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PdC Stats: Why Isn't Thor Getting Killed in the Points Race?

Some time ago Ursula, Majope (I think?) and I started tinkering with statistics as a way to tell more of the story, much as is possible to do with other sports like baseball or whatnot. While we have not made much headway with all riders, in my opinion we have identified a decent set of sprinters' stats that do tell what a guy is up to. First, is he making the cut in the sprint stages? Once he gets to the head of the race, does he win? Place consistently? etc.

Given the riveting two-man battle for Green at the Tour, I thought I would run some stats for Cavendish vs. Hushovd. These numbers are taken from grand tours raced between 2007 and this morning. I specifically focused on grand tours, for the purpose of evaluating their chances at the Tour, rather than their overall sprinting abilities. Hushovd generally peaks for the Tour above and beyond anything else, so it's only fair. Check it out:


Mark Cavendish

Thor Hushovd

Sprint Stages



Made Finale



Finale %






Win %



Avg Place



Top 10



Top 10%



Top 5



Top 5 %






Right now the numbers say that Hushovd should be getting creamed by Cavendish for green, but that's not the case. A few points:

  • Hushovd is outperforming his typical Tour de France from the last few years, placing no worse than 8th in any stage, with an average placing of 3.4. Over the last few years, his raw placement average is 20... but this is skewed by a couple outliers, including at least one relegation. Subtract those and his average placing is more like 10th. However you slice it, the God of Thunder is having a very good Tour, even by his standards.
  • The simplest reasons why Cavendish trails Thor are his one day out of points (16th, though with the bunch), and Hushovd's intermediate points (not sure how many, but it's not a ton). For Cav, it's all or nothing -- and almost always all, but that one slip-up did hurt. Cavendish too is having an excellent Tour, but that one poor result demonstrates the immense premium placed on getting in position every day.
  • One other reason Cavendish is losing, and this has gotten no play: the lack of bodies in the finale. Over the years Hushovd has only made the top five of Tour sprints 43% of the time, barely more than half the number as Cavendish, yet this year both riders are 4 of 5 in that regard. Why? After all, this is the most star-studded sprint field in years, maybe decades: Boonen, Freire, Bennati, Farrar, Van Avermaet, etc. Using the head-to-head feature, Boonen beats Hushovd 23-16 in sprints; Freire beats him 21-15; Bennati... loses 16-11. In any event, these guys are more often than not putting themselves between Hushovd and the winner, which explains why Hushovd over the years has frequently found himself out of the top five or even top ten. Yet this year Bennati is absent, Freire is in and out of competition, and Boonen is openly moaning about how he can't win, which usually means he doesn't bother with the sprint. This is hurting Cavendish: his advantage is Thor's weakness, the big argy-bargy, but Thor isn't being hurt by dropping five spots; when not winning he's getting second or fourth. Meanwhile, Thor's advantage and Cav's weakness is the odd intermediate sprint or difficult finish, and Thor has made the most of those.

One note, Bennati did take 9th today, so it's possible he will be heard from as the race goes on. I don't know what Freire's plans are, but one would hope he will try to assert himself eventually. It's possible we will see days where Cavendish wins and Hushovd fails to minimize his losses with a minor placing. For Cavendish, however, this is out of his hands, and is making for some nervous days.