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Bloggers Say The Darndest Things

Stats_medium Ever since the Angrilu, I've been stupidly busy doing non-cycling stuff, for which I apologize. But I have been lurking here even throwing in the occasional non-sensical post. So while lurking I was particularly struck (and it hurt!) but a couple of statements:

1) Chris going on and on about how great it is that Gilbert races so many races and,

2) Various posters noting that the high Giro de Lombardia finishes of a couple of youngsters (Uran and Brajkovic) was due to the fact that they hadn't raced much this year due to injuries and so were fresher than the likes of Samu (but what about Cunego?)

So I decided to look into these statements, see if they made sense, and use them to start a several-part review of 2008. But first, on the flip, a little story about the wisdom of Ray Hudson, Geordie extraordinaire...


Some of you know who Ray Hudson is: Newcastle United footballer who at the tail of his career migrated to the NASL where he stayed after retirement. You can read the rest of his history in the link here but suffice it to say that he's a colorful character.

The story about Ray that I am relating here was about something he said while coaching DC United. Now his teams at DCU were thoroughly mediocre in part because they were god-awful at scoring. Just brutal. Any team with Dema Kovalenko as its leading scorer is not playing anything like the Beautiful Game. Anyways, after yet another shutout in the post game interview, Ray was asked about why his team seemed so good at possessing the ball but couldn't score. His response (on TV) started with an agreement:

Possession without penetration is masturbation.

I literally fell off my comfy chair when I heard that. I just don't have words to adequately describe the wisdom of that quote. And yet I can tie that one short, honest, beautiful sentence to pro cycling and Philippe Gilbert and the rest of the peloton: Who are the true Iron Men of the peloton and do they get rewarded for their efforts with victory? Does Pallas Athena smile at them? 

To find out I first went to CQ and it's standings of the top 15 riders, points-wise, of 2008. Below is a table with those talented top-15 with a couple of other columns thrown in for good measure:


Rider CQ Points # of Race Days Points/Race Days # single day races
1. Valverde 2615 76 34.4 17
2. Contador 2520 66 38.2 7
3. Rebellin 2047 58 35.3 11
4. Evans 1843 66 27.9 8
5. Cancellara 1780 72 24.7 11
6. Leipheimer 1771 74 23.9 5
7. Cunego 1656 75 22.1 16
8. Gilbert 1457 94 15.5 20
9. Kirchen 1446 72 20.1 8
10. Ballan 1370 84 16.3 17
11. Boonen 1328 59 22.5 14
12. Sastre 1297 74 17.5 7
13. Greipel 1241 86 14.4 11
14. Freire 1185 59 20.1 11
15. Gesink 1134 78 14.5 12

Quick notes before the general discussion:

Not all races are counted here. Two things about this. First I counted the races that CQ shows which doesn't include things like the Cascade Cycling Classic (i.e. what Levi did during his July vacation). Second I did the counting while telling some poor, poor soul that going to Acupuncture school is like betting against the House in Las Vegas. Not so good. So I may have miscounted by a couple of races.

So yes, Chris is not totally insane when he notes that Gilbert races more races than anyone else. Easily. The guy's a machine (Gilbert, not Chris though I'll bet Chris puts in lots more dad time than Phillippe does).

A couple of other things. Notice how most of the other riders top out at about 70-75 racing days. Valverde, Contador, Cancellara, Leipheimer, Cunego, Kirchen, Sastre, and Gesink. I'll bet too that if Evans hadn't hurt that knee in his post-Tour victory party he would have been there as well. It sure looks to me that 75 racing days is the conventional wisdom for a full season. If so, the guys who do differently are worth noting. Evans I already noted. As for the others:

- Boonen would also probably been around 70-75 too except for his nose issues. His points/races number also points out that if he had raced more he would have won. He's still the number one sprinter in the peloton with the possible exception of Bennati (see below).

- Contador wasn't far from 70 but I do detect the Bruyneel/Armstrong influence of fewer races than the norm but make them count.

- Rebellin. What a marvel of efficiency for an older guy. My guess is that he used to race more often but has gotten more careful. Check: in 07 he raced 67 days, in 06 66, in 05 63. So he tended to race more but still less than the norm, though I don't have stats on his salad days.

-Freire. Folks here often say things about if Freire is actually racing or is he just using a race to tune-up for some other race. That meme still makes sense but as can be seen in the points/races column he is also pretty efficient when he does race (i.e. he's still money).

- Ballan. Not surprising that of the elite riders here (no, Greipel is not elite. His inclusion here shows the flaws in the CQ system.) he's second to Gilbert in the number of race days. Both are such great all-round riders that probably both they and their DS have a hard time leaving them out of any type of race.

Finally its kinda odd at first glance to see the likes of Sastre and Leipheimer racing as much as guys like Valverde and Cunego but there you go. But they made me wonder some more: what if we limit the types of races to just the top races? What if we exclude the 'ol Tour de East Cupcakes and just look at the VDS races? Who raced the most when the stakes were highest?


Rider VDS Points # of VDS Race Days Points/Race Days
1. Contador 2765 52 53.2
2. Valverde 2481 59 42.1
3. Rebellin 1991 50 39.8
4. Evans 1690 49 34.8
5. Cancellara 1622 51 31.8
6. Leipheimer 1520 53 28.7
7. Cunego 1395 68 20.5
8. Ballan 1335 73 18.3
9. Freire 1322 51 26.0
10. Kirchen 1257 52 24.2
11. Sastre 1207 66 18.3
12. Bennati 1140 38 30.0
13. Gilbert 1090 65 16.8
14. Gesink 1077 55 19.6
15. Boonen 1019 40 25.5
15. Rodriguez 1017 62 16.4

I included a 16th rider here, J-Rod because his inclusion shows all 16 riders who accumulated at least 1000 VDS points and because he's so close to 15th place and Boonen. J-Rod also raced 76 total times.

So what do we learn when we tighten the filter to just the big VDS races? 

- Injury-prone heart throb Benna looks to be the best sprinter of 2008. Boonen had a good year for the races he raced in (so did Freire) but Benna's #1. Cavendish?  I could say a lot about how he comes up short in 08 but I'll leave it with two words: Giro scoreboard.

- Note that Gilbert  for all his racing did have the most racing days. Iron man honors goes to Ballan with Cunego taking the silver, Sastre (!) the bronze. So in thinking of Lombardia it makes me appreciate Happy Puppy's win there all the more. I mean, we get on him for missing the Giro but really May was the only month he took off all season. Another thing about The Kid: at 91% he raced a greater percentage in VDS races (compared to his total race days) than anyone else here. Sastre is at 89%, Freire 88% and Boonen edges out Gilbert for the lowest % with 68 to Gilbert's 69. In other words: Cunego penetrates. Our hearts. Yeah.

- Bert's in a world of his own here, earning 50+ VDS points each day he raced, which makes me think of Chris' Giro speculation post just below this one and his wondering if teams/racers might avoid Bert in the Tour. From this list, he doesn't really have a Grand Tour competition. Valverde's numbers are boosted by his Classic abilities. Sastre, even winning the Tour, is nowhere to be found in part because of Bert's winning not only Grand Tours but most any stage race. Give him a stage race with a steep him and  TT and he's in like flint. Cattle is probably the closest to Bert but that's his M.O.- 2nd best. (Levi is hurt by his Giro numbers, otherwise he'd be around Evans.) I'm not gonna say that riders will avoid Contador in the future but there's this gap...

- Getting back to race days, the spread of the number of VDS races is more than the CQ spread with most riders racing anywhere from 50-62 races indicating to me a bigger difference in how to prepare for the biggest races.

There's more here than what I've written about but I'll leave it for now. We got a whole winter to possess and penetrate more. Into the numbers, that is.

Update- Great graphic! I'll use it all winter!