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On the Predictive Value of Pre-FSA DS Races


Or, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke? Are you kidding?

The Black Unicorn tells me that one of these statements is likely to be true—or at least truer (insert mwah-ha-ha here):

(A) Bah. Pre-Het Nieuwsblad races are meaningless in predicting riders’ points performance for the purposes of creating an FSA DS team. Ignore them!

(B) Yay! Pre-Het Nieuwsblad races are an excellent source of info for building an FSA DS team. Ignore them…at your peril!

Since he then refused to tell me which, I had to go investigate the problem myself. So, I looked at the early-season calendar and picked out 10 races that seemed to boast an international field. The ones I left out were, in my opinion, too regional or didn’t impress me with the strength of their competitors. I then pulled up podiums for them from 2008-2011, and checked to see how the guys occupying them did during the immediately-following VDS (now FSA DS) season. Did their early success seem to have any bearing on how they did later? Join me (and a couple of unicorns) below the jump and find out! .

The 10 races used: Tour Down Under, Etoile de Besseges, Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Trofeo Migjorn, Trofeo Deia, Tour of Qatar, Tour Mediterranean, Tour of Oman, Volta ao Algarve, and Tour du Haut-Var. The other two Trofeos of the Mallorca Challenge would have been included if they hadn’t been cancelled this year. Since not all the races have existed since 2008 and there were 3 or 4 podium guys who weren’t available in VDS, I ended up with 106 podium denizens to look at. See spreadsheet with the raw data here.

Now, let’s sit down and crunch some numbers.

Which races best predict future success?

Podium guys at these races averaged the following truly excellent returns on investment (points earned divided by cost):

Tour Mediterranean: 150.03

2012 podium (cost): Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (1), Julien El Fares (1), Julien Simon (2)

Trofeo Deia: 148.27

2012 podium (cost): Lars Petter Nordhaug (1), Rui Costa (6), Sergio Henao (2)

Trofeo Palma de Mallorca: 118.22

2012 podium (cost): Andrew Fenn (1), Andre Schulze (1), Alexander Porsev (1)

Still very good: Algarve: 95.89; Qatar: 91.85

Meh: Haut-Var: 66.67 (meh+); T. Migjorn: 58.95; TDU: 55.0; Besseges: 50.68; Oman: 50.31 (see what happens when you aren’t shown live? nobody cares)

Black Unicorn’s comment: Lies, damn lies, and statistics! I love it! All it takes is an ‘11 Marcel Kittel or ’08 David Moncoutie to throw the curve, and suddenly these races look significant.

White Unicorn’s comment: Oooh! Jonathan Tiernan-Locke!

Blackie: Yeah, take all the podiums from the top 3 races. I dare you. Idiot.

majope: Who am I to argue with numbers?

By price category

The Elites: 18+

Out of our 106 podiums, 13 were filled by riders who cost 18+, enough to be restricted under VDS/FSA DS rules. Some of them took multiple spots, and were duplicated as necessary on the spreadsheet. When elites do well in early races, how do they do the rest of the year?

Not incredibly well, actually. Each returned an average of 53.06 points per point spent on them. If you’d just grabbed a guy at random from the 18+ category last year, you’d have received an average return of 66.92.

Whitey says: Poor boys! They must have been sooo tired after the early season!

Blackie says: Oh, please. If you’re picking your elite riders based on how they do in Oman, there’s no help I can give you.

majope says: No, this is not where you find your elites. They may or may not do well in early season races, but it’s really not going to predict their performance later. They rarely have anything to prove this early. Still, if you want to browse, here are our elites from the 2012 podiums: Valverde (22); T. Martin (18); Nibali (18); Wiggins (18)

Upper Echelon: 10-16 points.

These guys filled 22 podium spots, and returned an average of 56.8 points per point spent. The average return for this category in general was 50.12, so now we’re seeing some predictive action. Still not great returns, but better than average. The trick is distinguishing between, say, vintage 2010 Oscar Freire, who podiumed twice and returned over 104 points per point spent, and 2008 Graeme Brown, who also podiumed twice and earned nada, zip, bupkis that year.

Blackie: Yawn. Wake me up when they really start returning points.

Whitey: I love Oscar Freire!

Your 2012 Upper-Echelon podiums: Farrar (14); Boonen (12); Gerrans (10)

Mid-Level Guys: 4-8 points

34 podium spots here—nearly a third. Why? I’m thinking the mid-level guys often need to prove something early. They’ve had results in the past, but they aren’t elite or even top-level. If they want the big races, they have to impress. So, if they do well here, do they get the points later?

Yeah, pretty much. Average return of 61.53, compared to last year’s 4-8 point riders, who averaged 44.94 points per point spent.

Blackie: Note, however, that 5 of these guys didn’t score any points at all, and only 8 out of 34—less than a quarter—returned better than 90 points per point spent. You might do slightly better throwing darts at them than at the complete list of 4-8 pointers, but you’re still throwing darts.

Whitey: I don’t like it when you throw darts. It scares me. I like the increased return on these guys! Shop for the ones with the most sincere smiles, and you’re certain to do well!

majope: You decide. Here are the 2012 podium-fillers in this price range: Taaramae (8); P. Velits (8); Coppel (6); Costa (6); Flecha (6); Gallopin (4); Porte (4)

Cheap, Cheap: 1 and 2-pointers

Between 2008 and 2011, twenty-two 2-pointers and fifteen 1-pointers podiumed in these 10 early-season races. They went on for an average return on investment of 150.25 and 140.73 points. Hell, yeah! This is money, folks. Get ‘em while they’re hot, get ‘em while they’re cheap.

Blackie: Get ‘em! If they’re named Kittel last year or Haussler in ’09 or Moncoutie in ’08. Otherwise, you could end up with one of the 5 out of 15 1-pointers who never scored another point all year.

majope: I’m thinking of a Cee-Lo song right now…on Glee, they called it “Forget You.” Out of 22 2-pointers, 10 earned over 140 points per point spent. 10! Four more earned a still respectable 60 or better. The average 2-pointer last year? 51.55 point return. Your average 1-point guy last year returned 33.33 points—and only 208 out of 612 scored anything at all! 1-pointers are a total crap shoot. You’ll increase your odds greatly by picking from these candidates.

Whitey: Ooh! Jonathan Tiernan-Locke! He’s the bestest.

The 2s and 1s who podiumed in early-season 2012: Henao (2); Machado (2). Pelucchi (2); El Fares (1); Fenn x 2 (1); M. Kreder (1); Navarro (1); Nordhaug (1); Porsev x 2 (1); Schulze (1); J. Simon (1 2); Tiernan-Locke x 2 (1)

Blackie: By the way, majope, your math sucks. You’ve got 29 podium guys for 2012, when there should be 30.

majope: Forget you again, Blackie. Franck Vermeulen, who was 2nd in Etoile de Besseges this year, is not listed in FSA DS. UPDATE! Thanks to SuperTed, he's available here.

Blackie: To sum up, folks, while there may be slight statistical bumps for guys who podium (that is NOT A VERB, by the way—it makes me so angry that I just used it that someone is going to pay dearly…oh, yes), you’d do better analyzing their performance last year vs. goals this year, their team strength, their individual chances, the races they’re likely to even get invited to…are you even listening to me? He’s on ENDURA, people!

Whitey: Why isn’t anybody talking about Alexander Porsev?

majope: Unlike Blackie, I see plenty of predictive value here. Sure, you still need to use your judgment and hope for a little luck, but when you’re struggling to fill in your team with cheap guys especially, look to January and February.

And why isn’t anybody talking about Alexander Porsev?