Cycling Calendar Statistics

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

I have a mental picture of the cycling calendar where April is packed with racing and August is a sleepy month, the post-Tour de France blues set in and there’s not much going on. But after publishing the calendar of races on Tuesday I toyed with the numbers and the chart above shows the distribution of men’s pro racing throughout the year. It turns out April is a quiet month with just 51 days of racing and August has more days of racing than any other month of the year.

Method
Once again this is based on *.1 races and up, meaning all races open to the top-18 UCI Pro Teams for 2013. And don’t confuse the number of race days with the number of races. For example the Tour de France is one race but 21 days of racing.

Stage Race vs One Day
April is classics season, this means one day races dominate the month. We get a big classic every Sunday and one or two mid-week competitions but not too much more. By contrast August turns out to be a busy month because of the proliferation of stage races, meaning many days of racing in a row. During August there are too many stage races to list, from the Tour of Poland which starts in July but rolls into August through to the first week of the Vuelta. In between take your pick from the Tour of Denmark, the Tour du Limousin, the 12 day Tour of Portugal and the six day Tour of Utah.

July is also busier than you think. The Tour de France monopolises the media but there’s the Tour of Austria, the 14-day Tour of Quinghai Lake, the Tour de Pologne and even the four day Sibiu Cycling Tour in Romania gets UCI 2.1 status and adds to the count.

How many days are there in a month?
Pro cycling can get up to 86 days in a month thanks to simultaneous races around the world. In total we get 562 days of racing in the year, about 1.5 races per day. As well as some counter-intuitive findings, there’s are commercial and sporting considerations here.

First there are some big clashes on the pro cycling calendar. The UCI’s flagship World Tour calendar has several times in the year when its races clash. We see early season stage races Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico go head to head. Similarly the Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné overlap. In a way this is like having two Formula 1 races at the same time, ideally a calendar shouldn’t have these things. Especially if – conditional – we want to have a universal ranking based on points earned then having half the peloton doing one race and the other half elsewhere means the points earned are not wholly comparable.

But the more I think of it, the more I think it’s ok. Having more than one race on the go allows for more widespread racing. Not in the obvious numerical sense of more racing. Rather it lets a bigger range of smaller UCI Pro Conti teams test themselves against the big squads. If sport is theatre this enlarges the cast, it’s not always the same faces. The likes of Rein Taraamae, John Degenkolb or Thomas Voeckler and their teams get more invites to bike races and so it helps spread the sport and stops us having a calendar exclusively for the top-18 teams, instead thanks to wildcard invitations we get another 10 or more teams able to join the circuit.

It also gives teams more chance to promote themselves and this explains why we have squads with upto 30 riders instead of, say, 15.

Milan-Sanremo

One Day vs Stage Races
One day races make up just 22% of the number of race days in the sport with the remaining 78% of the calendar filled by stage races. We might think of the big stage races like grand tours but add up the 21 days of the Giro, Tour and Vuelta and we get just 11% of the season’s race days or 14% of stage racing. All this is before we get to the races within a race. During a stage race there are contests for climbing, sprinting as well as the daily stage and the final overall. By contrast one day races usually have only one winner and it means the classics specialists don’t have many days to strike.

Race vs Riding
Classics specialists do get more rest. They can compete one day and then get a few days off before the next race whilst stage race specialists are slogging across the landscape for days, the average length of a stage race is six days. But this doesn’t account for the pressure, they have only a few days of the year to perform and this within a short space of time. By contrast if a stage race racer flops in the Tour they can save the season with results from Paris-Nice to the Vuelta. Also having talked of “race days” remember many are in the race but not all are racing for the win, some use an event for training as they build towards bigger objectives.

Conclusion
A year in cycling is a long time. The numbers tell a story that I didn’t expect, especially the busiest times of the year. There’s a gap between what the numbers tell us and experience, presumably because media coverage is focussed on big events like the Tour de France. Come August and the Eneco Tour won’t get people so excited. There are also more stage races than I thought, they make up the bulk of the calendar.

Is the calendar ideal? If we started with a blank page we’d probably concoct a series of races that don’t overlap. But history, accident and design mean we have a giant calendar of races. It’s great for fans, it’s great for teams too because they can sell the resulting coverage to sponsors. But it’s a lot to ask of the riders. We saw Sky skip races for training and it’ll be interesting to see if others start to imitate this.

Summary Statistics

Number of race days 562 days
Number of races 193
One day races 122
Stage races 71
Average stage race length 6 days
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{ 14 comments }

David N. Welton October 10, 2012 at 10:42 am

It might be fun to add / weight the chart by ‘points on offer’: winning one of those races in April is a fairly big deal.

The Inner Ring October 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

Good idea. There are more ways to adjust the numbers so I might revisit this during the off season. But note the overall ranking in a stage race is big on points, win the Tour Down Under and you collect as many points as a win in Paris-Roubaix.

Iron horse equestrian October 10, 2012 at 11:43 am

“In a way this is like having two Formula 1 races at the same time, ideally a calendar shouldn’t have these things.”
“Having more than one race on the go allows for more widespread racing. ”

I couldn’t agree more. Compared to your example of formula 1 and other sports like football (i.e. soccer), it’s this broad cast of actors which makes cycling such an ever intriguing and captivating sport to watch. In my opinion anyway…

I hope this remains a defining point of the sport too, despite it running counter to the trend of ever increasing concentration of competition at the upper levels of many other sports (both above examples hold). If that means maintaining the multitude of simultaneous events, rather than streamlining and de-conflicting the calendar, then so be it!

InTheGC October 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

Once again some major number cunching going on here at Inner Ring! Thanks again for the insight, that makes for some interesting reading!

PascualMN October 10, 2012 at 11:52 am

Good job. But this has been an olimpic year, without the Games the calendar had been more similar in july, august and september, more than 70 with races and less than 80. I agree with your opinion, but more days is the same that more teams with more profesional riders; It isn’t bad. Thanks from Madrid.

The Inner Ring October 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Sorry, I didn’t make clear the numbers were based on the 2013 calendar, I’ve updated the text above to mention it.

Cgb October 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Qinghai, no initial u. Also, the lowest possible rider number for teams to get a pro conti license is 16.

Larry T. October 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm

April vs August? Seems like the old “quality vs quantity” argument to me. Bring back the off-season, cycling’s becoming like NASCAR!

Maddave October 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I am new to following pro cycling and every morning this blog helps in my ability to learn the intricacies of the sport. I admit most of my life was spent following the more “mainstream” team sports.

The calendar and landscape of pro cycling is a strange beast to the new but keen observer. The casual onlooker or TdF watcher is more than likely overwhelmed by it. Particularly if they only have to turn on the TV once a week at 1 of 3 or 4 given times to follow their team and sport.

Less racing for more fans? More racing for less fans? I know it is not that simple and there are competing interests, but if the goal of the UCI is to make pro cycling more digestible in the drive to globalize the sport then they will need to makes changes.

I for one like the fact that so many become “experts” in July and yet those same people are surprised when they find out there are 2 other grand tours. Makes me smile. I was one of them not so long ago.

nick October 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Random question (sorry)
but do you know of the three grand tours which has had the most riders with positive drug tests…. it would seem that that the Tour (on rest days) seem to have quite a number whilst the Vuelta less so

Russell October 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about how busy the calendar is myself, and I’ve got a few thoughts:

Remember, these numbers don’t include the second tier UCI categorized races. Here in the states, these are still often National Calendar events, and are the bread and butter for domestic Pros. It is helpful to have so many races for professionals at the lower ranks to have a chance to show if they’re capable of moving up in the ranks. Remember, a bike race takes a bit of luck to win. Take an example like triathlon: since the most fit competitor often wins, competition is focused on only a few top level events. Cycling needs more frequent competition to give everyone a chance to find their luck.

The other advantage is local exposure. We all know that one of the unique aspects of cycling is fan access, but not if the races never come close enough for fans to get a chance to see the riders in person.

The biggest downside is the dilution of money. The teams have more riders than they might otherwise have, and there are a very high number of ‘Pro’ teams (18 ProTour, 22 Pro Conti, and ~150 Continental). With fewer teams, fewer races, and fewer riders, perhaps the riders would have more money and more power than with the current system.

Next I’ll mention women’s racing: Obviously with such a crowded men’s calendar and dilution of money, it isn’t too surprising the women’s cycling has difficulty attracting money, races, and media attention.

Scott October 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Yikes! Label that axis (days, frequency, races)… to help folks better understand the graph

Ranting Randy October 10, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Great chart.
The UCI is a joke and so is their point system. I believe that wins are all that matter and truly it’s what the fans remember the most(also really it’s all the sponsors want in the end for the media exposure) 19th place at a 2.1 stage, woop-tee-doo? Pretty amazing that with huge budgets that teams like Lampre and AG2R can’t even win ONE race on the WorldTour calendar this past year….if I was their sponsor(s) I would be very confused on how and why the money was even spent? Then, you could look at American cycling with all it’s national calendar events mostly are CRITS @100k or less….a joke. Then if you pay the UCI to get a Continental license you still have to pay to play to get an invite to the now only 2>HC races in the states Utah & Colorado with Philadelphia being downgraded to a 1.2….good thing the $$$ dopage machine controls USA Cycling and fires it’s CEO’s without a thank you….good old boys. Och thinks he is American cycling now….good thing when the USADA handed down their ruling he was still kissing Lance’s scare tissued doped ass.

Darren October 10, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Yes, Katie, lack of racing creates mold!!!!!!! WTF

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