Want to know who owned the bunch sprints in 2012? Let's go to the numbers...
Ah, numbers... I love a good data exercise. Especially one that doesn't go past simple division. Recall, Ursula, Majope and I, and others, have in the past tried to devise some numerical analysis from which we might learn something about reality. It worked for Nate Silver, and while unlike Nate I am not a witch, it's possible Ursula or Majope is. So let's give it a try.
Included in this sample are 2012 numbers only. And the five riders who I think would generally be agreed upon as contenders for the title of Top Sprinter. Petacchi and Farrar have been on this list before, and hopefully Tyler will rejoin it, once his Cyclocross career is put back on hold. Here's the data... with best number in bold and worst in italics. Each rider has three sets of data, the overall plus the subsets of grand tour bunch sprints and classics. There's best and worst assigned for the overall numbers and the two subsets.
|Rider||Events||%Finale||Wins||Win%||AvPlace||Top 10%||Top 3%||PdC Pts|
A few notes about the numbers...
- "Classics" does not include all the classics. It includes ones which can fairly be called sprinters' classics. Had I included things like Amstel and de Ronde, Sagan would have crushed everyone in that subset. And that's a part of his repertoire which is undeniably awesome. But for now let's stick to talking about pure sprinting.
- In the grand tours and the overall category, I made judgment calls about what were "sprint stages." Sometimes CQRanking's designation (which they do for all stages of stage races) are dispositive, but if they didn't call something a sprint stage and Kittel edged Goss and Henderson, it's a sprint stage.
- Again, the overall category is everything, including the grand tours and the one-days. And all the SSSRs.
What's to conclude? Let's do this by rider.
Cavendish vs others: The World Champion/fastest man had an underwhelming season. I know his team situation got muddled during the Tour, and he had a baby in the spring, so that may have left him distracted early on. But there wasn't anything much you'd congratulate him for, relative to the other guys in this poll. Yes, he racked up the most grand tour stage wins, but that's because he went to two of them, and the others only one. His performance in the one-day races was unimpressive, after the initial win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Yes, he's still the "best" but riders are paid for consistency too, and on that score Cavendish was nowhere near the top. He has been in the past, so I'm not sounding any alarms. Just sayin.
Cav vs Cav: His win and top-10 percentages are best in grand tours. Not a lot of guys can say that. Cav knows how he gets paid.
Greipel vs others: IMHO it comes down to him or Sagan for best sprinter in 2012, and on win totals I have to go with the Gorilla. I love the average placing number -- for Greipel to average 8th place suggests he very rarely missed the finale and that he racked up high finishes in the process. All you need is 1-2 missed sprints where you finish 185th and this number goes up in a hurry. Anyway, his three Tour wins were as impressive as Degenkolb's five Vuelta wins, all things considered, and his classics performance, while not in big races, was decent too.
Gorilla vs Gorilla: Probably the least amount of fluctuation from one discipline to the next. He's consistent in the grand tours. He's consistent in the classics. Oddly, his lowest finale percentage is the top line, which means he checked out of a few SSSRs. But he won several of them too.
Sagan vs others: Like I said above, if you want to talk better overall rider, Sagan's the man, hands down. But even among elite sprinters he was very, very consistent, as much so as Greipel with a few less wins. Top three across the board in 65% of his sprints. You might even say he was a green jersey guy, to a tee. Like, yeah.
Sagan vs Sagan: Actually his worst numbers are in the grand tours, a sample of data drawn entirely from the Tour de France where he took the green jersey with ease. Why? Because he stomped the sprinters in non-sprint stages, not included in this data. So don't misread that. All it really says is that he was a little more consistently great at sprinting in one-day races and SSSRs than at the Tour. Well...? Who wouldn't be?
Kittel vs others: I think it's safe to say he finishes a distant fifth on this list. Kittel isn't without his qualities, of course, and the kid is just getting started. Also, his numbers are dragged down by a Tour de France where he got sick and left after a few days. So really, you can't ding him for that. But qualitatively, it's only fair to point out that his best days were at Franco-Belge, ENECO and some other SSSRs.
Kittel vs Kittel: Hmm... also misleading are his one-day numbers. They suggest that's where he was at his best, but do we really feel strongly about winning the Omloop van het Houtland? Nope. On the other hand, he beat Farrar in the Scheldeprijs and Greipel in Munsterland, so it's probably his strongest area for the moment.
Degenkolb vs others: Man, there's a lot of Germans on this list. Easily the #4 guy here, more consistent than Cavendish but lacking in the wins. His numbers look like a poor man's Gorilla, which is fair since he too is really just getting started.
John vs. John: A little of the SSSRs, a little bit of classics fun, and a massive output at the Vuelta... when the rest of these guys were home. So there's that. But winning five times in any grand tour is a dominant performance and suggestive of his ability to keep pedaling for three weeks. That's an important skill for anyone.