston.  The park was a dinky place that could not even hold 4500 fans.  But for a local kid who had yet to reach 10 years old, the place was much bigger.  I loved watching games there because I simply loved watching baseball.  But to watch baseball AND get autographs from Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford?!?  I absolutely wanted to go to the game on the special day.

I was nervous about meeting Mantle and Ford.  Heck, I was unsure that "meeting" would even be part of it.  Would they sign something and then move on to the next fan?  Even at such a young age, I knew they would not converse with me for a few minutes.  It was many years later when I learned from a newspaper article that Mantle and Ford would tie one on at a local bar later that night.  I knew nothing of their personal lives; I knew only of their stats and of some old film footage.  They were larger than life in my mind.

When my dad and I got to the gate at the park, I was handed a piece of paper that I could use for autographs.  On the paper were great black-and-white photos of Ford and Mantle.  I held on to the paper while my dad and I stood in line.  There were many fans in front of us, but the line was orderly and moved at a reasonable pace.  I occasionally caught glimpses of Ford and Mantle as they sat together at a table and signed autographs for each fan at the front of the line.  I got so nervous as we neared those living legends.  My hands were sweaty and my heart was beating fast.  I cannot tell you what I was doing the previous day or the next day, but I know what I felt and what I saw and what I heard on that day.  So much of baseball was in that line.  The park had that minor-league park smell.  Smell of food from nearby concession stands wafted in the air, and even the baseball field itself had a scent I knew well.  Noises familiar at a ballpark were in my ears.  People who love baseball and go to many games know the sounds I refer to.  If you are unfamiliar with what I write about, go to a game.  Put your bloody phone away and listen.  Close your eyes and listen.  A baseball park has a pulse and life of its own on game day.

It was now our turn to approach the table.  Mantle was on my right and I approached him first.  Despite being hopelessly shy at school, I summed all of my nerve to ask Mantle, "Did you really hit 536 home runs?"  In that unmistakable Oklahoma voice, he said, "I sure did."  He signed my paper, and then I moved on to Ford.  I probably had something I wanted to ask Ford, but the courage I summoned to speak to Mantle had drained me of any chance of talking to Ford.  I moved my paper in front of Ford, and he slowly signed it.  I distinctly recall hanging there an extra couple of seconds, knowing I had to let the next fan up, but wanting to savor those fleeting moments while I was sharing space with baseball royalty.  The image below is what I left the table with.

The paper has yellowed over the past 40 years.  I only kept it behind plastic in a photo album.  Ford and Mantle signed a seemingly uncountable number of autographs in their lives, and they would not remember me if asked about me just 60 seconds after they signed my paper.  But they were both polite and kind, and they signed slowly so that I could read their names.  Maybe they were stopping off at yet another minor-league bandbox for a payday.  Who could blame them?  If you retired before you turned 40, and you could make money the rest of your life signing your name, would you do it?  I think anyone would be tempted.  But they surely knew from what they heard from so many fans that meeting them, if only for a few seconds, made lifelong memories for those fans.

The lifelong memories I made that on that special day back in 1980 were not complete when I left the signing table.  As my dad and I were walking away from table in the direction of our seats, I saw someone who looked very familiar.  He was not familiar because I knew him personally, but because I had seen his face many times during my baseball studies.  I was too embarrassed to walk up to him.  He was standing alone, not really paying attention to anything.  I said to my dad, "Dad, I think Eddie Matthews is standing over there."  My dad had seen Ford and Mantle and Matthews play.  He thought I was right, so we walked up to him.  I asked, "Are you Eddie Matthews?"  He said he was, and I got him to sign the back of the paper that Ford and Mantle just signed.  I had nothing else for him to sign!  Check out the image below.

I folded the paper and Matthews signed the place on the right.  I learned later that Matthews was advertised to be there, but he was not listed with Ford and Mantle in the advertisement my dad read, and he was not on the paper people received when entering the park.

Recognize the signature on the left?  That belongs to Willie Mays, who came to Watt Powell Park later that summer.  I was a kid, what did I know?  I brought the same paper, already at that age feeling an anal retentive urge for symmetry, and wanting Mays to fill in the empty panel.  I never had a chance to meet Mays.  There was a line of fans, but once he arrived at the table, the fans rushed the table to get him to sign.  He could hardly tell who he was signing for.  When I got to the table, I was squeezed between people, and I jammed my paper toward him.  He finally signed it and I made my escape.  The organizers should have had the fans in lines as when Ford and Mantle were there.  Oh well, it may not have been the same experience getting a signature from Willie Mays as it was getting signatures from the other three, but I can say today that I was less than a foot away from those wonderful hands that caught the ball Vic Wertz hit so deep into center field in the Polo Grounds in the first game of the 1954 World Series.

The four names on my autographed page combined for 1711 regular-season home runs (three from Ford!), 16 World Series rings, and countless memories sitting in the minds of baseball fans everywhere.  Whitey Ford's death made me think of the three baseball giants I got to be in the presence of on that day, 40 long years ago, and all three are gone now.  With continued health, Willie May will see 90 years of age next May.  I hope he makes it, and I hope he makes it many more years.  Even at his age, it would be a special treat for a baseball fan to be within a few feet of him.  Meeting Eddie Matthews, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford, the Chairmen of the Board, even for only a few seconds, will live in my mind as long I live.