Sunday, July 25, 2010

11 Tour TT Statistics & Contador's Climbing Abilities Reviewed

The 2010 Tour de France, the last one of this decade, draws to a close. Alberto Contador, the consummate cyclist of our times, has nearly clinched his third Tour de France title as he and his team roll into Paris today. This will be his 5th Grand Tour win in a row, and he has everything under the sun from the Giro d'Italia to the Vuelta a España. He is at the level of Lemond, Bobet and Thys. Meanwhile, Andy Schleck made slow but steady improvements in his time trialing to give El Pistolero a serious run for his money.


I was hoping to shed a bit of interesting light across both last year's and this year's time trial stages at the Tour. See below. 

1. 2009 TdF Prologue.  Let's go back a year. This was the profile of the opening prologue if you'll recall :

This was how the resulting times played out.

A nearly normal distribution. I used a 0.2 minute bin width. 180 riders started, gave their best. Average time was 20"20' and the average of each rider's time variation from this mean was 0.63 min, or 37.6 seconds. More people tended to perform better than average than not. It was short. Legs were fresh so a violent effort. There were 2 or 3 out there in the land of under-performance.

2. 2009 TdF Final TT.  This was its profile :

This was how the results were distributed. 

By stage 18, just 158 riders remained to time trial compared to 180 who had started. 22 riders said "I'm done, thank you very much", that's 12% of the peloton who were missing. Contador surprisingly, beat Cancellara by some precise pacing strategies (a topic that was explored in depth by the SportsScientists). The fastest guys could do this 40K course (25 miles) in 48 and a half minutes. Andy Schleck performed better than 86% of the rest and he was 1 min 44 sec slower than Contador. Menchov posted just close to average times but he must have been toast from the long Giro season earlier (racing against a doped up Italian challenger is not so easy, as it goes). Towards the end, everyone must have been cooked 80% anyway. More riders tended to perform slower than the average times. 83 are slower than some 72 . The average spread is close to 2 min.

3. 2010 TdF Prologue. This was its profile. A much shorter route than last year.

This was how the results were distributed.

The fastest man covered 9K in 10 minutes. Contador, meanwhile, didn't give his best like last year. Taking it easy? A big field - 197 riders - raced, posting a mean time of a little over 11 min with a spread of just about half a minute. Schleck was embedded in the average. Menchov was slightly better than him. Overall, again, more riders tended to go fast with violent effort and perform better than the average than not. A few were cast way out in in the world of under-performance. What on earth were they thinking?
4. 2010 Final TT. This was the profile. Very flat but was this a welcome respite for the riders?

 Not really. This was how the race results played out.

The headwinds were brutal. But again, the same names were out there in the front, the best guns (Martin, Cancellara) could pedal a little over 30 miles in an hour. Stop to think about that. And the average time was 1 hour 8 min or so and the spread much bigger than last year - almost 2 and a half minutes. More riders tended to perform worse than the average. Over 85 riders were better than the rest. Contador appeared to be struggling. Schleck, who does better than 73% of the field, is even worse than Contador, but just by 31 sec!

Menchov, though, was the big surprise as he had a big leap in performance - what I'll call a 2x2! He raced faster than Contador, beating him by almost 2 mins. Furthermore, he had beaten Sanchez by exactly 2 mins to seal that 3rd place on the podium (the most un-talked news yesterday). Also note that out of 197 riders who began the Tour, 27 riders had quit, meaning 14% of the peloton were missing. Comparable to the 12% last year who had also quit by the final time trial.

From all this data, one can understand that the Tour has been even getting challenging for riders and the number of casualties are higher this year than 2009. Contador's placings in time trials have taken a toll over the last one year. He has not won a single stage at the Tour either. What is the matter, fans wonder? Illness again? Tiredness? Lack of ability? The champion who beat an ever consistent Cancellara last year looks vulnerable more than ever. GC contenders who want to beat him must tap into this 30 second time trial weakness.


On the climbing front, Contador has posted consistent values in climbing performance over the past years. The following table was put together by me after reviewing a bunch of people's calculations. I took the averages of all their numbers and integrated them into the table with average VAM's. This will hopefully average out the error from each person's math, instead of sticking to just one inflated/underinflated number.

With these approximations on the climbs, we find Contador stands somewhere at 5.9-6.1 W/kg average in Grand Tours, not considering the 2008 Giro d'Italia. The big surges in performance were on the long climbs at Verbier and Angliru, which were massive efforts and on the short-steep Côte de la Croix Neuve, which was a little over 1 mile long and 10% average in average grade. That must have been one violent effort to cut 10 seconds into Andy's time. Readers can verify these numbers or put a reality check on it if they choose.

It will be interesting to see how Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck perform in future. Thanks to them for what will be great memories.

For your pleasure, here's the Col de la Croix Neuve attack from Contador to top this post off.

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  1. Interesting post. As always.

    The outliers for this year's Tour de France prologue are due to crashes: Manuel Cardoso and Mathias Frank, who came last and second last, both crashed. It's entirely possible that other outliers in other TTs either crashed or had mechanicals.

  2. The increase in the head-wind for the later riders seems to have affected the distribution for the 2010 TT.

    I like this post and will link to it.


  3. Congratulations to Contador on a race well-run! Last year his battle with Armstrong was fun to watch, this year Andy Schleck gave him a run for his money but couldn't be beat. I won't be too impressed though until he wins a couple more in row to start creepin up on Armstrong's record.

  4. I have never seen such a long version of the stage 12 highlights before. But judging from it, seems like there was some headwind into the attack. It sure was a very hard effort from Contador. He really deserved that jersey!

  5. Anonymous7:12 PM

    One thing skewing the stats in this year's next-to-last stage TT are the riders who are just riding out the string, with no thought of winning and perhaps husbanding their strength to help the sprinters with their quest to win in Paris.

    None of those guys are going all out. For most of them, it's simply a day's training ride--or even a recovery stage in preparation for the next day.


  6. Nice work: the Verbier effort does stand out from the others. A lot of attention was paid to that climb; hard to believe the power numbers are overestimated.

  7. Thank you for the fun read.. The is the best page I have found on the subject! I am a mountain biker but i do love street racing very much.

  8. @Susan, I think in many ways, Contador is at least as impressive as Armstrong. Whilst any cyclist at this level will, doubtless, want to win the Tour above anything else, it was almost Armstrong's exclusive goal success, a few other shorter races granted, whereas Contador has spread himself around the grand tours which, in my opinion, makes for at least a more interesting rider.

  9. Used to love cycling but some incidents made me stop loving it.Good too hear information like this.

  10. Joachim7:54 PM

    good analysis! to piggyback on a previous post - aside from weather factors (which are quantifiable), the late-stage/long grand tour ITT will have a non-normal distribution based on what i'll call a Motivation factor.

    some riders will be racing to win - the usual TT specialists; those racing for time gains - the ones aspiring to go up the GC or defend their GC standing; or those sent up the road as markers by the team. this is the "motivated" group if you will.

    the rest are riding the ITT to, well, ride it and get it over with: sprinters, climbers, domestiques.

    from a field of 170 riders and given the events of the prior 2+ weeks, it should be fairly straightforward (hindsight!) to bucket riders in the motivated or unmotivated group. if desired, groups could be further divided into early or late starters to remove the weather impact. it would be interesting to see the resulting distribution and any new trends or conclusions which may be derived from that data set.


Thank you. I read every single comment.