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Homeboys: Nationality in Selected Classics

Willj recently posted:

As an aside, how about an analysis of results by nationality in the French, Belgium and Dutch one day classics.

Ask, and ye shall receive. In this post, I look at ten years of results in four spring classics held in four different countries: Milan-Sanremo, de Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, and Amstel Gold. All four are held within a relatively short period of time, so differences in form shouldn't be a major issue (compared to, say, Lombardia, where the field is thinner because a lot of guys are too tired by October to compete). Three are Monuments, which probably skews things a little, but there is no Dutch monument and only one Dutch classic, so if I wanted to look at the Netherlands A-G is it. I thought about including San Sebastian, the only Spanish classic, but since it's held in a very different time of year I decided against it. But someday I might expand and look at all of the classics...until then, you gets what you pays for.

So, how do the homeboys do? One might expect that, for instance, guys who grow up riding on slick wet cobbles would do better in races held under similar conditions. That they care more about winning races on their home turf. That they might even show Willj's anectodally-offered hypothesis that some actively disdain races held in rival countries.

Results on the flip.


But first, a few considerations.

What is nationality? In the two cases of dual nationality that I know of (HH and van der Flecha), I went with country of birth rather than country of license. I didn't decide off the top of my head, but searched out interviews with the riders to see what they thought. Haussler states that he feels more Australian than German and will switch to an Australian license soon. Flecha, who moved from his native Argentina to Spain at the age of 11, was asked in an interview if he felt Spanish now. He replied that he felt he was both Spanish and Argentinian, and that his childhood in Argentina was very formative (that is, after all, where he heard the cobbles even in his sleep). Since he did not state a preference, I went with country of birth for him as well. But neither case skews the top of the results anyway. Much.

What about distribution of nationality in the peloton? Aren't results going to be skewed toward the countries with the biggest population, since they put the most riders in the peloton? This could indeed have an influence, at least to some extent. If you want to play along at home, here is last year's breakdown of active riders in the CQ database, which I drew up for a post in the off season. The countries who get the most butts on bikes are France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands--but in terms of success (percent of those riders in CQ's top 200) they are Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium.

1. France: 639,  3.1%
2. Italy: 596, 5.7%
3. Belgium: 479, 2.9%
4. Spain: 450, 7.3%
5. Germany: 417, 3.4%
6. Netherlands: 341, 3.2%
7. USA: 318, 1.6%
8. Australia: 254, 3.5%
9. Russia 190, 4.7%
10. Great Britain: 188, 1.1%

I do not know how much the breakdown by nationality might have changed over time, but expect that most of the movement in the ten years covered by this analysis has been in the lower ranks, with more people from outside Continental Europe coming in.

Here, then, is the breakdown by nationality of the top 10 placings in the below spring classics for the past ten years:

Milan-Sanremo 2000-2009       
nationality/top 10/podium
Italian  39    12
Spanish    12    3
Belgian    9    2
German    6    4
Australian    6    2
Swiss    4    2
Norwegian    4    2
American    3    1
Latvian    3    1
Czech    3    0
Danish    3    0
Russian    2    0
British    1    1
Dutch    1    0
French    1    0
South African    1    0
Polish    1    0
Slovakian    1    0

How did the homeboys do? Utter dominance. 39% of the top ten; 40% of the podium spots.

Home field advantage? Well, Italians do put a fair number of guys into the field. But if it were all numeric advantage, we would expect to see France on top and Spain right up there. Are they? Let's see...

Who else did well? Spanish riders grabbed the next highest number of top ten finishes, while Germans (okay, mostly German--his last name starts with Z if you need a hint) took the next highest number of podium spots.

Who sucks? Of the big Euro racing countries, France and the Netherlands are major, major losers at MSR. For chrissakes, America has done better.

Conclusion: In Italy, homeboys rule the school.

Ronde van Vlaanderen  2000-2009      
nationality/top 10/podium
Belgian    27    16
Italian    22    6
German    10    2
Dutch    10    1
Russian    5    0
Danish    5    0
American    4    1
Australian    3    2
Swiss    3    0
Latvian    2    1
French    2    0
Argentinian    1    1
British    1    0
Slovakian    1    0
Lithuanian    1    0
Kazakh    1    0
Norwegian    1    0
Polish    1    0
Spanish    0    0   

How did the homeboys do? A tighter race than MSR, but the Belgians outnumber Italians in top ten finishes 27 to 22, and kill them in podium spots 16 to 6.

Home field advantage? One word: cobbles.

Who else did well? After Italians, the best results belong to Germans and Dutch with 10 top ten placings each, although the Germans have one more podium spot.

But if we counted Heinrich Haussler as German... Shut up.

Who sucks? Spain. Yeah, even if we counted Flecha. Second in the warm hills of Italy at Milan-Sanremo, they plummet when the cold and cobbles come out to play. Which begs the question: why do the Italians do so well here? 

Conclusion: Belgians and cobbles go together like frites and mayonnaise. Okay, that was trite, let's try again: like wild Columbia River spring chinook and tapenade?

Paris-Roubaix 2000-2009       
nationality/top 10/podium
Belgian    30    10
Italian    15    4
Dutch    9    2
Swiss    6    3
American    6    1
French    6    0
German    5    2
Danish    5    0
Argentinian    4    2
Australian    3    1
British    2    1
Swedish    2    1
Norwegian    2    1
Latvian    2    1
Russian    2    1
Austrian    1    0
Spanish    0    0   

How did the homeboys do? It's official: Paris-Roubaix is held in Flanders--Chris proved it the other day. Therefore, the locals win big, with twice as many top-ten finishes and two-and-a-half times as many podium spots as the hillboys from Italy.

Home field advantage? Yes. Well, going with the this-is-Flanders theory, anyway.

Who else did well? Italians, again.Then the Dutch, who also have cobbles at home and can deal with the weather. The Swiss are catching up, though.

Qui suce? Les Francaises. You can see that the nominal homeboys are trying harder here, putting more guys into the top ten than they do in the other classics, but when you're beaten in your home Monument by Americans (same number of top tens but with an actual podium finish among them), you officially suck.

Conclusion: Belgians. Cobbles. We did this already, didn't we? Take away the hills and they're even tougher to beat.

Amstel Gold 1999-2008     
  nationality/top 10/podium
Italian    30    10
Dutch    16    8
Belgian    11    1
Spanish    11    1
German    9    2
Swiss    5    2
American    4    2
Russian    4    1
Luxembourgish    3    2
French    3    0
Kazakh    1    1
Austrian    1    0
Latvian    1    0
Polish    1    0

How did the homeboys do? Decisively beaten by the hill-loving Italians. But they do better here than in any of the other classics, and do beat the Italians in one stat: half of the Dutch top tens are podium spots, compared to one-third for the Italians. Which shows something...

Home field advantage? Almost certainly. Either the familiarity helps, or they care enough to target the race. Probably both. But then again, if Michael Boogerd had never existed, the Dutch would rank 5th--behind the Germans.

Who else did well? Italians. Hills. Like Pippo and hair gel. After the second-place Dutch, the Belgians and Spanish (who like hills if cobbles are not involved: see MSR) are tied for top tens and podium finishes.

Most of the Belgian activity, interestingly enough, was earlier in the decade. It might be true that they don't consider Amstel such an important race--at least these days. Monument snobs? Saving it for their home Ardennes? Certainly the Belgians beat the Dutch handily in each of the other classics considered here--9 to 1 in MSR; 27 to 10 in RvV; 30 to 9 in P-R. There's got to be some explanation for the different result here. I'm open to suggestions.

Who sucks? We're pretty much back to the French again. For years they've been claiming that they suck because they race clean and everyone else is dirty. Or perhaps Mark Cavendish is onto something when he says, "I don't dislike the French, but I sometimes laugh at the illogical ways of riding they have." (Cycle Sport America, March 2009) You decide.

Conclusion: The Dutch do better at home, and this is the one place they can beat the Belgians. But those pesky Italians do amazingly well, even in the North, where in RvV, P-R, and AG they're a very close second to Belgians in combined top tens: 67 for Italy, 68 for Belgium.