Season's over, scores are all in. It's time to crunch the numbers. Who was good, who was bad, and who really sucked? Who helped your VDS team the most, and who held it back? Who was the Most Valuable VDS Rider, and who was the Least, the VDS Lanterne Rouge?
Well, it kind of depends on what you mean by "Valuable." There are a couple of obvious ways of measuring rider value… and unfortunately they provide completely different answers. What I've tried to do is reconcile the two and come up with a definitive ranking of rider values. The result: longish post, with a little bit of math, but only one equation and no Greek letters. If you'd rather just skip to the important bit, i.e. the rider ranking, it is at the very end.
Of course, the obvious, intuitive way to answer the question of value is just to look at the VDS Rider totals. Here are the ten most productive riders:
1. Vincenzo Nibali 2221
2. Philippe Gilbert 2145
3. Tyler Farrar 2000
3. Joaquim Rodriguez 2000
5. Alberto Contador 1996
6. Fabian Cancellara 1736
7. Cadel Evans 1710
8. Mark Cavendish 1541
9. Alexander Vinokourov 1482
10. Thor Hushovd 1442
In the real world, this is a pretty good definition of value: the guy who gets the most points. But in the VDS world, there's more to it. Before we hand out the MVR trophy, we want to know more than just who was the most productive. We also want to know who was the most efficient, who gave the most bang for the VDS buck.
This is not quite as easy, but still easy. The standard measure of VDS efficiency is: points earned per point spent. Divide the total points by the VDS price. The higher that ratio, the more efficient the rider. Here are the ten most efficient:
1. Richie Porte 1010:1
2. Peter Sagan 697:1
3. Igor Anton 512.5:1
4. Mikel Nieve 390:1
5. Vladimir Gusev 370:1
6. Danilo Hondo 367:1
7. Marco Marcato 340:1
7. Jens Keukeleire 340:1
7. Simon Spilak 340:1
10. Sep Vanmarcke 335:1
This is interesting info. But of course it favors the low-priced riders. For Vincenzo Nibali to equal Richie Porte's points-to-price ratio, he'd have had to score 22,432 points. So in that sense, Porte was a better pick than Nibali… and yet, Vinny did score twice as many points, so in THAT sense, he was a better pick. So…who was ultimately more valuable?
If you could assume that the 15 points in cost saved on Porte was going to be spent on equally efficient riders, he would clearly be the choice—but you can't assume that (if only because there are no other riders as efficient as Porte). Nibali's advantage is that he provides a healthy rate of return on a large investment, whereas Porte provides a prodigious rate of return on a much smaller investment. Apples and oranges. Both are excellent riders, both would make a great addition to any team…
But sorry, that's not good enough. Since we are looking to compare all riders on a level playing field, what we'd really like to have is a yardstick that balances productivity (total points) and efficiency (points earned per point spent.)
How to do this?
There is a way. Look at the rider not in isolation, but as part of a team—an average team. If you pick Richie Porte for 1 point, and then spend your other 149 points on riders who are completely average ("average" is not so easy to define, but a return of 54 VDS points per point spent is a pretty close estimate--thanks to majope for crunching those numbers), your team earns 9056 points (8046 [149x54] for the average riders plus 1010 for Porte). If you pick Vincenzo Nibali for 16 points, then spend your other 134 points on totally average riders, your team earns 9457 points (7236 [134x54] for the others plus 2221 for the Shark). In this scenario--assuming all the other riders are average-- Nibali is worth 401 points more than Porte.
This is not exactly advanced math, but it's a little cumbersome. An easier way to reach the same numbers is to look at the total points you would have expected from each rider, based on their price—for Porte, 54 points (54x1); for Vinny, 864 points (54x16). Then compare these totals with their actual points scored. Porte exceeds his expectation by 956 points, Nibali exceeds his by 1357 points. Again, advantage Nibali—he contributes 401 more points to his VDS team's total effort than Porte does to his. (Note that it's possible—all too possible-- for a rider to achieve a negative score by falling short of his expected point total.)
So does this mean that productivity trumps efficiency? Not necessarily. Using this formula, Nibali beats Porte, the most efficient rider, and so does Joaquin Rodriguez., who is tied for 3rd most productive. But Porte beats the 2nd most productive rider, Philippe Gilbert, because of Gilbert's high VDS price, and he beats every other rider as well. Farrar, Anton, Scarponi, Vinokourov, Horner, and Sagan also beat Gilbert because of their lower prices. Productivity matters, and so does efficiency; and in balancing the two we find the riders that make the largest contributions to their VDS team. (The formula, for those who like such things, is V = T - (Px54) where V stands for value, T for Total Points, and P for Price.)
Here then are the 25 most valuable riders for 2010, with their VDS prices, total points earned, and (the key number) points in excess of expectation:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (16) 2221…1357
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (14) 2000…1244
3. Richie Porte (1) 1010…956
4. Tyler Farrar (20) 2000…920
5. Igor Anton (2) 1025…917
6. Michele Scarponi (8) 1293…861
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (14) 1482…726
8. Chris Horner (4) 935…719
9. Peter Sagan (1) 697…643
10. Philippe Gilbert (28) 2145…633
11. Ryder Hesjedal (8) 1040…608
12. Marco Marcato (2) 680…572
13. Luis Leon Sanchez (12) 1210…562
14. Bjorn Leukemans (4) 760…544
15. Oscar Freire (10) 1046…506
16. Frank Schleck (14) 1224…468
17. Michael Rogers (8) 897…465
18. David Millar (4) 650…434
19. Ezequiel Mosquera (8) 845…413
20. Domenico Pozzovivo (2) 515…407
21. Nicolas Roche (4) 610…394
22. Maxim Iglinsky (6) 685…361
23. Matthew Goss (4) 573...357
24 David Arroyo (4) 570...354
25. Juan Antonio Flecha (8) 785…353
As you can see, it's a good mix of prices—from rock-bottom to very high; though interestingly, only one of the very top-level riders made the list. I think the fact is just that most of them didn't have exceptional seasons. Most were brilliant in patches, ordinary or absent for the rest of the season.
And the Lanterne Rouge? You guessed it…
1020. Alejandro Valverde (32) 0… -1728
A final consideration: will this perspective be useful in helping you pick riders for the 2011 VDS season?
I certainly hope not.
[updated to reflect a new average return of 54 points earned per point spent]