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Good Person
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I notice a lot of discussions about "who would win" between cycling champions of the past and present. Of course, it would never be possible to know for sure, but I thought it would be fun to analyze some statistics and formulate a hypothetical scenario with some of cycling's great champions. The arena for the scenario is the 2008 Tour de France, and I calculated some hypothetical finish times based on statistics. This is obviously not an exact science, and I am not presenting it as such. I simply had insomnia one night and thought that this would be fun.

There are a lot of variables that are difficult to overcome. There have been significant advances in technology and training, which has made the comparisons of performances from different eras difficult. The method that I chose was to measure the exponential increase in average rider speed in the Tour de France over the years. I thought that measuring the increase of the average rider's speed (as opposed to just the winning times) would provide a more accurate analysis of technological improvements. I then determined what percentage the average rider's speed had increased between the years that a particular cyclist was riding and the 2008 Tour de France. I then increased the average speed of the cyclist's actual performance by that percentage. That allowed me to approximate what the rider's speed would be today with modern training and equipment. I then applied their calculated modern average speed to the length of the 2008 Tour de France and calculated an approximated finish time for the race.

For example:
The average speed of cyclists in the Tour de France when Fausto Coppi was racing was 31.73 KpH. Fausto Coppi's average speed when he raced in the Tour de France was 31.83 KpH. Therefore, if the percentage of change from the 31.73 KpH average speed to the modern 40 KpH average speed is applied to Coppi's average speed, Coppi would be estimated to have a modern speed of 40.12 KpH. With that speed, he would have had a finishing time of 86'56, and would have won the 2008 Tour de France 56 seconds ahead of Carlos Sastre.
Once again, I know that this is not an exact science, but I still found it interesting how closely all of the champions that I chose would have placed to each other using this formula. They would all have been GC contenders in a modern race, and would all have placed at least 4th in the 2008 Tour de France.

Here are the hypothetical times for the 10 riders that I chose, in reverse chronological order:
Lance Armstrong: 86'21"
Miguel Indurain: 86'56"
Greg Lemond: 89'05"
Bernard Hinault: 85'
Eddy Merckx: 87'
Jacques Anquetil: 89'45"
Fausto Coppi: 86'56"
Gino Bartali: 88'52"
Ottavio Bottecchia: 86'11"

Against each other:
1st: Bernard Hinault
2nd: Lance Armstrong
3rd: Ottavio Bottecchia
4th: Eddy Merckxx
5th/6th: Indurain/Coppi tie
7th: Gino Bartali
8th: Greg Lemond
9th: Jacques Anquetil

In the 2008 Tour de France (if each of them had competed against the 2008 peleton)
Armstrong, Indurain, Hinault, Merckx, Coppi, and Bottecchia would have won.
Lemond and Bartali would have placed 3rd (2nd, if you disregard Kohl's doped performance).
Anquetil would have placed 4th (third, if you disregard Kohl).

Even if these numbers were accurate, it would not necessarily determine who the better cyclists were, as this study only concerns Tour de France performances. For example, Lance Armstrong's numbers are very high, but the argument is often made that he always focused exclusively on the Tour de France, only participating in other races for fitness. The argument could certainly be made that his numbers would be lower if he maintained a more aggressive schedule. The flip side would be Eddy Merckx, who won a race per week for six years. Hinault's time was interesting, because he raced a full schedule too, though not as full as Merckx's. Interestingly, some of these riders were forced to spend several of their prime racing years out of competition. Greg Lemond was almost fataly shot, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali spent almost five years out of competition due to WWII, and Ottavio Bottecchia did not begin cycling until he was 26 years old, due to WWI. He also didn't turn pro until he was 29 and died due under mysterious circumstances when he was 32. It is also worthwhile to mention that Bottecchia won his first Tour de France racing as an individual with no team, and that his competitors stated that he never put forth maximum effort (which is interesting, considering that he won the 1924 Tour by a margin of 35'36" and wore the yellow jersey throughout the entire race).

I also thought that it would be interesting to apply this formula to Fausto Coppi's 1952 ascent up Alpe d'Huez. His 45'52" would not be a bad time in a modern race. Applying this formula, Coppi's adjusted time would be 36'6", over a minute faster than Marco Pantani's record. There has been some contention however, concerning the comparisons of Ascents up Alpe d'Huez due to changes in road surface and possibly start/end points. Either way, Coppi's record wasn't beaten until 1986.

Anyway, don't beat me up too much over my results or methods, as this was just a project that I started for the fun of it. If anybody were to come up with a better way to estimate these comparisons (which, once again, I know can never be fully and accurately determined) then I would love to hear it.

-Chris-
 

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Lemur-ing
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A little unfair just from skimming through for a few reasons - the course is different each year.

- They use different equipment over time (lighter etc etc)

Those are at the top of my head right now though.
 

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Good Person
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
uzziefly said:
A little unfair just from skimming through for a few reasons - the course is different each year.

- They use different equipment over time (lighter etc etc)

Those are at the top of my head right now though.

I know, I know. That's why I said that it wasn't an exact science twice and that I was just doing it for fun. I also increased each riders speed by the amount that average speed has increased since they were racing to consider different equipment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·

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thechriswebb said:
Me too, but Coppi would be a real wild card on modern equipment.
 

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would babe ruth have hit so many homeruns in modern baseball? 100mph fastball? intentional walks? there is no way to gauge over time who a better bike racer is. would jack N beats woods if Jack was 35 today? its fun to think about, but there is no "right" answer
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Coolhand said:
Me too, but Coppi would be a real wild card on modern equipment.
I would like to see Bartali and Bottecchia.
 

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Eddy Merckx would win. Look up the history of the hour record. After they reverted back to conventional track bikes Chris Boardman only managed to beat him by a few meters. He was down with 5 minutes remaining. Merckx likely didn't focus half his season on that effort since he was busy winning all year.
 

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there's a right answer

Merckx

and also, given the list check their Palmares outside the Tour

and lastly, as stated Eddy set an hour record it took a specialist half a season of absolute to beat by a few seconds
check eddy's palmares from that year
 
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