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.

21 September 2020

Last Look at 2020 Tour de France

I noted in my last blog post that a lot of work on this past Tour de France remains to be done.  I leave interested readers with a few tidbits in this space that have come from recent calculations.

Ever wonder how many Calories elite cyclists burn on a Tour de France stage?  I can show you a great estimate.  I adjusted my model's power outputs so that my model would "predict" the time that exactly matched all 21 stage-winning times.  Energy burn in the body is a complex phenomenon, but a reasonable estimate is to assume a 20% efficiency in the body's conversion of consumed energy into useful output for cycling.  Some muscle groups are more efficient; other muscle groups are less efficient.  Check out the graph below.

Click on the graph so you can see it better.  I plot an estimate of each stage winner's Calorie burn.  You can see which stages are flat, medium mountain, mountain, and individual time trial, plus I include the distance for each stage to add some context.  It's not uncommon to burn 6000 Calories on single stage!  That's why cyclists need to eat while biking.

The combined total energy burn for the winners of the 21 stages came to 120,649 Calories, or an average of 5745 Calories per stage.  To put that number in perspective, consider the following, tasty, but not-so-healthy food:

According to the McDonald's website, a Big Mac contains 550 Calories.  That means that the average energy burn on a single Tour de France stage is over 10 Big Macs!  Do NOT try to prepare for a Tour de France stage by consuming 10 Big Macs prior to the stage's start.

Figuring out weight loss with the number of Calories burned isn't trivial because fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and proteins (among others) have different energy densities.  But, again, keeping things simple, one quasi-decent rule of thumb is that 3500 Calories have to be burned to get rid of a pound of fat (or consume 3500 Calories to gain a pound of fat).  A Tour de France cyclist can burn nearly two pounds of fat per stage.  Using the figure above for the sum of the winners' energy burn, a total of about 34.5 pounds of fat could be burned during the three-week race.  Those guys have to eat while biking!

Though we predict a stage-winner's time, and we never go after a particular cyclist's time, it's interesting to see how the general classification winner's time compares to the sum of stage-winning times.  Check out the table below.

You can see the time that Tadej Pogačar won the general classification with.  The actual sum of stage-winning times is obviously smaller than the winner's time.  The sum of my model's predictions is also shown.  We were only about 6.5 minutes faster than the actual sum.  Though the error looks great, a lot of individual errors were canceled.  In other words, some of our stages were too fast, whereas other stages saw our predication come in too slow.  But my model does a good job predicting the sum of stage-winning times, if ever anyone is interested in that number.  Tadej Pogačar was only a bit more than three-quarters of an hour slower than the sum of stage-winning times.  To put that into perspective, note that 146 riders finished the 2020 Tour de France.  The last rider came in over 6 hours behind Pogačar!  A time of about 45 minutes slower than Pogačar's time sits between the riders that finished in 15th and 16th places.  In other words, even though he won just three stages, which is great, Tadej Pogačar competed extremely well against the winners of all the stages.  He had one helluva great Tour de France!

20 September 2020

Tadej Pogačar Wins Tour de France!

Tadej Pogačar will turn 22 years old tomorrow.  What a way to end his 22nd year!  He and his team rode well today and Pogačar was able to finish in the final bunch.  What an amazing Tour de France for Pogačar!  He won each of the mountain stages before rest days, giving his competition something to think about on days off from racing, and then road a time trial for the ages yesterday.  Pogačar was the best climber and the best young rider, meaning he leaves the Tour de France with the yellow, polka dot, and white jerseys.  The Tour de France concludes by having Pogačar on the center of the final podium with second-place finisher and fellow Slovenian Primož Roglič on Pogačar's right and third-place finisher Richie Porte on Pogačar's left.
The final stage is such a celebration of Paris.  It's hard for me to watch the final eight circuits and not want to return to France to visit Paris!  Check out cyclists on the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe.
What a lovely sight!

The final sprint to the finish line was thrilling.  Sam Bennett sealed the deal on the green jersey earlier in the stage, but that didn't stop him from an explosive effort in the final 100 m.
We finished the Tour de France this year with a good prediction.
  • Stage 21:  2h 53' 32" (actual), 2h 57' 44" (prediction), 04' 12" slow (2.42% error)
We usually do well on the last stage.  Until the riders get to Paris, cycling is slow, but then those vying for the stage win kick it up and fly through the streets of Paris.  I'm happy to finish under 3% error!  Check out Bennett's average speed below.
  • Stage 21:  11.72 m/s (42.18 kph or 26.21 mph)
That's actually pretty high for the final stage, but not unreasonably so.  It was great seeing fast racing on the final couple of circuits.  Bennett donned his green jersey with Pogačar and his three jerseys for a final trip to the podium.
No sports fan, or anyone for that matter, will see 2020 as a great year.  But at least we had a wonderful Tour de France to watch, despite the delayed start.  The 2021 Tour de France begins 9 months and 6 days from today.  Let's hope 2021 is a better year, the race begins on time, and life is closer to normal.

There is much to learn on the scientific front from this year's Tour de France.  And that's what is so great about being a scientist -- there is always more to learn.  Advancing technologies continue to make riders fitter, healthier, stronger, more efficient with their power output, more aerodynamic with better clothes and bikes, and better equipped with strategies for riding all the stages.

Modeling the Tour de France each year is a part of my scientific research.  Using the laws of physics and terrain information to predict the winning time for each stage, and then posting a stage prediction the day before each stage takes place is merely a little fun on top of all the research.  My physics research students at the University of Lynchburg make my work all that much more rewarding.  We certainly love watching the Tour de France for three weeks and we root for our predictions.  But the real joy comes from discovering more about how the natural world works and learning how science and technology continue to push the envelope of what's possible in the world of sport.  I thank Noah Baumgartner for once again working with me on the Tour de France.  We both had to work on the race while our fall semester was in full swing.  It's a lot easier working on the Tour de France in July when neither one of us is involved with classes!  There is still work ahead to dissect what happened over the past three weeks.  We had 10 great stage picks with errors under 3%, four were merely okay with errors in the 3 % - 6% range, six had errors 6% - 9%, a range I thought was okay when I started this work, but not now, and one really bad prediction with an error over 9%.  Team strategies reeked havoc on our predictions early in the Tour de France with some stages painfully slow and lacking attacks, and then a few other stages with all-out effort that stunned race organizers, commentators, and us.  Investigating and studying the vast complexity contained in a three-week bike race, one that concluded with 146 riders crossing the finish line, is a small part of what makes my job so much fun!

19 September 2020

Pogačar Performs Slovenian Swap in Historic Ride!

I've modeled the Tour de France for 17 years, but I've never seen anything so exciting as today's Stage 20.  The split screen with Primož Roglič in yellow on the left and Tadej Pogačar on the right made for incredible drama.
Pogačar rode a time trial for the ages.  He kept obliterating the times at checkpoints, and he continued to shave time off the lead Roglič had on him.  The top two general classification competitors were about 1 km apart heading to the finish.  Roglič entered the day with a 57" lead on Pogačar, but Pogačar finished today's action with a 59" lead on Roglič.  The two Slovenians will be on the podium in Paris tomorrow, but Pogačar's glorious ride today made sure that he would be on top.

Our prediction was a bit fast today.  The final climb took a little longer than we expected.  But after watching Pogačar blow the field away on that climb, I know that we have more work to do to better understand that climb.
  • Stage 20:  55' 55" (actual), 52' 47" (prediction), 03' 08" fast (-5.60% error)
Look at Pogačar crossing the finish line.  That is what winning the Tour de France looks like!
Pogačar's average speed is given below.
  • Stage 20:  10.79 m/s (38.84 kph or 24.14 mph)
Pogačar sealed up both the polka dot jersey as the best climber and the white jersey for the best young rider.  Richie Porte's great ride today moved him up to third in the general classification, so he'll be on the podium tomorrow.  The only suspense in tomorrow's final stage will be the race for the green jersey.  Peter Sagan will go all out to catch Sam Bennett, which will be very difficult to do.

Tomorrow's 122-km (75.8-mi) Stage 21 will begin in Mantes-la-Jolie and head southeast to Paris.  There won't be much racing on the way to Paris.  The stage is mostly ceremonial.  Pogačar may be seen sipping champagne with his teammates while they are on their bikes.  Real racing will pick up close to Paris as cyclists get close to the Champs-Élysées and the sprinters compete for the stage win.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 21:  2h 57' 44" (prediction)
Tomorrow will be a coronation for Tadej Pogačar, and one he deserves after a ride today that cycling fans will be talking about for many years to come.