The chart shows the number of race days in the UCI World Tour for each month of 2013. We might thing April is the biggest month of the spring campaign but March has racing. March is not just a busy month but a vital one for it is also the biggest month of the year when it comes to UCI points, and by a long way.
Similarly we might take July to be the highpoint of the cycling season but it turns out there are more ranking points to collect in September.
Whilst we follow cycling for excitement instead of arithmetic, analysing the numbers helps assess the incentives and structures within the sport. In the first part of a statistical analysis of the 2013 UCI World Tour here is a look at the distribution of race days and points.
What are the key races? Which months of the year count the most? The answers and more are below.
The UCI World Tour is in the spotlight here. This is the prime calendar rather than not every race on the pro programme. The season starts with the Tour Down Under and ends with the Tour of Beijing. I’ve excluded the Tour of Hangzhou as it is still a provisional item.
First let’s run through the calendar. Between 22 January and 20 October there are 154 days of racing.
- The Giro, Tour and Vuelta add up to 63 days in total (subtracting the rest days) or 40% of the total number of race days
- A further 77 days are taken up with other stage races like the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Catalonia, the Dauphiné, ENECO Tour and more making a total of 140 days of stage racing for 2013, some 91% of the calendar
- The remaining 9% of the calendar is made up of 14 one day races with the five monuments but others like the Clasica San Sebastian, Vattenfall Cyclassics and the GP Cycliste de Québec
- March is the busiest month of the year. Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico overlap and bring 15 days to which we add the week-long Tour of Catalonia. Then we have relatively early appearance of the spring classics with the E3, Gent-Wevelgem and Tour Flanders combining to beat July with the Tour de France, Clasica San Sebastian and the start of the Tour of Poland
For me the chart is counter-intuitive as April often feels like one of the busiest times of year with the classics but it is a calm month for the World Tour. Yes there are other races but the World Tour events and their points count for plenty.
Having looked at the spread of races over the year, what about the points available during the year? To explain there are points for the overall winner of a stage race but also for the top-20 overall in a grand tour and the top-10 on other stage races plus the top-5 on each stage get points. If you want to geek out the full points scale is set out on the calendar page.
There’s a total of 16,664 points available during the year here but don’t count it down to the last one as team time trials don’t count for individual rankings and without knowing the programme for every race, I’ve assumed each stage is a normal stage. But this only affects the numbers well to the right of the decimal place when looking at the percentages. Also new for 2013 the team time trial at the world championships will come with points 1,220 points across the top 10 teams so what is lost by removing the TTT stages from stage races in the year might come back with the worlds.
With this in mind here is the count available per month.
- March is massive. It accounts for 20% of all UCI World Tour points available
- Combined with April the spring campaign is essential for a team, these two months provide over a third of the season’s World Tour points
- By contrast teams hoping to “save” their season with a strong showing in September and October are running out of options with just 20% of the year’s points available. A team with its back to the wall in the rankings and worried about ejection from the World Tour will find it hard to escape
- June might feel like an exciting time of year with the big names in peak form after the Giro and before the Tour but with only the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse there’s just 1,250 points available or 8% of the season’s total. Only January and October fare worse and given the Dauphiné and Switzerland overlap the points available for an in-form rider in June is low.
With stage races I’ve put recorded overall points in the month they are awarded but the points per stage are added to each month’s count. For example with the Vuelta all the points for the overall classification go in September’s column but the points from the eight stages in August are awarded to August.
As well as the spread of points per month, what about the races themselves? If we can see when a lot of points are available, where can they be won?
- If March is massive note spring campaign does not mean spring classics. There are 1,700 points across Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Catalonia compared to 1,556 for Milan-Sanremo, the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders
- The Tour de France is the single biggest points festival with 2082 points available across the GC and stages or 12% of the season’s total
- If the grand tours make up 40% of the race days, they account for 32% of the season’s points
Note winning races and winning points are not always the same thing. Earlier this year Omega Pharma – Quickstep topped the victory rankings but sat in 13th spot on the UCI team rankings. Teams can place several riders high in a race and score more points than the winner.
Having scanned the season as a whole I wanted to focus on the big races that make up the World Tour calendar. Points matter but they’re not everything. If July doesn’t have as many points as March it has the ultimate prize in the Tour de France. Yet a numerical take helps us look at the hidden incentives, especially for teams and riders unsure where to target their efforts.
I’ve underestimated the importance of March although even dicing the calendar into 30 day segments is arbitrary. But the combination of stage races and one day races makes this a vital month. Teams who succeed in the spring can take the rest of the year with reduced stress. French teams in particular might find June and July vital for their sponsors but they’ll be nervous in front of the UCI’s licence commission at the end of the year if they don’t collect points right from the start.
In part two later this week I’ll look at how different types of riders and teams can exploit the World Tour calendar and its points system