Dr Hutch

Pre­dict­ing the out­come of a bike race is a fool’s er­rand, says the Doc — far bet­ter to re­write history and pre­tend you got it right

Cycling Weekly - - Flamme Rouge - doc­torhutch_­cy­cling@timeinc.com

here are three im­mutable laws T of bike-race re­sult pre­dic­tion. The first is that if asked who’ll win any given race, I’ll get it wrong. The sec­ond is that the rider I al­most com­mit­ted to will, in fact, win. The third is that even if I try to out­wit fate by swap­ping my first and sec­ond choices at the last minute, rules one and two will con­tinue to ap­ply.

Bike-race pre­dic­tion is a fool’s game. I’ve learned the hard way never to say “Richie Porte” when asked for a pick for an up­com­ing Grand Tour. But then again, I thought I’d learned the same les­son about Geraint Thomas.

As I sit right now in the Cy­cling Weekly of­fice, I can see a white­board that con­tains the staff’s old pre­dic­tions for sev­eral stages of last July’s Tour de France. I can see that I got ex­actly noth­ing right. But al­most no one did sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter, other than an anony­mous scribe who just wrote “That Welsh bloke” for ev­ery sin­gle day. There are no sure bets. Peter Sa­gan for the Tour’s green jersey is prob­a­bly as close as it comes. Other certainties will let you down. I was com­pletely con­fi­dent that Ale­jan­dro Valverde was still go­ing to be win­ning the up­hill sprint at Flèche Wal­lonne well into that por­tion of his ca­reer where he’d have to be re­an­i­mated each morn­ing by wiring him up to the team-bus bat­tery, but then Ju­lian Alaphilippe won it this year and I was back to look­ing like an id­iot.

The easy ap­proach is to name who­ever won the same race last time. It worked well at the Tour de France through the eras of Miguel In­durain and Lance Arm­strong, even if a ret­ro­spec­tive check re­veals that Arm­strong didn’t win all those Tours after all. I’m not sure what bet­ting odds you’d have been able to get on the win­ner of seven con­sec­u­tive Tours be­ing “ab­so­lutely no­body”, but if you’d backed it on an ac­cu­mu­la­tor you’d be the Ge­orge Soros of cy­cling pun­ditry by now.

The only gen­uinely suc­cess­ful race

pre­dic­tor I know is an ex-pro, who now works in the me­dia. He goes round each bus be­fore the start, ask­ing all his old mates who from their team will be prop­erly tar­get­ing the race to­day, who had a bad night’s sleep, who’s miss­ing their new kit­ten, and who’s hav­ing a sulk with the team man­age­ment be­cause the lo­gis­tics staff gave them the wrong pil­low. He care­fully avoids let­ting slip any in­for­ma­tion thus ob­tained. His pub­lic prog­nos­ti­ca­tions are of the de­coy va­ri­ety, so that the book­ies’ odds are left undis­turbed till he can get a se­quence of bets placed. What I find most up­set­ting of all is that his de­lib­er­ately wrong pre­dic­tions are still more ac­cu­rate than my com­pletely sin­cere ones.

The sheer un­pre­dictabil­ity of cy­cling is my only com­fort. It’s gen­uinely hard. Pre­dict­ing the re­sult of a bike race is, I think, more akin to Vic­to­rian weather fore­cast­ing than any­thing else. You look at the way the wind is blow­ing. You sniff the air. You con­sider what hap­pened yes­ter­day, and what hap­pened last year. And then you take a wild guess. And if, by luck, you are right? Well, then you must pub­li­cise

“Pre­dict­ing race re­sults is akin to Vic­to­rian weather fore­cast­ing”

your ge­nius as widely as pos­si­ble, among friends, fam­ily, and so­cial me­dia. No one should be al­lowed to for­get the times you were right, be­cause they will even­tu­ally drown out the times you were wrong.

Of course, there is an even more de­vi­ous op­tion. Take this white­board I’m look­ing at right now. It would be un­eth­i­cal of me to rub out all my pre­dic­tions and re­place them with the right re­sult, then point that out to ev­ery­one. But not so wrong that I’m not about to do it.

Se­lect­ing win­ners at ran­dom is as good a bet as any

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