Making Sport of Physics

Kittel Wins Final Stage!

Marcel Kittel won his fourth stage of this year’s Tour de France with a great sprint to the finish line.  The image below shows Kittel just ahead of Alexander Kristoff (click on the image for a larger view).

With Tony Martin’s two stage wins and a stage win for André Greipel, German cyclists won 7 of the 21 stages.  Below is Kittel’s winning time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 21:  3h 20′ 50″ (actual), 3h 17′ 50″ (prediction), 03′ 00″ fast (-1.49% error)

We’ll take that error on such a hard stage to predict!  Kittel’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 21:  11.41 m/s (41.08 kph or 25.53 mph)

Cyclists hit speeds around 63 kph (39 mph) a few times on the streets of Paris.  That’s faster than they would drive on those streets!  Seeing the cyclists loop around Paris made me want to return there for another visit.

The man of the hour is of course Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the 101st Tour de France.  There were times when he simply looked on a different plane of athleticism compared to his competitors.  I grabbed a screenshot as Nibali crossed the finish line (click on the image for a larger view).

I also grabbed an image of Niabli on the podium with Péraud and Pinot and the Arc de Triomphe in the background (click on the image for a larger view).

Nibali was the only cyclist to finish the entire Tour de France under 90 hours.  His winning time was 89h 59′ 06″.  With the 3 km removed from Stage 5 because of two dangerous cobblestone sections, the total distance biked came to 3660.5 km (2274.5 mi).  That gives Nibali an average speed of 11.30 m/s (40.68 kph or 25.28 mph).

It was a great Tour de France!  Stages were well planned, and there was plenty of cycling variety.  Kudos to Ji Cheng, the first Chinese cyclist to compete in the Tour de France.  There were 164 cyclists who finished this year’s Tour de France, and Cheng came in last.  But, he did what 34 cyclists who finished Stage 1 could not do; he finished the entire race.  He may have been just over six hours behind Nibali, but he will surely return to China amidst cheers.  Tour de France athletes are as good as it gets.  I couldn’t even finish a single stage of the Tour de France, much less come close to what Ji Cheng did in July.  Congratulations to all those who finished!

My research student, Chad Hobson, helped make modeling this year’s race a lot of fun.  We are happy with the improvements we made to our model.  Except for Stages 4, 5, and 6, where massive tailwinds made our predictions too slow (the rain-soaked and shortened Stage 5 at 7.79% was our worst error), all of our predictions came in under 5%, including five stages under 1%.  Predicting stage-winning times isn’t easy!

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Tony Martin Destroys Field in Time Trial!

There was only one cyclist I was interested in watching today:  Tony Martin.  He was a veritable machine on his bike in the individual time trail with his powerful legs and strong core moving him along French roads faster than anyone else.  Below is a comparison between Martin’s time and our prediction.

  • Stage 20:  1h 06′ 21″ (actual), 1h 07′ 55″ (prediction), 01′ 34″ slow (2.36% error)

Just ONE cyclist beat our prediction today!  Throw out Martin’s time and we miss the second-place time by only FIVE SECONDS.  But, we can’t do that!  We’ll take our error because watching Martin was watching time-trial cycling at its best.  The image below shows Martin at the start and at the finish (click on the image for a larger view).

Note that Martin wore the distinctive rainbow jersey that signifies that he is the racing world champion.  I snagged a few more images of Martin in today’s race.  The two below show his aerodynamic bike, streamlined helmet, and powerful body (click on the image for a larger view).

I love the rainbow-colored back wheel!  The image below shows Martin on a downhill (click on the image for a larger view).

Note how he is off the saddle and compressed.  He minimized his frontal area so as to reduce air drag.  You simply won’t find better time-trial technique!  Below is Martin’s impressive average speed.

  • Stage 20:  13.56 m/s (48.83 kph or 30.34 mph)

The 2014 Tour de France comes to a close tomorrow with a 137.5-km (85.44-mi) flat stage that will be mostly ceremonial.  Beginning in the commune of Évry, the stage finishes on the famous Champs-Élysées in Paris.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 21:  3h 17′ 50″ (prediction)

Vincenzo Nibali has this year’s race wrapped up.  He came in fourth today and extended his overall lead to nearly eight minutes.  Italy will celebrate a Tour de France champion, but France will have lots to celebrate tomorrow as well.  Jean-Christophe Péraud at 37 years old will take second place, and fellow Frenchman and white-jersey wearing 24-year-old Thibaut Pinot will be in third place.  Pinot won Stage 8 in the 2012 Tour de France.  He may be one of the favorites to win it all next year.

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Navardauskas Wins Rain-Soaked Stage 19!

Lithuanian Ramūnas Navardauskas led the field the entire way through the rain-soaked finish in Bergerac.  He held off a ferocious sprint in the final kilometer to take the stage by seven seconds.  I grabbed the image below as Navardauskas crossed the finish line (click on the image for a larger view).

Though it rained for much of the stage, speeds were not affected much.  As cyclists neared Bergerac, they were navigating some fairly narrow roads at speeds reported to be as high as 64 kph (40 mph).  That’s pretty fast on wet roads!  Earlier in the race, there were crosswinds and tailwinds reaching 25 kph (16 mph).  Winds and rain thus canceled each other a bit in this stage.  Below is a comparison between our prediction and Navardauskas’s winning time.

  • Stage 19:  4h 43′ 41″ (actual), 4h 46′ 18″ (prediction), 02′ 37″ slow (0.92% error)

That makes five stages for us with an error under 1%.  Navardauskas’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 19:  12.25 m/s (44.10 kph or 27.40 mph)

Given all the rain and wind, that’s a great average speed!  Navardauskas was lucky to have missed a crash that happened just inside the magic 3-km (1.9-mi) mark.  The image below shows the crash (click on the image for a larger view).

Because the crash happened inside 3 km, riders did not lose much time, even if they could no longer compete for the stage win.

Tomorrow’s Stage 20 picks up in Bergerac.  The stage is the only time trial in this year’s Tour de France.  Moving north by northeast, the individual time trial finishes 54 km (33.6 mi) away in the commune of Périgueux.  Our prediction is given below.

  • Stage 20:  1h 07′ 55″ (prediction)

We hope to see dry roads and fast cyclists!

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Nibali Locks Up Tour de France!

Vincenzo Nibali essentially won the 2014 Tour de France today with a dominating performance in the race’s final mountain stage.  The image below shows the moment with 8 km (5 mi) left when The Shark decided to chomp all his competition by zooming past Team Sky’s Mikel Nieve Iturralde (click on the image for a larger view).

Nibali finished more than a minute ahead of the rest of the field in winning today’s stage, his fourth stage win in this year’s Tour de France.  The image below shows Niabli crossing the finish line with the look of a man who knows he’ll be on the podium in Paris on Sunday (click on the image for a larger view).

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

  • Stage 18:  4h 04′ 17″ (actual), 4h 09′ 45″ (prediction), 05′ 28″ slow (2.24% error)

Just 24 riders out of 164 (14.6%) beat our time, so we feel like we did well with this stage.  Nibali’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 18:  9.927 m/s (35.74 kph or 22.21 mph)

Nibali now has an incredible 07′ 10″ lead over France’s Thibaut Pinot, who, with fellow Frenchman Jean-Christophe Péraud, leapfrogged over Spain’s Alejandro Valverde Belmonte, who had been in second since Stage 13.

Tomorrow’s Stage 19 is a 208.5-km (129.6-mi) flat stage that begins in Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour, and takes riders north away from the Pyrenees to the finish in the commune of Bergerac.  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 19:  4h 46′ 18″ (prediction)

Of most interest in tomorrow’s stage is the fight for the spots behind Nibali.  Cyclists will jockey for position so that they will be able to make their move in Saturday’s individual time trial.

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Majka Gets Second Stage Win!

Rafał Majka has now done what no other Polish cyclist has done — win two Tour de France stages.  He earned his polka dot jersey today by besting all his competitors up the grueling final climb.  The image below shows Majka crossing the finish line and picking up 50 climbing points in the process (click on the image for a larger view).

We did much better predicting Majka’s second stage win than we did when he won Stage 14 last Saturday, as the comparison below demonstrates.

  • Stage 17:  3h 35′ 23″ (actual), 3h 38′ 06″ (prediction), 02′ 43″ slow (1.26% error)

Majka’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 17:  9.634 m/s (34.68 kph or 21.55 mph)

I continue to be impressed by the vistas in the Pyrenees.  The Tour de France is doing a great job making me want to visit southern France!  I snapped the image below from my video feed (click on the image for a larger view).

Not a bad place to end a Tour de France stage, huh?  Tomorrow’s 145.5-km (90.41-mi) is this year’s final mountain stage.  Cyclists begin in the commune of Pau and face the hors catégorie climb to the 2115-m (6939-ft) peak of Col du Tourmalet just a little past the stage’s halfway point.  For the second day in a row, riders will have to contend with an hors catégorie climb to finish the stage.  The ski resort of Hautacam sits at the end of Stage 18 at an elevation of 1520 m (4987 ft).  Below is our prediction.

  • Stage 18:  4h 09′ 45″ (prediction)

After the monster climb in the middle, how much will riders have left for the demanding climb at the end?

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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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