02 November 2023

Learning from Bob Knight

Bob Knight died yesterday (Wednesday, 1 November 2023) at the age of 83.  I love the irony of Coach Knight dying on All Saints' Day.  I learned a long time ago that having heroes is not a good idea.  Nobody is perfect and hero worship inevitably leads to disappointment.  Bob Knight was thus not someone I viewed as a hero, but I definitely admired him.  Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Coach Knight, he did have an influence on me in the role he most thought of himself, that of a teacher.

Webster defines gestalt as "something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts."  The philosophical adage most associated with that idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  That was the feeling I had watching Bob Knight's Indiana teams in the 1980s.  At just five-and-a-half years old, I was too young to have memories of his famous 1976 undefeated team.  And I was too into baseball in the late 1970s to pay much attention to college basketball.  But I was part of the growing NBA fan base when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson took basketball to new heights after they left college following their epic national title battle in 1979.  My growing interest in basketball took me to college basketball.  Watching Bob Knight's teams made me realize that a brilliant mind could take rather average talent to extraordinary heights.  The beautiful basketball I watched Indiana play was the result of a team executing better than the sum of its parts.

How did Coach Knight do it?  Over the past couple of decades, I have seen hours of video of Coach Knight discussing his coaching methods, including videos of some of his practices.  Of all that I learned from him about basketball, the one gem I have assimilated into my own teaching is that learning and improving often arises when one feels stress.  Think about how we learn something.  Set aside all of the glorious neurophysiology and consider the following two options.  We are either ignorant of something, which means we have a hole to fill in our brains, or we are wrong about something, which means we have to correct something incorrect in our brains.  I have struggled for years to come up with a better or more simplified way to explain how we learn, but the aforementioned sentence is my best effort to date.  Now consider what many of us feel uncomfortable about admitting.  Who likes to admit to being ignorant or being wrong?  Doing so make us uncomfortable; doing so makes us feel stress.

I could not achieve success as a scientist if I had difficulty admitting I was ignorant or wrong.  I can recall times in my life when I was flooded with great joy when I realized I was wrong about something.  That joy came from learning something new, from discovery.  Not having an accurate understanding of the natural world is more uncomfortable to me than admitting I do not know something or admitting that I am wrong.  Stress over being ignorant or wrong is no longer what pushes me to improvement; my love of learning that came from early days of stress is now what motivates me.

Coach Knight would often say that he wanted his practices to be much harder and more demanding than what his players experienced in games.  I feel the same way about my own teaching.  I want to lay a gauntlet before my students, see them pick it up, and then push themselves to be better than they ever thought they could be.  Coach Knight's practices involved repetition and growing from failure.  Nobody wakes up one day never having played the piano, sits down at a Bösendorfer Opus, and plays one of Chopin's Mazurkas.  And no athlete steps on a basketball court for the first time and drains three-pointer after three-pointer.  Coach Knight also said, "The key is not the 'will to win'...everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important."  Athletes must be put in stressful conditions, similar to the old "no pain, no gain" idea, to improve performance.  Students must also be put in stressful conditions.  An enormous amount of preparation that includes frustration, failure, stumbling, inching forward, and gradual understanding must occur before exam success and before career success.   Once a kid says, "Hey, I don't know something and I'm going to work my butt off while failing many times before I really understand what I don't currently know," my work is done.  That student is ready to do good science.  I've seen it happen with many of my students, and it's wonderful to behold.

My fingers could dance across the keyboard for several more hours if I really wanted to discuss all that sits in my head on the topic of Bob Knight.  For now, I will close this blog post with a note of thanks.  Thank you, Coach Knight, for all the memories I have of sitting in Assembly Hall while in graduate school and watching your teams play the best team basketball that I have ever seen as you patrolled the sideline.  And thank you most especially for the lessons you passed on to me about what it takes to learn and improve, be it athletically or mentally.

23 July 2023

Jordi Meeus Wins Photo Finish and Jonas Vingegaard Makes it Two in a Row!

Jordi Meeus just barely kept Jasper Philipsen from a fifth stage win in this year's Tour de France.  Meeus lunged his bicycle across the finish line and won by the width of his front tire.

Meeus in on the right in the above screen capture; Philipsen is on the left.  Speeds were quite slow at the start.  It's always hit or miss on this stage, and we missed a little today.
  • Stage 21:  2h 56' 13" (actual), 2h 45' 23" (prediction), 10' 50" fast (-6.15% error)
After several years with the average speed well over 40 kph (25 mph) on the final stage, last year and this year have been much slower.  Check out the winner's average speed.
  • Stage 21:  10.89 m/s (39.19 kph or 24.35 mph)
If the past two years turn into a trend, we'll have to dial our power down just a hair!  I don't like our error, but the last stage is probably the hardest to predict.  I don't have a line in my code for drinking champagne!

Jonas Vingegaard now has two straight Tour de France general classification wins.  He and Tadej Pogačar were a joy to watch this year.  Unfortunately for Pogačar, Stages 16 and 17 were his undoing.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with being the second best Tour de France cyclist!
Joining Vingegaard and Pogačar on the podium was Pogačar's teammate and third-place finisher Adam Yates.  It will be fascinating to see if either Vingegaard or Pogačar gets the hat trick next year.  The race won't end in Paris because of the Summer Olympics.  Look for the final stage of next year's Tour de France in Nice next year!

22 July 2023

Pogačar Outsprints Vingegaard to Win Stage 20!

Tadej Pogačar won his second stage in this year's Tour de France by outsprinting Jonas Vingegaard in the final hundred meters.  It was great watching Pogačar and Vingegaard ride together through the difficult mountain stage.  And it was wonderful seeing Pogačar get the stage win as a nice consolation to finishing second in the GC.  Pogačar certainly looked thrilled crossing the finish line.

Besides being happy with the penultimate stage action, I'm quite happy with a near-perfect prediction today.
  • Stage 20:  3h 27' 18" (actual), 3h 27' 04" (prediction), 00' 14" fast (-0.11% error)
My model seemed to be firing on all cylinders today.  Check out Pogačar's average speed.
  • Stage 20:  10.73 m/s (38.64 kph or 24.01 mph)
Tomorrow's ceremonial 115.1-km (71.52-mi) flat stage begins in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and takes riders east into Paris and onto the famed Champs-Élysées.  It will be a day to celebrate Jonas Vingegaard winning his second straight Tour de France.  And it will be a day to see which sprinter earns the famed Parisian stage win.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 21:  2h 45' 23" (prediction)
Hard to believe the Tour de France finish is already upon us!

21 July 2023

Matej Mohorič Wins Photo Finish!

For the second stage in a row, the breakaway held off the chasers and peloton.  But unlike yesterday, the GC contenders and the rest of the peloton were well behind the finish line when the winner was determined.  I thought Kasper Asgreen was going to get his second straight stage win, but it was Matej Mohorič who just threw his bike at the line for the emotional win.  The screen capture I grabbed will not convince you that Mohorič (on the right) won!
Racing was furious today.  The cyclists began so fast that I wanted to lop 10 minutes off my prediction before they got very far!  My model did a great job modeling the peloton today, but the breakaway and chasers were simply flying during the latter half of the stage.
  • Stage 19:  3h 31' 02" (actual), 3h 48' 20" (prediction), 17' 18" slow (8.20% error)
Not doubt about it -- a terrible prediction.  Before additional comments, check out the winner's average speed.
  • Stage 19:  13.65 m/s (49.13 kph or 30.53 mph)
I can hardly believe that average speed.  The Tour de France organizers thought the maximum average speed would be 47 kph (29 mph).  The above is, by far, the largest average speed for a stage win this year.  It's simply impossible to know how to program that kind of breakout strategy into my code.  But it's sure fun to watch the fast racing!

Tomorrow's 133.5-km (82.95-mi) mountain stage is the penultimate stage of this year's Tour de France.  It will be a battle for position within the top 10 of the GC.  Riders begin in Belfort and head north to Le Markstein.  Six category climbs will tax cyclists, especially the final two category-1 climbs.  I hope all the sprinters can beat the broom wagon!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 20:  3h 27' 04" (prediction)
I sure hope we do better tomorrow.  We could be slow again on a short stage, or the mountains could tame the GC contenders, meaning they'll not go all out for fear of cracking at the end.  It will be interesting to see who rides for glory and who tries to stay safe.

20 July 2023

Kasper Asgreen Leads Breakaway to Victory!

Kasper Asgreen lead the four-man breakaway all the way to the finish line in today's thrilling Tour de France stage.  The Danish cyclist got his first stage win at the Tour de France.  As fun as it is too see a massive sprint from the peloton, I was rooting hard for the breakaway to beat the peloton.  It almost didn't happen as the peloton was closing fast in the final few meters, as you can see in the screen capture I grabbed.

Our prediction did quite well today, though there was no way we could have predicted that the breakaway would hold throughout the entire stage.
  • Stage 18:  4h 06' 48" (actual), 4h 00' 10" (prediction), 06' 38" fast (-2.69% error)
Check out Asgreen's average speed.
  • Stage 18:  12.49 m/s (44.95 kph or 27.93 mph)
The pace was slow at the start, but really kicked up as the peloton realized it would have to fight to catch the breakaway.

Sprinters will be happy that they get another chance to shine tomorrow.  Stage 19 is a 172.8-km (107.4-mi) flat stage that begins in the commune of Moirans-en-Montagne, not too far from Switzerland.  They will head north to the finish line in Poligny.  There is a category-4 climb and a category-3 climb, but the flat classification is probably deserved.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 19:  3h 48' 20" (prediction)
I hope our prediction for the final non-ceremonial flat stage does as well as we did on Stages 7 and 11 and not like how we fared on Stages 3 and 4!

19 July 2023

Felix Gall Wins BRUTAL Stage!

On a very hot day with slow speeds, Felix Gall held off pursuers and took today's grueling mountain stage.  That final climb cracked one rider after another, including a very famous rider, as I'll get to in a moment.  Cyclists looked utterly drained after they crossed the finish line.
The heat and slower pace made our prediction a bit fast today.
  • Stage 17:  4h 49' 08" (actual), 4h 35' 19" (prediction), 13' 49" fast (-4.78% error)
I don't like the error, but I'll offer a hint at how sensitive cyclist power output is to the stage-winning time.  I would have needed about 2% less power on my model cyclist to match today's winning time.  That's all it takes on a mountain stage to go from a perfect prediction to one that is almost 5% off!  Check out Gall's average speed.
  • Stage 17:  9.55 m/s (34.39 kph or 21.37 mph)
I don't care how fast we were with our prediction, that average speed is impressive on such a challenging stage!

Tadej Pogačar cracked with about 15 km (9.3 mi) left in the stage.  He looked completely done.  Jonas Vingegaard looks to have wrapped up the general classification with a 07' 35" lead on Pogačar.  I'll always remember yesterday's time trial as the stage when Vingegaard smashed the Tour de France.  I'll always remember today's stage as the stage when Pogačar's dream of catching Vingegaard was smashed.

A 184.9-km (114.9-mi) medium-mountain stage awaits cyclists tomorrow.  They begin in the French commune of Moûtiers and head northwest to Bourg-en-Bresse.  There are only a couple of short category-4 climbs, so the stage might be closer to flat than medium-mountain.  Either way, it will be interesting to see if the sprinters get a chance to go for the stage win.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 18:  4h 00' 10" (prediction)
Speeds will hopefully be high as the Tour de France heads towards Sunday's Parisian finish.

18 July 2023

Jonas Vingegaard SMASHES Time Trial -- and Tour de France!

Jonas Vingegaard completely smashed his competition in today's time trial.  Tadej Pogačar may regret his bike change.  He came in second today, but Vingegaard blew Pogačar's time away and won by 01' 38".  Vingegaard now has an overall lead of 01' 48" on Pogačar.  Is the Tour de France over???
Our prediction was too fast today.  I realized this morning that terrain data associated with the category-2 climb was a bit off.  That's all on me!  I would have to admit that even if we nailed today's winning time.
  • Stage 16:  32' 36" (actual), 30' 22" (prediction), 02' 14" fast (-6.85% error)
I'll have to look at Stage 16 again when the race is over.  That's always when the real science begins!  In the meantime, I'll marvel at what Vingegaard did today, and I'll marvel at his average speed.
  • Stage 16:  11.45 m/s (41.23 kph or 25.62 mph)
Vingegaard showed Pogačar -- and the world -- who the best cyclist is.  Pogačar will have to come up with the rides of his life on the two remaining mountain stages if he is to pull off a miracle and get his Tour de France general classification hat trick.

Tomorrow's Stage 17 is 165.7-km (103.0-mi) long and begins in the rest commune of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains.  Cyclists will head south and finish at the Alpine ski resort of Courchevel.  The 28.1-km (17.5-mi) hors catégorie climb at the end of the stage to the 2304-m (7559-ft) peak of Col de la Loze will test riders, but they'll surely enjoy the downhill sprint to the finish line.  I hope the sprinters beat the broom wagon on such a grueling stage.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 17:  4h 35' 19" (prediction)
It will be fascinating to see what Pogačar tries tomorrow.  He's got a lot of catching up to do!

16 July 2023

Wout Poels Wins First Tour de France Stage!

It was another great day of racing at the Tour de France!  Wout Poels broke away from the lead group and after a wonderful final climb, crossed the finish line all on his own.
He had to have been very happy after earning his first Tour de France stage win.  I was very happy with our prediction!
  • Stage 15:  4h 40' 45" (actual), 4h 37' 25" (prediction), 03' 20" fast (-1.19% error)
That's a good way to head into tomorrow's rest day!  Check out the winner's average speed.
  • Stage 15:  10.63 m/s (38.25 kph or 23.77 mph)
Wout Poels had a great average speed after so much climbing today!

This has been a Tour de France unlike I've seen in my relatively limited number of years watching the world's most famous bicycle race.  Sports are so much more fun and interesting when rivalries develop.  Jonas Vingegaard (GC winner in 2022) and Tadej Pogačar (GC winner in 2020 and 2021) have been a joy to watch this year.  Pogačar tried a couple of attacks in the final kilometer, but Vingegaard responded like a champion.  Their teams have done all they could do to support the two superstars.  How fitting is this image I grabbed?
Pogačar (16th place) came in just ahead of Vingegaard (17th place); both were 06' 04" behind Poels.

Tomorrow will represent the second rest day in this year's Tour de France.  Cyclists will remain where they finished today, which is in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains.

Stage 16 will be an individual time trial.  Riders will begin the 22.4-km (13.9-mi) stage in the commune of Passy and head in a southwesterly loop to Combloux.  A category-2 climb will be navigated near the end a time trial that will see riders increase elevation by 395 m (1296-ft) from start to finish.  I often wait until the rest day to post the next stage's prediction, but I'll offer our prediction now.
  • Stage 16:  30' 22" (prediction)
Many riders who are not GC contenders could take it easy.  But Pogačar and Vingegaard will be the last two riders out.  If Pogačar sets a torrid pace, Vingegaard will have to respond.

15 July 2023

Rodríguez Wins on a THRILLING Day of Racing!

If you love to watch elite cyclists battle on a difficult route, this was the stage to watch.  After a very unfortunate crash, which cost several riders the chance to stay in the race, and a 24-minute neutralization, Jumbo–Visma set a torrid pace.  The field of cyclists got split all over the place on the various climbs.  The final climb up Col de Joux Plane is something I won't soon forget.  Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar eventually dueled each other for the top of the mountain.  It was a thing of beauty watching the two best in the world push each other.  I felt terrible for Pogačar when his last attack got blocked by motorcycles that were too close to the lead riders.  Fans blocked avenues of attack, too.  The Tour de France organizers must do something about fans swarming on the road.  Pogačar had to give up his attack,  and Vingegaard eventually took the larger time bonus at the top of the mountain.

The descent into the finish line was jaw-dropping.  Speeds were through the roof.  It was Carlos Rodríguez who attacked on the downhill and left his competition is the dust.  Here is the image of Rodríguez getting his first Tour de France stage win.
The torrid pace meant our prediction was once again a tad slow.
  • Stage 14:  3h 58' 45" (actual), 4h 07' 21" (prediction), 08' 36" slow (3.60% error)
Not a bad error, but I still want to be under 3%!  Our prediction came in between the riders who finished 11th and 12th.  Out of 158 riders who finished today, roughly 7% beat our predicted time.  My model is just a tad slow on the best of the best.

Rodríguez had quite an average speed.
  • Stage 14:  10.60 m/s (38.15 kph or 23.70 mph)
Tomorrow's 179-km (111-mi) 15th stage is the third straight mountain stage.  Beginning in the commune of Les Gets, riders will loop to the southwest and then back northeast toward the category-1 finish at Saint-Gervais-les-Bains.  The Italian border won't be too far away from the finish line.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 15:  4h 37' 25" (prediction)
I hope tomorrow's stage has the same fireworks that were on display today!

14 July 2023

Kwiatkowski Conquers Grand Colombier!

Polish cyclist Michał Kwiatkowski had the ride of his life today.  With all of France watching on Bastille Day, Kwiatkowski rode the entirety of Grand Colombier all on his own.  Neither the chasers nor the peloton could catch Kwiatkowski, who finished 47" before the next rider crossed the line.
Racing was really fast during the part of the race leading up to the big climb.  And when it was clear that Kwiatkowski would ride to victory, I knew we would be too slow today.
  • Stage 13:  3h 17' 33" (actual), 3h 29' 04" (prediction), 11' 31" slow (5.83% error)
I'm no fan of our error today, but I was rooting like mad for Kwiatkowski to make to the end without being caught.  Check out his average speed.
  • Stage 13:  11.63 m/s (41.85 kph or 26.01 mph)
Given the end of this stage, that is fast!  It is quite clear that cyclists have increased their power outputs since we modeled the race last year.  I love learning what elite athletes can do!

Right as Kwiatkowski crossed the line Tadej Pogačar attacked Jonas Vingegaard.  With a third-place time bonus, Pogačar managed to knock 8" off Vingegaard's general classification lead.  The Danish defending champion is now just 9" ahead of the Slovenian two-time champ.

Tomorrow's 151.8-km (94.32-mi) mountain stage commences in the French commune of Annemasse.  Cyclists will initially head north toward Lake Geneva before turning back and heading east to the finish line at the commune of Morzine.  A category-3 climb will be followed by three category-1 climbs.  Near the finish will be the hors catégorie climb to the 1691-m (5548-ft) peak of Col de Joux Plane.  Watch for a very fast downhill finish.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 14:  4h 07' 21" (prediction)
We've been too slow on the past two stages.  I hope we do better tomorrow!

13 July 2023

Izagirre Breaks Away and Rides Solo to the Finish Line!

What a stage!  There was a lot of early jockeying for position.  But it was Ion Izagirre who attacked on the final climb with about 30.9 km (19.2 mi) left in the stage.  He managed to hold onto the lead and cross the finish line all by himself.
It would be 58 seconds before the next two riders came in.  We were a tiny bit slow on a very warm day of racing.
  • Stage 12:  3h 51' 42" (actual), 4h 00' 01" (prediction), 08' 19" slow (3.59% error)
That error is just outside my preferred range.  Our prediction fell between the riders who came in 52nd and 53rd today, which meant about 31% of the 167 riders beat our time.  Not a bad prediction, just not elite!  Check out Izagirre's average speed.
  • Stage 12:  12.14 m/s (43.71 kph or 27.16 mph)
Race organizers thought 42 kph might be the top speed.  They were off, too!

I've been waiting for tomorrow's stage ever since this year's Tour de France route was released.  The 137.8-km (85.62-mi) mountain stage begins in the eastern French commune of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne.  Cyclists will head east to the real star of tomorrow's stage, the 17.4-km (10.8-mi) hors catégorie climb nearly to the peak of Grand Colombier.  The riders will cross the finish line at an elevation of 1501 m (4925 ft).  It will be a grueling climb to the finish line!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 13:  3h 29' 04" (prediction)
We were too slow today.  Will the Grand Colombier slow riders down?  If we are too slow tomorrow, some cyclist will have had the ride of his life on Bastille Day!

12 July 2023

Jasper Philipsen is Simply the Best Sprinter!

Jasper Philipsen has shown the world that he is the best Tour de France sprinter.  His ability to pick a gap on the final sprint and explode to the finish line is awe inspiring.  He finished by more than a bike length ahead of his competition.
With cooler temperatures and some rain today, I thought our prediction would be a tad fast.  But the final hour of racing was incredibly fast.  We did well!
  • Stage 11:  4h 01' 07" (actual), 3h 59' 41" (prediction), 01' 26" fast (-0.59% error)
I love that error!  Check out Philipsen's average speed.
  • Stage 11:  12.43 m/s (44.74 kph or 27.80 mph)
Philipsen hit a maximum speed of 71.1 kph (44.2 mph) in the final kilometer.  Wow!  I can't even fathom moving at such a speed on a bicycle while on level pavement.

Tomorrow's 168.8-km (104.9-mi) medium-mountain stage begins in the commune of Roanne.  Riders will have a winding stage that sends them east to Belleville-en-Beaujolais.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 12:  4h 00' 01" (prediction)
The stage has three category-3 climbs, followed by two category-2 climbs.  It's a perfect stage for a breakaway group to get to the finish line.  Cyclists will compete hard tomorrow, but the Alps are waiting for them!

11 July 2023

Pello Bilbao Makes Spain Proud!

Pello Bilbao gave Spain a much-needed stage win at the Tour de France with his great sprint in the final hundred meters.  Six riders in the breakaway managed to get to the finish line without being reeled in by the chasers or the peloton.
Bilbao is now in 5th place in the general classification, 04' 34" behind Jonas Vingegaard.

Racing was fast on a very hot day.  Our prediction was a bit slow.
  • Stage 10:  3h 52' 34" (actual), 4h 02' 16" (prediction), 09'42" slow (4.17% error)
As I have noted many times, I want to be under 3%.  It may be that my model will need a tiny bit more cyclist power output for next year.  Check out Bilbao's average speed.
  • Stage 10:  11.98 m/s (43.14 kph or 26.80 mph)
My model cyclist was about 1.73 kph (1.07 mph) too slow today.

Tomorrow's 11th stage represents the middle of this year's Tour de France.  Cyclists will begin the stage in Clermont-Ferrand, which is where they rested after the 9th stage.  The 179.8-km (111.7-mi) flat stage will have riders head northwest and then east to Moulins.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 11:  3h 59' 41" (prediction)
We were a speck slow in today's heat.  I hope we fare better tomorrow, but if cyclists ride like they did on Stage 8, I will need to give my model cyclist a serious power boost!

10 July 2023

Tour de France Stage 10 Prediction

Stage 10 of this year's Tour de France commences at Vulcania, not too far from where yesterday's stage ended and also not too far from where cyclists are resting today.  The 167.2-km (103.9-mi) medium-mountain stage takes riders on a loop to the south where they end up a bit southeast of Vulcania at Issoire.  In the middle of four category-3 climbs is the category-2 climb to the 1451-m (4760-ft) peak of Col de la Croix Saint-Robert.  Our predicted winning time is given below.
  • Stage 10:  4h 02' 16" (prediction)
It will be interesting to see how many cyclists survive to the next rest day.  After tomorrow's medium-mountain stage, sprinters will get a chance to shine on Stage 11.  But then another medium-mountain stage, followed by three consecutive mountain stages will get riders to their next day of rest.  A lot of grueling riding coming at the end of the week!

09 July 2023

Michael Woods DESTROYS Puy de Dôme!

As someone from the US, I was rooting hard for Matteo Jorgenson to maintain his lead and conquer Puy de Dôme.  But, alas, it was Michael Woods who blasted past Jorgenson with half a kilometer left in the brutal climb to win his first Tour de France stage.  Jorgenson ended up in fourth place today.  Woods won by nearly half a minute.  Here is Woods making Canada proud.
We had a nice prediction today.
  • Stage 09:  4h 19' 41" (actual), 4h 25' 28" (prediction), 05' 47" slow (2.23% error)
With such a brutal final climb, I'll definitely take that error!  Check out the average speed for Woods.
  • Stage 09:  11.71 m/s (42.14 kph or 26.19 mph)
That was a pretty fast stage!  The top 12 riders (out of 169) beat our predicted time.

After Woods won, the yellow jersey battle got intense when Tadej Pogačar attacked on the 12% grade and Jonas Vingegaard couldn't keep up.  Pogačar ended up knocking 8" off Vingegaard's lead to find himself just 17" behind the yellow jersey.

Tomorrow will be the race's first rest day.  Cyclists will be in the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.  I will post our prediction for Stage 10 tomorrow.

08 July 2023

Pedersen Wins Blisteringly FAST Stage!

If you thought Stage 4 was too slow, you will have loved today's Stage 8.  For such a long stage, it's hard to imagine how elite cyclists were able to sustain the speeds they achieved today.  Mads Pedersen won the final sprint and took the stage win.
Pedersen is on the left with the red helmet.  He just kept Jasper Philipsen from winning his fourth stage this year.

I knew our prediction was in the loo after seeing today's speeds.
  • Stage 08:  4h 12' 26" (actual), 4h 37' 16" (prediction), 24' 50" slow (9.84% error)
We have a stage like this every year.  All I can do is tip my cap to the jaw-dropping feats of the best athletes on Earth.  Check out the winner's average speed.
  • Stage 08:  13.25 m/s (47.70 kph or 29.64 mph)
Even the announcers were commenting on how quickly the stage ended.  I hate our prediction, but it was great witnessing those speeds!

Tomorrow's ninth stage begins in the commune of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat and ends near the top of the volcano Puy de Dôme.  The 182.4-km (113.3-mi) mountain stage has riders heading due east until they reach the hors catégorie climb at the finish.  Our prediction is below.
  • Stage 09:  4h 25' 28" (prediction)
I hope my model is back on track tomorrow!

07 July 2023

Hat Trick for Jasper Philipsen!

Jasper Philipsen denied Mark Cavendish a bit of history today, who is tied with Eddy Merckx with 34 Tour de France stage wins.  Philipsen won his third stage in this year's Tour de France.  He's won all three sprints in all three flat stages.  Check out the finish.
Cavendish is on the left, coming in second.  Philipsen is clearly the top sprinter right now.  And he seems to have a great hold on the green jersey.

We had a great prediction today.
  • Stage 07:  3h 46' 28" (actual), 3h 47' 15" (prediction), 47" slow (0.35% error)
It's wonderful to be under 1% again!  Check out Philipsen's average speed.
  • Stage 07:  12.50 m/s (45.01 kph or  27.97 mph)
Tomorrow's stage is a long medium-mountain stage at 200.7 km (124.7 mi) in length.  Beginning in the French commune of Libourne, cyclists head northeast to the commune of Limoges.  The stage is fairly flat, but a category-3 climb and two category-4 climbs, all short, await riders in the latter half of the stage.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 08:  4h 37' 16" (prediction)
Will sprinters hold back tomorrow?  Will someone in the breakaway win the stage?  Will riders be thinking about the grueling finish to the next day's stage and conserve energy?  Watching the teams' strategies unfold is always a lot of fun!

06 July 2023

Pogačar's Attack Gives Him Stage 6!

Tadej Pogačar bided his time behind Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert, who did yeoman's work in keeping Vingegaard in contention for the stage win.  With just 2.7 km (1.7 mi) left, Pogačar attacked and Vingegaard couldn't keep up.  Vengegaard is now in yellow, but Pogačar is only 25" back.  Check out Pogačar winning today's stage.
We did a little better today, but an added amount of power based on yesterday's stage proved to be a colossal mistake.  Such is modeling!
  • Stage 06:  3h 54' 27" (actual), 3h 46' 03" (prediction), 08' 24" fast (-3.58% error)
Pogačar's average speed was impressive, but it wasn't blistering.
  • Stage 06:  10.30 m/s (37.08 kph or 23.04 mph)
Tomorrow's 169.9-km (105.6-mi) stage is quite flat.  Riders begin in the commune of Mont-de-Marsan and head north to Bordeaux.  After stages 3 and 4, I'm rather apprehensive about tomorrow's prediction!  But it's time to forge ahead.
  • Stage 07:  3h 47' 15" (prediction)
Will there be any breakaways by riders who yearn for a stage win?  Or will cyclists play it safe like they did in stage 4?  It will be interesting to see!

05 July 2023

Hindley Wins Stage and Grabs Yellow Jersey!

I completely missed today's Tour de France action.  My younger daughter and I spent a good bit of today touring nearby University of Virginia.  I had to watch highlights of Stage 5 after we got back.  A lot happened today!

Jai Hindley took today's stage by more than half a minute on the rest of the competition.  In doing so, Hindley now has possession of the yellow jersey, holding a 47-second lead over last year's winner, Jonas Vingegaard.  Two-time winner Tadej Pogačar now sits in sixth place, 01' 40" behind Hindley.
I think Australia will be celebrating tonight!

My daughter told me the winning time while we were driving to Charlottesville.  It seems we were a bit slow today.
  • Stage 05:  3h 57' 07" (actual), 4h 08' 08" (prediction), 11' 01" slow (4.65% error)
We fared better today than we did on the two previous stages, but my goal is to get under 3%.  Hindley's average speed is given below.
  • Stage 05:  11.44 m/s (41.17 kph or 25.58 mph)
Yet another indication of how slow yesterday's stage was is that today's average speed is almost exactly what the winner averaged yesterday -- on a flat stage!

Tomorrow's 144.9-km (90.04-mi) mountain stage begins in the French commune of Tarbes.  Riders will loop to the southeast before finishing a bit southwest of Tarbes at the commune of Cauterets, which is close to the Spanish border.  The middle of the stage will take cyclists to the 1490-m (4888-ft) peak of Col d'Aspin on a category-1 climb.  The main player in tomorrow's stage will be the hors catégorie climb to the 2115-m (6939-ft) peak of Col du Tourmalet.  As if all that wasn't enough, riders will face a category-1 climb to the finish line.  What a grueling stage!  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 06:  3h 46' 03" (prediction)
I hope we can sneak under 3% error tomorrow!

04 July 2023

Crashes Mar Philipsen's Second Straight Win!

Jasper Philipsen won his second straight Tour de France stage with a great sprint in the final kilometer.  But that final kilometer was marred by a few crashes that took out many of the top sprinters.  Elite cycling can be intense and brutal, as today's finish demonstrated.  Philipsen just edged Caleb Ewan at the finish line.
Now for the comparison between Philipsen's time and our prediction.
  • Stage 04:  4h 25' 28" (actual), 4h 06' 01" (prediction), 19' 27" fast (-7.33% fast)
This is our second straight terrible prediction, though yesterday's was due to not having the correct terrain data for the end of the stage.  Today's problem was all about pace.  Halfway into the stage, I could tell we would be much too fast.  I saw this on Cycling News:  "Hopefully the upcoming intermediate sprint will kick the stage into life after a slow day."  Slow is an understatement.  The peloton was moving like molasses today!  Look at the winner's average speed.
  • Stage 04:  11.41 m/s (41.09 kph or 25.53 mph)
How slow is that?  Tour de France organizers estimated an average speed range of 43 kph - 47 kph for their time schedules.  I could knock about 18% off my model cyclist's power output and nearly nail today's time.  I've said for years that we cannot predict teams' strategies.  It seems that today was about keeping riders safe while leisurely biking through the south of France.  Only in the final 10 km or so did speeds really kick up.  Oh well, lots to learn from two flat stages that we simply failed to predict well.

Riders hit the Pyrenees tomorrow in this year's first mountain stage.  They begin in Pau and loop around to the southwest before finishing nearly due south of Pau in Laruns.  The 162.7-km (101.1-mi) stage's highlight will be an hors catégorie climb to the 1540-m (5052-ft) peak of Col de Soudet in the middle of the stage.  Our prediction is below.
  • Stage 05:  4h 08' 08" (prediction)
I hope we do better in the mountains than we did on the two flat stages!

03 July 2023

Jasper Philipsen Wins Thrilling Sprint!

Today's stage was an interesting study in peloton dynamics.  Getting sprinters ready for the finish was the aim of the game in the final part of the race.  Jasper Philipsen prevailed in the final sprint, which was thrilling!  He had to wait for confirmation as race organizers took about 20 minutes to figure out if Philipsen would be penalized for a slight bump on Wout van Aert.  Check out the finish.
Now we come to the comparison between our prediction and reality.  I discovered this morning that my model was using the terrain data for the old 187.4-km stage, not the modified 193.5-km stage.  The additional 6.1 km was due to too much road furniture on the original route.  I won't put a new prediction here because I don't want to brush over the mistake I made yesterday.  I'll compare with the prediction I originally made.
  • Stage 03:  4h 43' 15" (actual), 4h 19' 06" (prediction), 24' 09" fast (-8.53% error)
That is obviously a terrible result!  I wish I had the correct terrain data before I wrote yesterday's blog post.  Oh well, I'll have to chalk this one up to a goof!  Below is Philipsen's average speed.
  • Stage 03:  11.39 m/s (40.99 kph or 25.47 mph)
What a bizarre stage!  The above speed is quite a bit slower than Tour de France organizers guessed with their time schedules.

Tomorrow's fourth stage begins in the southwest French commune of Dax and takes riders 181.8 km (113.0 mi) mostly east to the commune of Nogaro.  The flat stage will allow sprinters to shine again before the next two grueling mountain stages.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 04:  4h 06' 01" (prediction)
After today's disaster, I hope we can get back on track tomorrow.  With such a flat stage, speeds might be higher than my model predicts.  Sprinters might go all-out with the mountains coming up!

02 July 2023

Lafay Dominates the Final Kilometer!

The top cyclists were setting a strong pace in the final 20 km (12 mi) of today's second Tour de France stage.  At one point, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar were dueling on the final steep descent.  But for all the position jockeying at the end, it was Victor Lafay who launched out of the group in the final kilometer and took today's stage win.  Does he look happy with the win?
Our prediction fared pretty well today.
  • Stage 02:  4h 46' 39" (actual), 4h 50' 54" (prediction), 04' 13" slow (1.47% error)
I have no problem with that error!  Check out Lafay's average speed.
  • Stage 02:  12.15 m/s (43.73 kph or 27.17 mph)
So far, my model has done well with the two medium-mountain stages that opened the Tour de France.  Tomorrow's third stage is a flat 193.5-km (120.2-mi) stage (there are conflicting stage distances right now -- 187.4 km versus 193.5 km!) that commences in the north Spanish town of Amorebieta-Etxano and takes riders east and a bit north, just over the French border, to the commune of Bayonne.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 03:  4h 19' 06"
I hope to see a fantastic sprint for the win!

01 July 2023

Adam Yates Takes the First Stage!

Jumbo-Visma did a lot of work today, but it was the UAE team that got today's first win of the Tour de France.  It was not Tadej Pogačar, who finished third, but Adam Yates who won the day.  Check out Yates crossing the finish line from the screen capture I grabbed.
What was really cool about the end of the race is that Adam's twin brother Simon was with him heading toward the finish; Simon is seen above coming in second.

Now it's time to check on this year's first prediction.
  • Stage 01:  4h 22' 49" (actual), 4h 21' 07" (prediction), 01' 42" fast (-0.65% error)
What a great start!  But it's woefully early in the Tour de France, and as the great Han Solo once said, "Don't get cocky!"  I've seen plenty of great predictions in past years get forgotten quickly after some terrible predictions.  The goal is to learn and improve our scientific understanding of cycling at the highest level.  Check out the average speed for Adam Yates below.
  • Stage 01:  11.54 m/s (41.55 kph or 25.82 mph)
Tomorrow's second stage begins in the northcentral Spanish city of Vitoria-Gasteiz and takes riders northeast to the coastal city of San Sebastián.  The 208.9-km (129.8-mi) medium-mountain stage is this year's longest stage.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 02:  4h 50' 52" (prediction)
A short category-2 climb awaits cyclists near the end of tomorrow's stage.  It will be interesting to see how the pace is set early on.

30 June 2023

Tour de France Starts Tomorrow!

I have not written a blog post since last year's Tour de France summary.  Most of 2022 had me busy with media work, especially the latter half with the World Cup.  Though I am woefully behind on social media, I put most of my media work on my professional Facebook page.  But I will do as in past years and write a blog post for each stage of this year's Tour de France.  Rising sophomore and University of Lynchburg physics major Adam Sanders has worked on acquiring terrain data for the stages.  The model I have developed over the past 20 years, with great help from my students, will once again be employed to generate stage-winning time predictions.  We do not model a particular cyclist; we try only to predict the winning time based on the typical cyclist who wins a given stage type.

Stage 1 of the 110th Tour de France commences and ends in the Spanish city of Bilbao.  The 182-km (113-mi) medium-mountain stage takes riders on a clockwise loop at the northern coast of Spain.  This year's race looks to have more climbing stages, so there could be a lot of early jockeying for position in the general classification.  Our prediction is given below.
  • Stage 01:  4h 21' 07" (prediction)
It is always exciting to see how our first prediction does.  After watching the Netflix series Tour de France:  Unchained, I was reminded again of just how much we cannot know when it comes to modeling such a complicated sporting event.  There is so much team strategy that we are not privy to.  But it is a lot of fun nonetheless to put physics and modeling to the test!

25 July 2022

A Final Look at the 2022 Tour de France

The Monday after the Tour de France ends is always a day on which I have a little trouble powering down.  And I'm just a sports physicist who models the race, not one of the guys in the saddle!  I have a lot of fun modeling the Tour de France each year.  Most of the fun has to do with learning something new.  Using science to understand how athletes perform at the pinnacle of their métiers is what drives my research.  Posting predictions of stage-winning times is just fun on the side.  The table below summarizes how predictions fared this year.

Nothing like that great start in Denmark!  Thirteen of the stages (~62%) were predicted to 3% error or better, which I strive for.  Three more stages (~14%) were just outside that error range.  And five stage predictions (~24%) were simply terrible.  Stages 5, 6 (especially!), and 19 had cyclist power outputs the likes of which I didn't think they could do.  But then Stages 12 and 21 were so much slower than anticipated, though I worry less about missing the ceremonial final stage.  There is always more to learn!

I love estimating cyclist power output.  So many riders and teams want to hold that information close to their respective vests.  But it's easy to obtain what my model cyclist outputs.  Check out the graph below.
The energies in the above graph are supposed to go after the winning cyclist for each stage, not any one particular cyclist.  Stage 6 is quite the anomaly!  I have a lot of work to do to understand how cyclists could complete the longest stage in the Tour de France at an average speed that was nearly that of a time trial.  If they really could achieve those speeds within the confines of what they are supposed to ingest, they definitely needed many Calories that day!  To see more of what I have to say on the subject of cyclist energy output during the Tour de France, click here (or here for the article translated into French) for a piece I wrote for The Conversation and here for a neat video put together by Mark Langtry.

Now look at what Jonas Vingegaard was able to achieve while winning his first Tour de France general classification.

That is quite an average speed for Vingegaard!  I usually do better matching the stage-winning times than the winner's time.  My model cyclist's mass changes, depending on what type of stage I'm modeling.  I don't model a single cyclist; I want the stage-winning times.  My model wasn't supposed to be that close to Vingegaard's time!  What I've learned is that the peloton -- collectively, with all its drafting and shielding of cyclists from wind -- is generating a LOT of power.  Tadej Pogačar averaged 41.17 kph last year (3414.4 km total race length) and 39.89 kph the year before last (3484.2 km total race length).  This year's race was shorter than those two races at 3349.8 km, and that may partially explain why Vingegaard biked 2.3% - 5.6% faster than Pogačar did during the past two Tours de France.  Whatever the case, more analyses need to be performed!

It was another fun summer with the Tour de France.  I thank my University of Lynchburg research student, Michael Charecky, for helping me with terrain data acquisition.  I'm sure we'll need to tweak the model before next year's Tour de France arrives! 

24 July 2022

Jasper Philipsen Wins Sprint on Final Stage!

Jasper Philipsen edged out all riders in a ferocious sprint to take the final stage of this year's Tour de France.
After all the super-fast stages, today's stage was molasses running up a sand pile at the start.  More champagne consumed than I had in my model!  Speeds really picked up during the laps in Paris.
Our prediction was much too fast.
  • Stage 21:  2h 58' 32" (actual), 2h 45' 50" (prediction), 12' 42" fast (-7.11% error)
It's always impossible to know how things will go at the start of the last stage.  Sometimes we nail the time; other times we miss.  Today we missed.  Below is Philipsen's average speed.
  • Stage 21:  10.79 m/s (38.85 kph or 24.14 mph)
That's slower than the Tour de France organizers imagined.

I will write a summary blog post tomorrow.  For now, I'll end this post with a great image I grabbed while watching on my office computer.

It was wonderful watching Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar battle for the yellow jersey.  I'll never forget this year's Stage 11 and the final climb on Col du Granon.