Making Sport of Physics

Rogers Wins First Pyrenees Stage!

Michael Rogers of Australia won his first Tour de France stage today with an impressive performance in this race’s first foray into the Pyrenees.  Riders endured arduous climbs and dangerous downhills.  The scenery was incredible.  Check out a sample below (click on the image for a larger view).

I love the green grass and the evergreen trees.  Check out the scene when José Serpa crossed the peak of today’s final monster climb (click on the image for a larger view).

I challenged cyclists to come in under six hours today.  Rogers and the elite cyclists right behind him almost did just that.  Below is Rogers’s winning time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 16:  6h 07′ 10″ (actual), 5h 59′ 36″ (prediction), 07′ 34″ fast (-2.06% error)

With just over six hours in the saddle in a tough stage through the Pyrenees, and with two more to come, I’ll take a 2% error!  Rogers was ecstatic to win today, as the screen shot I took shows (click on the image for a larger view).

Not a bad day’s work for the 34-year-old!  Below is his average speed.

  • Stage 16:  10.78 m/s (38.81 kph or 24.12 mph)

Cyclists face another mountain stage in the Pyrenees tomorrow, beginning in the commune of Saint-Gaudens.  The 124.5-km (77.36-mi) stage contains three category-1 climbs before the hors catégorie climb that finishes the stage at an elevation of 1654 m (5427 ft) at Saint-Lary  Pla d’Adet, which is close to France’s border with Spain.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 17:  3h 38′ 06″ (prediction)

Vincenzo Nibali will once again don the yellow jersey tomorrow.  Can anyone catch him?

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Stage 16 Prediction

Stage 16 is a 237.5-km (147.6-mi) mountain stage that will take riders west from Carcassonne into the Pyrenees.  Cyclists will face a huge hors catégorie climb to the 1755-m (5758-ft) peak of Port de Balès before what should be a high-speed downhill sprint into Bagnères-de-Luchon.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 16:  5h 59′ 36″ (prediction)

Tomorrow’s stage will be grueling, especially the aforementioned monster climb near the end.  We challenge cyclists to come in under six hours!

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Kristoff Overtakes Devastated Bauer!

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff sprinted his way to victory in today’s Stage 15 of the Tour de France.  New Zealand’s Jack Bauer had essentially led the entire stage — and lost it in the final 30 m (33 yd).  Bauer was in tears after the race, and who can blame him?  Bauer looked like he had the distance in front of the attacking sprint group with just half a kilometer to go.  The group caught Bauer right at the end, leaving Bauer in 10th place.  The image below shows Kristoff just after crossing the line with Bauer on the far left of the image (click on the image for a larger view).

To see how close the sprint group was bunched together at the end, check out the image below (click on the image for a larger view).

Kristoff is just ahead of Australia’s Heinrich Haussler with Slovakia’s Peter Sagan in green on the left coming in third.  Kristoff has now won the last two flat stages, and we did a great job predicting his winning time, as the comparison below shows.

  • Stage 15:  4h 56′ 43″ (actual), 4h 58′ 57″ (prediction), 02′ 14″ slow (0.75%)

We are pleased to be under 1% error for the fourth time!  With crosswinds gusting up to 30 kph (19 mph) over parts of the stage, sometimes helping and sometime hurting cyclists, it was good that wind did not play a major role in the winning time.  It was also fortunate that the rain that fell for much of the day in Nîmes had abated by the time the cyclists got there.  Below is Kristoff’s average speed.

  • Stage 15:  12.47 m/s (44.89 kph or 27.89 mph)

The Tour de France has its second and last rest day tomorrow.  The Pyrenees are lurking, so cyclists better get lots of rest!  I’ll post our prediction for Stage 16 tomorrow.

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Majka Takes Stage 14 in his First Tour de France!

Polish cyclist Rafał Majka was king of the Alps today.  The 24-year-old is in his first Tour de France, and now he has a stage win.  Vincenzo Nibali made his move with 4 km (2.5 mi) left.  The photo below shows Nibali going for it at the 4-km sign (click on the image for a larger view).

Yellow-jersey-clad Nibali was not only going for the stage win, he was trying to increase his overall lead.  He wasn’t able to catch Majka, but he did add a minute on his overall lead on Alejandro Valverde after Valverde faded a bit on today’s final climb.  The image below shows an exhausted Majka after he crossed the finish line (click on the image for a larger view).

Kudos to Majka for a great ride up a final climb that made its debut in this year’s Tour de France.  It was exciting to see all the attacking taking place on that final category-1 climb. After thinking our prediction would be fast, I asked yesterday how many riders would come in under five hours.  The answer is zero.  We were fast as the comparison with Majka’s winning time and our prediction below shows.

  • Stage 14:  5h 08′ 27″ (actual), 4h 53′ 38″ (prediction), 14′ 49″ fast (-4.80% error)

I was worried watching the final climb that our error would eclipse 5%, so I’m glad we came in under that mark.  Hitting three of the past four stages to better than 1% spoils us!  We’ll have lots to learn about today’s grueling stage, which is what makes this work so much fun.  Below is Majka’s average speed.

  • Stage 14:  9.564 m/s (34.43 kph or 21.39 mph)

Cyclists head southwest tomorrow in the southeastern part of France in a 222-km (138-mi) long flat stage.  Beginning in the commune of Tallard, the stage has a great downhill part in the middle where racing is sure to be fast, and then finishes flat in the city of Nîmes.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 15:  4h 58′ 57″ (prediction)

Riders will enjoy a rest day on Monday before tackling the stages in the Pyrenees.  Unlike today, we expect to see cyclists coming in under five hours tomorrow!

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Nibali is a MACHINE in the Alps!

While his closest competitors had their shirts opens and their mouths gasping for breath, Vincenzo Nibali powered up today’s final climb like a machine.  He simply looked like he was on an athletic plane above his fellow cyclists.  Nibali now has more than three minutes on his closest rival for the yellow jersey.  Can anyone catch The Shark?!?

Below is Nibali’s time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 13:  5h 12′ 29″ (actual), 5h 15′ 05″ (prediction), 02′ 36″ slow (0.83% error)

The image below show’s Nibali’s reaction upon winning today’s grueling stage (click on the image for a larger view).

That happens to be the same reaction my research student, Chad Hobson, and I had upon learning that our prediction was once again under 1% off!  Below is Nibali’s average speed.

  • Stage 13:  10.53 m/s (37.92 kph or 23.56 mph)

That’s pretty good considering the cyclists were biking up a brutal climb to finish off their racing day.  The temperature reached 37 C (99 F) at one point, but at least the riders had great vistas, like the one I snapped below from my online feed (click on the image for a larger view).

Not bad, huh?  More mountains are on the way tomorrow as Stage 14 starts back in Grenoble and then heads east to the 2058-m (6752-ft) peak of Col du Lautaret, a category-1 climb.  Cyclists then have an hors catégorie climb to reach the 2360-m (7743-ft) peak of Col d’Izoard.  To complete the 177-km (110-mi) mountain stage, cyclists end with a category-1 climb to the ski resort on the 1855-m (6086-ft) peak at Risoul.  Below is our prediction for this formidable stage.

  • Stage 14:  4h 53′ 57″ (prediction)

With such a daunting stage giving riders a second consecutive monster climb to the finish, I will not be surprised if our prediction is a tad fast.  How many riders will come in under five hours?

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Kristoff Gets Us to Under 1% Again!

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff had an amazing sprint to the finish line in today’s Stage 12 of the Tour de France.  The image below shows Kristoff crossing the finishing line, just edging out Peter Sagan (click on the image for a larger view).

The final sprint was great.  Speeds on the last downhill reached 66 kph (41 mph).  Temperatures reached 34 C (93 F).  That’s a hot day to be racing!  Below is Kristoff’s time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 12:  4h 32′ 11″ (actual), 4h 30″ 16″ (prediction), 01′ 55″ fast (-0.70% error)

We are ecstatic to once again have our prediction come in under 1%!  Below is Kristoff’s average speed.

  • Stage 12:  11.36 m/s (40.89 kph or 25.41 mph)

Picking back up in Saint-Étienne tomorrow, Stage 13 is a 197.5-km (122.7-mi) long mountain stage.  Cyclists will head mostly east, but a little south into the French Alps.  Once they reach the city of Grenoble, riders will have biked 165.5 km (102.8 mi) and be at an elevation above sea level of 229 m (751 ft).  They will enter Grenoble after a fantastic sprint down from the 1154-m (3786-ft) peak of Col de Palaquit, which will have been reached after a category-1 climb.

The real fun begins at the very end of the stage when cyclists will be greeted with an hors catégorie climb to Chamrousse, a ski resort at an elevation of 1730 m (5676 ft).  It took Lance Armstrong 1h 07′ 27″ to make that 32-km (20-mi) climb in Stage 11 of the 2001 Tour de France, which happened to have taken place on 18 July.  When Armstrong did it, he was winning an individual time trial from Grenoble to Chamrousse.  How will this year’s riders do on the same climb exactly 13 years later after they have already biked 165.5 km (102.8 mi)?  This is not a stage for the faint of heart!  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 13:  5h 15′ 05″ (prediction)

If you cannot watch the entire stage, at least watch the last hour.  That final climb will be well worth it!

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Gallopin’s Sprint Lifts France!

Two days after France saw the yellow jersey leave one of her countryman on Bastille Day, Tony Gallopin gave France something to cheer about.  His impressive sprint to the finish line, where his speed hit 54 kph (34 mph) through the streets of Oyonnax, earned him the win in Stage 11.  The image below shows Gallopin celebrating as he crosses the finish line with a bunch of his fellow cyclists barreling down on him (click on the image for a larger view).

Below is Gallopin’s winning time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 11:  4h 25′ 45″ (actual), 4h 33′ 24″ (prediction), 07′ 39″ slow (2.88% error)
On a gorgeous French day for racing with tailwinds reaching as high as 10 kph (6.2 mph) in several places, and following a rest day, we are thrilled to be less than 3% slow.  Gallopin’s average speed is given below.
  • Stage 11:  11.76 m/s (42.33 kph or 26.30 mph)

Tomorrow’s Stage 12 is another of the medium-mountain variety.  Beginning in the French commune of Bourg-en-Bresse, the 185.5-km (115.3-mi) stage takes riders mostly south, but a little west toward the finish in the city of Saint-Étienne.  Two category-4 climbs and two category-3 climbs greet cyclists along the way.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 12:  4h 30′ 16″ (prediction)
If the weather is great, if cyclists enjoy a little tailwind, and if they aren’t too worried about the two big mountain stages to follow, we could be a tad slow again.  We hope we can come in under 3% error again!
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A Restful Prediction for Stage 11

The World Cup is over and the Tour de France has its first rest day.  How does one get a sports fix today?!?  The Major League Baseball All-Star game is tonight!  Perfect timing!

Tour de France cyclists are surely resting today and planning strategies for the upcoming stages.  Tomorrow’s Stage 11 begins in the commune of Besançon, not too far from France’s border with Switzerland.  The 187.5-km (116.5-mi) medium-mountain stage takes riders due south into the Jura Mountains, ending in what will hopefully be a fast downhill sprint into Oyonnax.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 11:  4h 33′ 24″ (prediction)
Will riders be fast after a day of rest?  Or, will they be holding back, knowing they’ve got serious climbs in the Alps coming up?  How will Contador’s absence affect strategies?  Lots to learn over the next few stages!
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Nibali Reclaims Yellow Jersey!

Vincenzo Nibali made his move with about 2 km (1.2 mi) left in today’s stage.  He looked like a machine pounding away on his bike as the final climb near the finish line reached an insane 20%.  Below is an image I cropped of Nibali finally catching Joaquim Rodriguez with about 1.2 km (0.75 mi) left (click on the image for a larger view).

Rodriguez rode such an outstanding race to that point, but the final climb belonged to Nibali.  The image below shows Nibali just after he crossed the finish line (click on the image for a larger view).

Below is Nibali’s time and a comparison to our prediction.

  • Stage 10:  4h 27′ 26″ (actual), 4h 25′ 53″ (prediction), 01′ 33″ fast (-0.58% error)

My research student, Chad Hobson, and I were quite happy watching Nibali make his move because we knew we would have a great prediction.  We’ll take 0.58% error any day!  Below is Nibali’s average speed.

  • Stage 10:  10.06 m/s (36.23 kph or 22.51 mph)

That’s an impressive speed to have been in the saddle nearly four-and-a-half hours and endured so many categorized climbs.

France looked to be enjoying Bastille Day.  Fans lined the route.  Check out the image below (click on the image for a larger view).

Look at what Rodriguez was staring at with about 5 km (3 mi) left in the stage.  It’s a wonder there aren’t more crashes than there are.

Today’s most notable crash was that of Alberto Contador who badly injured his right knee and had to bow out of the stage and the Tour de France after about 95 km (59 mi) into the race.  Now that Contador is out, the various teams’ mountain strategies will surely change.

Tomorrow is a rest day, and cyclists will need it after today’s grueling stage.  I’ll have our prediction for Stage 11 posted sometime tomorrow.

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It IS Germany’s Day!

After Tony Martin won Stage 9 earlier today, I wondered if this would truly be Germany’s day.  Now that the 2014 World Cup is in the history books, today really IS all Germany’s.  Argentina and Germany showed why they were in the final.  The two best teams in the world were on display, and the defenses did not disappoint.  Each team had its moments to score, but extra time was needed.  The goal that won it all for Germany was as beautiful a goal as you’ll ever see.

In the 113th minute, André Schürrle delivered the perfect cross into the box.  He was on the left side of the pitch.  The ball met Mario Götze’s chest, and then dropped onto Götze’s left boot.  Germany’s 4th World Cup win was sealed when the ball flew into the far right side of the net.  I cropped the image below from my video feed (click on the image for a larger view).

That image will be on posters all over Germany!  Götze turned 22 just over a month ago.  That’s pretty young to be world famous!

Congratulations to Germany on a well-deserved World Cup title.

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