2015 Tour de France Grand Depart

Well done Utrecht. Although you wouldn’t know it from watching British commentary (who oddly enough don’t seem to comment on the numbers of people attending when they’re on the continent – well, unless its Carlton Kirby being patronising, that is), “Utrechtians” turned out in droves to witness some some fine examples of time trialing prowess around their city. The next day, they braved the storms to witness some even more interesting racing, as the Tour laid bare the fallacy that flat stages were boring.

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Here, essentially, are some tit bits on those couple of stages based on trying to answer the questions that were raised during the weekend that were perhaps a little more interesting, and some bits of info that seemed to be novel. Well, I thought so anyway.

The Time Trial

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In between trying to avoid calling it a prologue, one of the main things brought up in the prologue was that the men who went later on in the race complained that the heat and wind has slowed their times down.

Was the heat a factor?

“I couldn’t really handle the big heat,” said Tony Martin, for instance,  “I didn’t expect it but especially in the second part I was really tired because of the heat… I was surprised that the heat was such a major factor on such a short distance. I think that in colder conditions I can do a better job. That’s the Tour de France. I don’t think I made mistakes in the preparation but I have to deal with the fact that the heat ruined it for me.”

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Cancellara also blamed the heatwave, “In this heat I suffer more than in other circumstances. It wasn’t super but it was the same for everybody. With a TT-helmet, and also without time to drink, at the end it’s obvious the throat is incredibly dry.”

Meanwhile, Alberto Contador went with the wind as being his adversary “I don’t know how much of an issue the wind was, but it was very strong. In the end, though, it’s the same for everyone.”

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Was it though? Was it the same for everyone, or did a certain sector of the TT, which had its first rider start at 14:00, and the last at 17.17, so there was essentially a three and a half hour window for conditions to change. For the life of me, I can’t find any “observed conditions” sites for weather rather than simply forecasts, so I can’t tell you how the wind changed bar from that everyone seemed keen to say it had grown in strength towards the end. We can, however, have a look at a scatter graph on how the times played out as the TT went on.

timesEvidently, there isn’t really any particular trend in the times, although the trend line suggests they were getting slightly faster as the time trial went on. This can be explained in a manifold number of ways however – the faster riders and team leaders tend to go later in prologues, and they are of course at the advantage of knowing the time they have to aim at. It’s thus perfectly reasonable to see a rise towards the end even if the conditions were getting harder.

How many riders got caught?

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No, not for drugs you miserly cynic, but how many riders got caught by their minute man. Anyone who has had the pleasure/torture of taking part in a TT knows the unbridled joy of catching your minute man and the abject shame of being caught by the flyer behind you. Luckily, the peloton isn’t immune from this, and 22 riders (11.1%) were caught by the man behind them. Of course, TT’s can be treated as an extra rest day by some in the field with no overall ambition, so it’s worth taking this with a pinch of salt, but let’s name and shame those riders anyway.

Laurent Didier – caught by Jos Van Emden 
Perig Quemeneur – caught by Julien Vermote
Roy Curvers – caught by Marcel Sieberg
Lars Bak – caught by Rohan Dennis
Mikael Cherel – caught by Tanel Kangert
Armindo Fonseca – caught by Andreas Schillinger
Matteo Bono – caught by Markel Irizar
Yohann Gene – caught by Rigoberto Uran
Luke Rowe – caught by Jeremy Roy
Johan Van Summeren – caught by Rein Taaramae
Julien Arredondo – caught by Steven Kruijswijk
Davide Cimolai – caught by Bob Jungels
Giampaolo Caruso – caught by Georg Priedler
Kennth Van Bilsen – caught by Dylan Van Baarle
Arnaud Gerard – caught by Emanuel Buchmann
Fillippo Pozzato – caught by Bauke Mollema
Pierre Rolland – caught by Zdnek Stybar
Tiago Machado – caught by Tom Dumoulin
Ivan Basso – caught by Leopold Konig
Dominic Nerz – caught by Matthias Brandle
Romain Sicard – caught by Tony Martin
Rui Costa – caught by Fabian Cancellara

Particular scorn of course goes to Ivan Basso and Rui Costa, Grand tour winner and World Champion respectively, who managed to get overtaken, although Costa can probably take solace in that the “overtaken by Cancellara in a TT” club includes Denis Menchov (2009 Tour) and Bradley Wiggins (2009 TT Worlds).

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Cancellara catching Wiggins, who’d had a couple of mechanical issues.

Dominic Nerz gets a reprieve given his bars snapped, as does Pippo Pozzato, because only God can Judge him, right?

Whats the difference between the riders in the prologue?

With so many riders being overtaken, you might be confused, thinking that there are huge gaps in ability between these seemingly elite sportsmen. But how big are these gaps exactly?

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Above is the curve for all the times of the riders at the prologue, specifically set as the number of seconds they were off the winner, Rohan Dennis. As you can see, the vast majority were over a minute down, which sounds pretty high. Lets see what the percentage difference between some of the times was though.

Rohan Dennis (14’56) to  2nd placed Tony Martin (15’01) – 5 seconds, 0.558% speed difference.
Rohan Dennis to last years winner Vincenzo Nibali (15’39) – 43 seconds, 4.799% speed difference
Rohan Dennis to average time (16’14) – 78 seconds, 8.705% speed difference
Rohan Dennis to median time (16’15) – 79 seconds, 8.816% speed difference
Rohan Dennis to last placed Michael Cherel (18.32) – 216 seconds, 24.107%

Time trials are always likely to throw up big differences simply due to technology, training and dedication to them, and its worth bearing in mind that the difference between 1st and last at the last Tour came out as just 6.712%. Mind, speed is a vector quantity, whilst the air you have to push out of the way to increase it is three dimensional, so the amount of extra power you have to put in to get a tiny increase in speed is impressive.

Was it actually the fastest time trial in Tour history?

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Rohan Dennis finished as the only man under 15 minutes, which have him an average speed for the 13.8 kilometre course of 55.4464kph – above the previous time trial speed record of 55.2665 set by Chris Boardman 11 years earlier in Lille over a 7.2km course.

Dennis’s time trial thus slotted into the hallowed position of the fastest ever Tour Time Trial, and was shown as thus above Boardman and Greg Lemond’s 1989 Tour winning affair.

However, this ranking ignored second and third placings, and so Lemond shouldn’t really be second at all. A quick glance through the recent past of some Tour time trials and prologues yields the following ranking.

fastesttourdefranceTT

It would thus show Martin, Cancellara and Dumoulin slipping into 3rd to 5th, with Lemond down in 8th behind his hated American chum.

However, the TT may not actually be the fastest – twitter user @ammattipyoraily, a bit of a genius with the statistics and calculating power data and the like, examined some of the SRM files of riders who had ridden the prologue and reckoned that the prologue actually came out at 13.45km. If this is the case, then the average speeds need recalculating, and they come out as thus:

FastesttourdefranceTT2015

The actual supposed distance would return Boardman to the top of the tree, with Dennis’ time only good enough for 6th. Oh well.

Stage 1

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How about that stage then. Barely a pimple on the race route and yet riders still lost nearly 90 seconds due to flat out racing. More entertaining than a  mountain stage where the leaders watch each other until they sprint for the top? Definitely.

Most of the talk ended up being about Mark Cavendish’s supposed sulk, stopping sprinting to allow Fabian Cancellara to pip him for 3rd place and the time bonus that would give him the yellow jersey at the expense of Cav’s teammate Tony Martin. Frankly, I’ve now given up reading the comments of so called “fans” after stages – it’s just a cesspool of negativity, cynicism, unsubstantiated and frankly ridiculous accusations that are treated as near Biblical fact, and not one hint of positive spin. Cavendish recognised as much by pointing out that cycling “isn’t a computer game.” Perhaps when some of the “fans” spewing their garbage doping accusations/world beating tactics every afternoon get out from behind their computer and actually ride a bike, they’ll remember that it’s actually quite tricky to go faster when you’re at your limit. But rant over – I’m sure those people will be back when riders “should just attack” in the mountains…

Fabian in Yellow…again

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Cancellara was the beneficiary of the work from Etixx, and it gave him his 29th yellow jersey, taking himself to 11th place in the all time rankings, and extending his lead as the rider with the most yellow jersey’s without having actually won the race. That ranking, if you’re interested, goes as such:

1st – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] – 29 days (2004, 2007, 2009-10, 2012, 2015) Best Overall finish: 64th (2008)
2nd – Rene Vietto [FRA] – 26 days (1939, 1947) Best Overall finish: 2nd (1939)
3rd – Thomas Voeckler [FRA] – 20 days (2004, 2011) Best Overall finish: 4th (2011)

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Cancellara has now worn the yellow jersey for an impressive six different years, taking him ahead of the Netherlands Joop Zoetemelk (who was also on five, having worn yellow in 1971, 1973 and 1978-1980), Anquetil and Indurain and leaving him level with Eddy Merckx on six different years.

The Swiss is still, and likely to remain behind, Lance Armstrong on seven different years and Bernard Hinault on eight, but his achievement is made all the greater as he becomes the man with the second longest gap between his first and last yellow jerseys – 11 years between 2004 and 2015, which is just one off the war interrupted record of 12 years set by Gino Bartali, who first held the jersey in 1937 and last held it in 1949.

Greipel ticks over 

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Meanwhile, Andre Greipel was adding to his excellent 2015 by taking his 5th consecutive yearly stage win at the Tour. Perhaps he’ll pop over to the Vuelta to complete the yearly set? It would be an impressive achievement – only Alessandro Petacchi, Miguel Poblet and Pierino Baffi have ever done that. Mark Cavendish tried it in 2011, but abandoned the Vuelta in the heat.

Contador’s Grand Tour Triple

An erstwhile point, but whilst Oleg Tinkoff seems to think the Tour is already won and that Contador will be off to claim the Vuelta as well, Contador taking the Giro-Tour double would mean he would hold all three Grand Tour titles at once. This has however already been achieved by both Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

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Merckx took his token Vuelta win in 1973 when it was run in the spring, and having won it, he went to the Giro a mere five days later and promptly won that as well. Merkx thus held all three Grand Tours from May 13th 1973 until the 22nd of July 1973, when Luis Ocana became Tour champion. He thus had 71 days at the ultimate grand tour behemoth.

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Hinault meanwhile won the 1982 Giro and Tour, then went to the Vuelta in 1983 to win that and hold all three. It didn’t last very long though – he was reigning champion at all three from the 8th of May 1983 until the 5th of June 1983 – just 29 days.

Contador could reign the longer than Hinault if he succeeds in his Tour bid, thanks in no small part to the Vuelta’s date change. Winning the Tour would give him 50 days as the triple holder until someone took the Vuelta title on September 13th, but if he were somehow to go to the Vuelta and win that as well, then he’d not be deposed until the end of the Giro in May 2016 – giving him a staggering 304 days. However, this is about as pie in the sky as him winning all three, but it’s nice to dream…

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