Who cares about stats anyway? Here’s what they really reveal about cycling

If there’s anyone out there who upon receiving the latest copy of The Road Book sits down to immediately read it from cover to cover, as countless kids of my generation used to after queueing up for the latest instalment of Harry Potter at midnight, then I’d like to have a word with you. After that, I’ll promptly hand you over to the scientific community.

This is maybe not what the people at Road Book HQ had in mind when they asked for something to be written to help publicise the 2021 edition of the Almanack, but in my defence they did say they didn’t mind what I made the subject matter.

The reason behind bringing this up is because I find myself in a very select group of people (including it must be said our publishing editor Charlotte) who have had the pleasure of reading a Road Book from cover-to-cover. While proof-reading previous year’s editions, you inadvertently find yourself digging into the minutiae of the cycling season: names cropping up in places you wouldn’t expect, established rider’s younger brothers or past star’s sons steadily pushing their way up the food chain, riders you don’t see on television making a name for themselves in far-flung Tours thousands of kilometres from Europe.

When filling out the 1,800 rider profiles of the men and women that make up both World Tours as well as the ProTour, a few things become stark. Firstly, the number of riders in their first year at the top table who don’t record a victory, don’t ride a Grand Tour, and the next year have vanished. A reminder of the ruthlessness of our sport. Then come the seasoned veterans, the household names who litter team’s Tour de France squads, more than a decade in the ranks who have never crossed the finish line in first place as a professional. When Mark Cavendish and reporters are going at it and the Manxman says 99 per cent of riders have never won a bike race whereas he’s won over a hundred, he may be being chippy, but he’s also 100 per cent right when you actually look at the stats.

Of course, statistics don’t always have to be buried away in formats that make your eyes glaze over. At the recent Rouleur Live our editor Ned Boulting challenged the panel competing on Have I Got Cycling News For You to discern what the below list of names could be.

Adam Blythe and Ryan Mullen ummed and arred. Could it be a list of riders to have worn the sprint jersey at all three Grand Tours? Not a bad shout considering the talent of the names on display, but in fact it’s the riders Cavendish beat out to secure his record-equalling 34 Tour de France stage wins.

The above infographic, which is contained within the pages of the 2021 Road Book, is a reminder of a moment in cycling history that we witnessed this year, and when laid out in this fashion really hammers home the significance of the achievement.

On the other hand, figuring out which 2021 Deceuninck – Quick-Step victory was the closest to a branch of supermarket and team sponsor Lidl is not quite as Earth-shattering, yet arguably as important to what we all love about cycling.

After a number of painstaking hours spent on Google Maps, the furthest away was Sam Bennett at the UAE Tour, who would have had to schlep all the way to Cyprus to savour their fantastic bakery section. Meanwhile, the Irishman’s later win on the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve would have seen him only need to continue a couple of hundred metres past the finish line to find a shop bearing the same logo that adorned his shoulders.

The lesson that can be taken here with regards to the latest instalment of the Big Red Book is come for the essays, stay for the stats. You never know what you might find hidden within.

Jonny Long

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