A new ranking system

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Giro podium 2010

Team Sky’s co-sponsor IG Markets are going to launch a new rider ranking, the “IG Markets Pro Cycling Index” and it will attempt to reward panache ahead of anonymous consistency.

One of my pet hates is lists and rankings. Things like “Best film ever” or “top-10 dog breeds” can be pointless exercises and often used by newspaper editors to fill pages and generate debate, you can be sure people have opinions and, online, readers will leap to the comments section, thus generating more valuable clicks.

In cycling I find it hard to define the “best cyclist”. Is Alberto Contador better than Fabian Cancellara? Is Philippe Gilbert better than Ivan Basso? These questions are subjective and in trying to answer them we often reveal more about our preferences and biases than the riders’ abilities.

Road cycling is a broad sport where, within reason, various body types can have their chances on different terrain. As such mountain climbers co-exist alongside sprinters. Even within a subset speciality there is variety, for example time trial specialists Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin; one doubles as a classics contender, the other aims for stage race success.

But a ranking system is still needed. It functions as a way of differentiating teams, one of several criteria for a ProTeam licence. It’s also a currency for riders, a measure of their worth. The UCI has its own ranking but I’ve never paid much attention to it. It seems biased – or is it my bias? – in that, for example a win in the Tour Down Under is worth 100 points but this is as much as fifth place in the Tour de France and third in the Giro d’Italia. Cameron Meyer not yet on a par with Jurgen Van Den Broeck or Vincenzo Nibali. More so when the TDU is six stages averaging 125km compared to three weeks.

Plus the UCI site is awkward, the rankings don’t contain a link to the explain basis of their calculation (it’s hidden inside a PDF document on the rules of the sport) and the fixed tabular format is restrictive.

Dave Brailsford

He studies Cycling Quotient

By contrast I’ve long been a fan of the Cycling Quotient rankings where you can view rankings, rules and play with the impressive data with all sorts of subrankings. Indeed there’s a link on the right of this page, it’s a permanent reference to a database that’s very useful during the year. It’s not just me who uses this, Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford spends hours with Cycling Quotient as revealed by Cycle Sport Magazine.

Now as I’ve said IG Markets are on the verge of launching a new index. It will hopefully be more reflective of the relative values of riders and races. What’s more interesting is that the index is the product of commentators and ex-pros and is designed to reward memorable wins:

The Index is designed to reward moments of brilliance rather than months of consistency. Races are ranked on their prestige and their importance to cycling fans, with wins rewarded far more than placings. Bonuses are awarded for winning with panache or repeat victories. The index will be calculated on a rolling 12-month basis to reward the world’s best riders.

That sounds a lot more interesting. There’s nothing wrong with gradually plugging away but there’s the risk that the world’s top ranked rider on the UCI scheme ends up being someone who rides in the shadows rather than off the front.

Whilst the precise details of this new system are not yet public, it sounds like it has merit. The UCI doesn’t always take to well to “rival” ideas but I think there’s something to be gained by readjusting and perhaps embracing this new system. We’ll have to see what the IG Markets ranking brings but I welcome it.

Super Prestige Pernod

Not prestigious, super prestigious (and a prize list)

My only regret is the name, “Pro Cycling Index” is understandably linked to the corporate name IG Index. But I yearn for the days of the Super Prestige Pernod which just sounds glamorous.

Once it’s live the index will be online at igmarkets.com/procyclingindex

Starr April 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm

In the 20 years I have followed the sport, the only ranking that ever garnered attention was the 10-race World Cup.

Results of UCI points chases, or ProTour jerseys, or teams classifications rarely get noticed, except by the few hardy purists.

The biggest goal of any rider/team is winning races, not series.

STB April 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Ranking or League systems in cycling are pointless.

Top cyclists target specific races that suit them. Contador won’t ride Paris-Roubaix or the World Champs road race, Italians often favour the Giro over the Tour de France, American teams prefer the Tour of California over the Giro, Friere won’t ride the Tour de France this year (“too boring…”), etc,etc.

Cycling is about individual races, not a season long ‘league’, so any rankings system is futile.

bikecellar April 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Agree with the above, road cycling is too diversified for best cyclist type competitions. Off topic, the above mentioned Alain Santy along with his brother, were back racing with the shamatuers in Brittany by 1976. I have vivid memories of following him downhill at crazy speeds trying to cross to a break, I was terrified but held his wheel and we got across.

beev April 14, 2011 at 12:27 am

I would hazard a guess that the IG ranking system isn’t for the benefit of determining the best rider, but rather to help cement a new betting market/strategy for IG. One point i would note to support this – like the UCI, IG are opting for a short window of measurement – one year – this makes the table more dynamic than a longer time window, as is employed in other sports ranking tables…

JustJoshinYa April 14, 2011 at 1:41 am

“The Index is designed to reward moments of brilliance rather than months of consistency. Races are ranked on their prestige and their importance to cycling fans, with wins rewarded far more than placings. Bonuses are awarded for winning with panache or repeat victories. The index will be calculated on a rolling 12-month basis to reward the world’s best riders.”

PodiumCafe does this with Podium Café Virtual Directeur Sportif (http://www.podiumcafevds.com/) – minus the bonus idea. What’s IG hoping to get out of this?

The Inner Ring April 14, 2011 at 8:20 am

Starr / STB / bikecellar: true and like you I am more interested in wins than rankings. But this scheme seems to aim to reward wins rather than a series of fifth places. But I’d say that rankings might interest cycling data nerds but for the wider public they matter too, they want to know who is “number one”.

beev: clearly this isn’t being for free. CQ is done by amateurs. We’ll have to see what it brings.

JustJoshinYa: interestin, I’ll take a look, thanks.

ave April 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm

So, the new system favours wins… I wonder where would Cancellara be on this system.
Too bad it’s not live yet.

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