clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who Is Really the World's #1 Time Trialist?

New, 87 comments

It's conventional wisdom that Fabian Cancellara is the King of the Chrono. Olympic Champion. Two-time World Champion (a title he only surrendered by going on vacation). Owner of some of the coolest wins in the discipline, including the memorable London prologue when he practically overran the motos. Plus, almost nobody dislikes him. Nice story.

But is it true?

Unfortunately cycling's measuring sticks can be a little hard to identify, so to answer this question we first have to ask, how do you choose the "best time trialist"? The discipline consists loosely of prologues, middlin ITTs, longer ones such as the decisive grand tour variety (~50km), and mountain time trials. There are specialists in each sub-discipline, but I submit that we should be looking to see who is the best across the board.

Answer on the flip.

An aside, I tried doing this with the head2head feature at CQ Ranking, but riders simply don't matchup enough to keep the sample size adequately large. So we'll go with each individual's placings. Statistics are from January 2007 - present, so the material is reasonably fresh.

Fabian Cancellara

Prologue
Wins: 5
Win %: 71
Avg. place: 3

Mid-Length
Wins: 4
Win %: 44
Avg. place: 6.5

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 2
Win %: 100
Avg. place: 1

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 1
Win %: 25
Avg. place: 25

Hill Climb
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 80

Levi Leipheimer

Prologue
Wins: 1
Win %: 16.7
Avg. place:  6.8

Mid-Length
Wins: 5
Win %: 62.5
Avg. place: 3

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 3.5

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 4
Win %: 50
Avg. place: 5.1

Hill Climb
Wins: 1
Win %: 50
Avg. place: 27

Alberto Contador

Prologue
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 16.5

Mid-Length
Wins: 5
Win %: 41.6
Avg. place: 5.5

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 4

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 5

Hill Climb
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 4

Cadel Evans

Prologue
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 22

Mid-Length
Wins: 1
Win %: 12.5
Avg. place: 6.3

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 0 
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 5

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 1
Win %: 16.6
Avg. place: 4.8

Hill Climb
Wins: n/a
Win %: n/a
Avg. place: n/a

Gustav Erik Larsson

Prologue
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 24.6

Mid-Length
Wins: 1
Win %: 6
Avg. place: 11 

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 7.3

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 25.5

Hill Climb
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 14

Bert Grabsch

Prologue
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place:  46

Mid-Length
Wins: 2
Win %: 12.5
Avg. place: 10

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 1
Win %: 33
Avg. place: 6

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 1
Win %: 33
Avg. place: 23.6

Hill Climb
Wins: n/a
Win %: n/a
Avg. place: n/a

Dave Zabriskie

Prologue
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 13.4

Mid-Length
Wins: 2
Win %: 20
Avg. place: 3.7

Major (Worlds/Olympics)
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 9

Grand Tour ITT
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 3

Hill Climb
Wins: 0
Win %: 0
Avg. place: 3

Among just these guys, here's how they rank in each subdiscipline, IMHO. Obviously each subdiscipline has other specialists not listed here, but, well, here you go.

Prologues: 1. Cancellara; 2. Leipheimer; 3. Zabriskie; 4. Contador; 5. Larsson; 6. Evans; 7. Grabsch

Mid-range ITTs: 1. Leipheimer; 2. Cancellara; 3. Contador; 4. Zabriskie; 5. Evans; 6. Grabsch; 7. Larsson

Major Races: 1. Cancellara; 2. Grabsch; 3. Larsson; 4. Leipheimer; 5. Evans; 6. Zabriskie; 7. Contador

Grand Tour ITTs: 1. Leipheimer; 2. Evans; 3. Contador; 4. Cancellara; 5. Zabriskie; 6. Grabsch; 7. Larsson

Hill Climbs: 1. Contador; 2. Zabriskie; 3. Leipheimer; 4. Larsson; 5. Cancellara; n/a Evans, Grabsch 

From all that, here's my ranking:

Img_5003_medium
1
. Levi Leipheimer!

The only guy on the list who truly does everything well -- extremely well in fact, scoring wins in four of the five categories. His lowest marks came in the major races, which he simply hasn't contested much. There is no earthly reason he couldn't medal at the worlds if he decided to stay on form through September. Ultimately, the choice between him and Cancellara comes down to whether you value Leipheimer's phenomenal record in grand tours and middle-distance races over Cancellara's middle distance wins, prologues, and two majors. Grand tours are the biggest ticket in the sport, and the ITTs are usually critical stages. So I'll go with Levi.

2. Fabian Cancellara

All the flash and sizzle, and lots of nice jerseys as a reward. But his expertise is more on the shorter side. He's the only world champion in recent years who can also bust out a prologue. But the longer races are a stretch for him. He just doesn't have Leipheimer's strength across the board.

3. Alberto Contador

A true ace in the middle-range races, which he contests mostly in one-week Spanish races and early season stuff like Paris-Nice. The fact that he's within shouting range of the first two guys on this list is pretty impressive given where he was four years ago. Don't dismiss the idea of some breakthroughs in grand tour stages, but for now he's third.

4. Dave Zabriskie

I wouldn't have guessed Zabriskie would rate so highly before engaging in this exercise, but the fact is Dave Z is quite good at everything. OK, he hasn't won a prologue in a while, but he contests them. Even his hill climbing is strong. Too bad he's only rode one grand tour ITT since 2007, which makes for a poor sample size. Hopefully he will stay healthy and Garmin will send him to the biggest races, so we can really assess this. That Giro stage will be more than a little interesting. 

5. Cadel Evans

In the last 2.5 seasons Evans has but two wins. So while he's taken very seriously in every discipline but prologues, I can't see him any higher on the list. 

6. Bert Grabsch

The World Champion is certainly no slouch: wins in the middle range, the worlds and a grand tour ITT (Vuelta) are some nice palmares. Doesn't seem to give a crapola about prologues and hasn't been made to do any hill climbs.

7. Gustav Larsson

Strong showings in the Worlds and Olympics bought him a place on the list, and his consistent competence in the mid-range races back it up. It's possible he's not really even the seventh-best chronoman in the world, but I'll go with it for now.